By far the craziest of our endeavours to date! When Mark and Richard from The Gentlemen Creatives asked us to write a play about them, the obvious answer was yes. There were two reasons why we signed up for this mad adventure.
- They gave us a wonderful new corporate identity, website, and have been doing amazing work with our poster and flyer artwork since spring 2015.
- It sounded like way to much fun to say no to!!
We also wrote the piece, but for more on that process, take a look at my page Writer.
Robert Neumayr and myself co directed this collage of characters and wacky scenes… and what an experience it was! This show culminated the end of a relentless nine months for Open House Theatre. At the start of the season, I had moved from Artistic Director, to General Manager. Robert (who had been an associate director since 2013) at this time stepped into the role of Artistic Director. Not only did we co-write and co-direct the piece, but we were also actors in it. This is not too much out of the norm for Open House, as, being a small theatre group, we are used to having to wear multiple hats at once. However, this time was in a league all of its own.
This show was for the love of theatre, and the love of theatre only! There was no budget, therefore nobody got paid for taking part in this show. All we could offer people, was a whole lot of fun, and a performance to be remembered. I am glad to say that we kept our word!
There were a total of twenty five people performing in the piece. This included the actors, pianist, dancers, technician, and a choir. However… due to the lack of funds, the lack of time, and the fact that everyone had lives to lead, the scheduling of rehearsals was, to put it lightly, not exactly easy. We spent two weeks rehearsing when we could, with whoever was available. Everyone who was directly performing with someone else got at least one rehearsal together prior to the big day. We had one day to to do tech and a dress rehearsal in the theatre, which was the day of the performance itself. So… tech began at 10 am. The actors were called at 1 pm. at 4 pm we had completed the tech and explained to everyone what would happen, and how. There was then just enough time for a quick run-through of all the music numbers, before the auditorium had to be cleared for the audience to arrive. This meant… NO RUN-THROUGH!!
And so, the first time that all the parts of this show were performed in chronological order, in a proper run-through… was the performance itself! It was crazy, it was brilliant, and it is one of the moments in theatre I am most proud of. I can quite honestly say, that after pulling that off, I will never be afraid to say YES again!!
The Importance of Being Earnest
This may come across as somewhat arrogant or egocentric, however, priding myself on being honest, there is no other way to say it. Not only was this show a huge success, but it was also the easiest show I have ever directed… easy that is, in a way that I found very difficult to cope with. Confused? So was I! So let me explain…
As a director, I enjoy sinking my teeth into plot, characters, relationships, etc. In fact, the more complex the piece, the more excited I get. I thrive on those sleepless nights lying awake in bed then jumping up at three o’clock in the morning to go and write something down for the next days rehearsals, incase I forget. “The Importance of Being Earnest” however, does not lend itself to such direction. The piece is so brilliantly written, and the characters are so well established through the words they say, that it leaves very little for a director to do. I still had sleepless nights, but the sleeplessness was due to feeling lost, not stressed. Without me having to do anything as a director, the show took shape in front of me. Of course I gave input, and helped to clean up moments for comical timing and such, but I really didn’t do anything. I had planned to do something. In fact, I had a whole concept worked out in my head to do something outrageous with the piece, something that would have fulfilled me creatively. However, the more I discussed my concept with people, the more I came to doubt whether or not it was in fact the right way to go. Who was I devising this concept for? Was it to justify the piece, or merely to justify myself? Depending on which artists I asked, I could receive very convincing arguments for either direction, but in the end I decided to serve Oscar Wilde and our audience. A decision I am very glad I came to. As I mention in my writings about directing “A Christmas Carol” below, there are some shows that are mine, and some that are not; this one was not. My biggest lesson in directing this show was to resist the urge to do something, and to trust in the process.
For the first time in our theatre’s history, we actually had to turn people away due to lack of available seating. In hindsight, we could have (and should have) performed for an extra week. However that is one of the exciting things about theatre. You begin a production with no guarantees as to how it will be received, yet choices are made based on experience and instinct. All too often one can be disappointed by a production that ends up being one big mess. but when the pieces come together, and you are left wanting more… I feel very proud and grateful, that the show was a big success!
This was my favourite show as a director, as this was the first time I was truly able to adopt my style! This show was a labor of love from start to finish. I began to research and prepare for this show a full year in advance of the production, which includes the time it took to write. During my welcome speech on day one of rehearsals I said the following,
“This is our show. I don’t want us to think about the audience. I do not want us to think about pleasing anyone, not even me. I wrote these parts with you all in mind, and what I am interested in are the characters you develop. Use the text as a guide, but if anything doesn’t seem to fit for you, change it! So long as the meaning of the moment remains the same, alter the text to suit you, not me. This show is for us and us alone, and we are not doing it for the audience, we are merely offering our work to the audience, once it is ready to be seen.”
The process of rehearsing this show was amazing. Everyone took charge of their own parts, and we created an intricate web of backstory to connect all of the characters. We did this together, agreeing on the backstory before we moved on. Not once did we try and enforce our version of the backstory upon our peers, and that made all the difference. Everyone had a voice in the room, everyone’s opinion was valued and appreciated, and by the time premiere came along, we had a fantastic show on our hands. It was appreciated by the audience, and the following year (with a slightly altered concept) we took the piece to the Bridgin V4 Festival in Pezinok, Slovakia, where it also went down a storm.
The Picture of Dorian Grey
This play was a joy to work on from start to finish. Not only am I a huge fan of the novel, but our financial restrictions as an unfunded theatre really made it possible for my imagination run wild as a creator of theatre.
As well as being the director of this piece, I also wrote the adaptation. The writing of the play was both easy, and challenging. As the beauty of Oscar Wilde’s writing is something quite unique and brilliant, I naturally wanted to use only the language of the book. the first task I set myself therefore, was to separate everything the characters actually said to each other, from the rest of the text. This I did, and I ended up with a mammoth 40,000 word play. To put on such an epic would have been a fantastic experience I’m sure, and who knows, perhaps one day I will, but for this particular production, the second task I set myself was to strip away three quarters, bringing the word count down to a manageable 10,000; an adequate length for any group of actors to recite for an audience.
Choosing the right parts of the text to keep, and which parts to remove was not easy, and occupied about two weeks of my time and concentration. With so much great writing in front of you, it is difficult to remove so much, yet maintain the dramatic through-line of the story in a way that propels the piece forward. I was however, very pleased with the result.
Due to reasons of finance and resource, I had to write my adaptation to be played by four actors. This of course meant that the actors would have to play multiple parts, however, the one part that I wished to remain singular throughout the piece, was Dorian Grey himself. And so, leaving Tom Middler to play Dorian and Dorian alone, the other three actors, using masks and small augmentations to their main costumes, played all the other characters of the novel. We used an array of different mask styles, different story telling methods, and sound & lighting to shape the piece. The costumes were of the period, with a slightly modern twist, and were very stylish!
I loved doing this show, and we all had such a great time doing it. The audience were very positive.
A Christmas Carol
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens is a piece that Open House Theatre performs annually. Started in 1984, and adopted by
us in 2012, this timeless classic plays to full houses every year. It is one of those shows that really allows you to get to know your audience; least of all, because a
large majority are regular attenders. With thirty one productions already behind it, the audience for “A Christmas Carol” here in Vienna have gotten used to show in a very special way. Not only do they come for the story, but they come for the people, and the traditions they have grown to love. It was no easy task, adopting this piece from a theatre that had established it as a Viennese tradition, and there were some bumps along the road… no more so than my version in 2013. Ever the one to play the devils advocate, I set about trying to reinvent the piece. I put my own spin on the show, and instead of reusing older versions of the script, I started from scratch. I removed some of the longstanding traditions from the show, removed bits from earlier productions, and replaced them with other parts of the novella that excited me. I received a number of compliments about my adaptation of the piece, but I also encountered a number of regular audience goers who were (for lack of a better word) upset that some things they had been expecting, were missing. In any other show, this would not have phased me too much, however, I realised during the run of this production that there are some shows o experiment with, and some shows not to. For many who come to see this piece every year, “A Christmas Carol” represents more than an evening at the theatre. It adds something very special to their annual calendar, and it is a highlight at the end of the year. Who am I to take something like this and put my own spin on it? After all, it’s not my story, it belongs to Charles Dickens. I learned a very valuable lesson in adapting and directing this piece, a lesson that will stick with me through my career. There are some shows that belong to me, and some shows that belong to others, as I director I need to know which is which, before I begin working. I am very glad that I decided to experiment with this show, and very grateful for all the feedback.
Laurel & Hardy
The challenge of doing this play… has been an undertaking to say the least!
It is probable that everyone from my generation has heard of Laurel & Hardy, and have likely seen at least one of their films. It is however unlikely that many people today are quite aware of the impact these iconic figures had on the world; prior to researching for this show I would have tarnished myself with this same brush.
As an actor, one of the most exciting parts of my job (if not the most exciting) is the research. The time and allowance I am given, to delve so deeply into the lives of others, to build characters out of words, and to hopefully bring justice to them, is a privilege.
As a director this prerogative is made manifold; the desire to get things right becoming obsessive.
Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Oliver Norvell Hardy shared something magical both on screen and off. Prior to, during, and after becoming arguably the best comedy duo the world has ever seen, their lives were anything but smooth sailing.
Tom McGrath’s play is a tribute to these legends of the silver screen. It is my hope that the work we present to you does justice to his play, and its two subjects. Regardless however, it has found in me a Laurel & Hardy enthusiast.
When dealing with giants, an ant can only marvel at their enormity… and when the best has already been shown, artistic licence counts for little.