Friday, April 17, 2009

What a show!

I just saw an excellent show. Dance Kaleidoscope and the Indiana Repertory Theatre did an experimental co-production tonight. They used Margaret Atwood's script for The Penelopiad, the story of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Margaret Atwood not only wrote the story, she also wrote a play script in Greek drama style. Tonight, DK and IRT did the first several scenes, maybe 25 minutes, with three actors playing the roles of Penelope, Icarius, and Odysseus, and the dancers serving as maids and oracles and suitors and other assorted ducks and wedding guests. And it was an amazing production. It was a complete synergy of movement and song and performance, beautiful and moving and energetic.

They used no scenery, minimal props, and no costuming, and the piece was performed under worklights; it stood entirely on the strength of the script and the performers, who were still on book after only four days of rehearsal and choreography. And I think this was for the best. It's easy to pile Production on a production, elaborate scenery and costuming that in no way serves the story and primarily serves as a showcase for the theater, rather than as support for the story and characters. And it was nice to see a show that survived, and wowed me, strictly on the basis of the story and performers. It's a reminder that, while all that production stuff is nice (and, not incidentally, what I do for a living), it's really secondary. If they ever get the wherewithal to mount the full production, I hope they approach scenery and costuming from a minimalist standpoint.

Another bit of comedy: union rules are one of the biggest impediments to mounting a full production. The IRT is a union house for actors and stage managers, and union rules add a lot of expensive hurdles to a production like this. The added rehearsal time, plus the huge cast (the dancers would have to be under Equity contracts as well), would push the staff costs for the full show to around triple the IRT's usual show, so they're not doing it. The irony of actor's union rules keeping plays from being produced is, I hope, not lost on the performers and staff. I'm a little evil about this; I'd be tempted to call all the actors and tell them about this great show they could be in, if their union rules didn't kill the production....

And, I hate to say, but if you didn't see the "Penelopiad Experiment", you won't; it was one performance only. And, not to rub it in, but you missed a heck of a performance. Neener, neener! (Okay, I'll rub it in a little....)

2 comments:

Austan said...

Please don't blame unions for mismanagement. My husband was an actor on stage, tube and screen. Equity, AFTRA, & SAG. All three. He could opt in or out of any production by not using his registered name, and every performer does. Unions don't dictate where any actor can work, that's old BS I haven't heard since the 60s. The unions are the reason you can afford to go out instead of having to work 12/6.
But I love your bad puns and your love and knowledge of the theatre.

Jeff Mountjoy said...

Actually, in this case, a lot of it really is the union. The dancers are all already on full-time contracts with a dance company (one of very few dance companies with a full company on full-time staff), but as soon as they speak a word on stage, the union won't waive the requirement that they be on an Equity contract instead of their existing contract. But the dancers don't want to lose their existing contracts, and they can't be on both contracts at once. So the dancers are in the position of having to drop their full-time dance contract to do a show as Equity, which they don't want to do. I don't have a blanket opposition to Equity; they're a great union. But in this case, they really are killing the show....