7 Stages of Musical Theatre Insanity
(For R.C. & J.M. – with great affection)
You just needed some green beans for your pork chop dinner, when right there, between the hominy and the peanut butter is the woman of your dreams. What to do with the song in your heart that is fighting to burst forth? Naturally, you do a spontaneous tap dance with the clerk and three other customers and then grab her hands for a harmonized duet, allowing the melodic strains to take you both to the peaks of brand-new, but absolutely true, love.
At least, that’s what you’d do in Musical Theatre. In real life, bouts of unplanned singing tend to be met with the side-eye from grocery store clerks. There’s an old saying that goes, “Behind every great musical, there is an equally great, but clearly insane, Director.”
That’s not true. I just made that up.
In reality, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Below is a rare glimpse into the mind of a Director as he (or she) trips through the following psychological land mines with varying degrees of success.
The first stage is a whirling dervish of the pinnacle of emotions. You feel as though this is your year, your moment, your time to shine. “Oklahoma!” is perfect for your community. You can’t believe it hasn’t been done before. Okay, so it has, but it’s never been done like THIS. You can’t wait to begin. You’ve read the entire playbook through 17 times in the first week alone. You’ve pulled every ‘must-do’ scene for the cold-read portion of the audition, secured your musical director, choreographer, and stage manager. Your team is assembled. You have labored meticulously over a 13 page document detailing and planning your rehearsal down to the final minute. Now all that remains is to assemble your cast!!
Repeated line: “I can’t wait to begin!!”
Audition day has come and gone. You have sorted the community’s eager thespians with a fine-tooth comb. Curly and Laurie have voices like angels and sparkling chemistry. Ado Annie and Will Parker are adorable comedic geniuses, and Jud is a powerhouse of emotional brevity. The perfect Ali Hakim appeared out of nowhere and blew everyone away with his accent, and dead-pan delivery. The rest of the ensemble has been filled with the best actors in the community. You are already patting yourself on the back for such brilliant casting. It would not be uncommon to see you mouthing an acceptance speech for invisible awards. In a few short months, newspaper headlines will screech your triumph to the tune of, “Best Version of Oklahoma! Ever Conceived.” You begin practicing your best humble, yet gracious smile.
Repeated line- “Rehearsals are going REALLY WELL!”
3. Dawning Realization-
This is the time for questions. After being informed by the Music Director that he has had to change the key for Ado Annie (yet again) you worry that maybe she is a one-trick pony, and can only sing her audition piece well. Will Parker is having trouble with the steps for “Kansas City” but your choreographer promises you that she will work overtime to make sure he gets it. You hear rumors that the chemistry between Curly and Laurie is spilling over into rehearsal time that is not on the stage. Or even in the building. You do not care. Jud has kept you late after every rehearsal asking about his motivation and what you feel the most menacing way to glance sideways is. You do not care. Your stage manager informs you that Ali Hakim has called in sick again, but was spotted at another local audition. You wonder if the pencil shortage in your town is something to be concerned about, as that can be the ONLY acceptable reason that your chorus continues to come to rehearsal without one. Also, WHY do people keep texting and asking when rehearsal is? Didn’t they read the 13 page document you just made for them? THAT is what you care about.
Repeated line- “It’ll be fine.”
Curly and Laurie have broken up. He is now a gigantic, pouting diva who refuses to go onstage unless he is allowed to procure his own wardrobe from his grandfather’s ‘authentic’ country-western store, ignoring the fact that purple velour chaps probably didn’t exist in the 1800’s. Jud is full on method acting and terrifying the Chorus by looking menacing offstage and getting a little too friendly with the prop knives. Laurie spends most of her time offstage crying about Curly and Ali Hakim misses at least one rehearsal a week for an ‘important’ audition in a neighboring big city. Ado Annie still can’t pick a key. Also, the choreographer has been offered a paying job on a cruise ship and left last week. Will Parker still can’t get the steps right. You give speeches reminding people how close they are to show time; you are met with blank stares. Someone asks when the next rehearsal is. You rip up your 13 page document. Someone else asks what you just ripped up. You contemplate homicide. Someone else asks when the next rehearsal is. You excuse yourself. A few minutes later, your stage manager gently knocks on the bathroom door and reminds you that the walls are thin and the cast can hear your open weeping.
Repeated line- “IT’ll BE FINE.”
5. Sheer Panic-
It is tech week and the cast continues to inexplicably call for line. You do not understand how this is possible, since “Oklahoma!” might actually have been performed since the dawn of time. You realize you are mostly speaking in truncated versions of sentences, grunts, and probably all caps. Ali Hakim is complaining about having to turn down a bit part in a movie with Tina Fey because performances fall on the same day as filming. Jud has completely stopped speaking unless he is on stage. The set still isn’t painted, and you’ve stayed up til after 1am every night helping the costumer, whose kid has the flu, to finish making petticoats for all the extras. After being found curled up asleep on a pile of chaps and hoop skirts in a corner backstage, you consider the possibility of just moving into the attic of the theatre, like a rat. The costumer just sneezed. You briefly consider buying a surgeon’s mask.
You finish tech week with the flu and pray for an early death, knowing that this is going to be the biggest flop imaginable and WHY DID I EVEN START THIS PROJECT?
Repeated line- “DO NOT CALL FOR LINE.”
6. Jubliation/Selective Amnesia-
Opening Night. You spend the first act pacing the hallway and allow the intensity of your fear and regret settle into the pit of your stomach like a dull, persistent ache. The seats are filled with hundreds of family, friends, and the warm faces of theatre supporters. They are all happy, expectant, and doomed for disappointment, if Final Dress was any indication. You’ve already flop-sweated through three shirts and are currently reviewing the best possible cities to relocate to when a strange thing happens. You hear laughter. Then you hear applause. You slowly check your surroundings, making sure you haven’t accidentally gone to the wrong theatre. Then you hear it again. And again. You cautiously make your way backstage and listen. A short time later, realization rushes over you like a warm shower. They’re good! They’re really good! Curly and Laurie are sparkling, Ado Annie has miraculously found her key, Will Parker just tap-shuffled- stepped his way into the audiences heart, Jud’s solo elicited “ooohs and ahhhs” and Ali-Hakim actually showed up! Two and a half hours later, the audience is on their feet in a glorious standing ovation. All previous nightmares have dissipated into the mist of rapturous adoration. You shrug your shoulders and smile ever so slightly in humble acceptance as flowers and praise rain down upon both you and your cast in the receiving line.
Repeated line- “Thank you so much!! I always knew this show was a knockout!”
Two weeks after the show closes and life settles down once more, you start to feel that familiar ache. You walk around the house listlessly and find yourself staring into space or driving by the theatre and resisting the urge to pull in.
The board approaches you after the wild success that was “Oklahoma!” and wonders if you’d be willing to direct next season’s production of “The Music Man.” Your heart literally skips a beat and the words are barely out of the asker’s mouth before you trip over yourself answering a resounding, “YES!”
The creative juices begin to flow. You start to make plans. You didn’t want to seem like a braggart, but this is going to be the best version of “The Music Man” ever produced!
Now to assemble your team and get started on that 13 page document…maybe it should be 15 pages this time…after all, it’s never too early to start preparing…
Repeated Line- “I can’t wait to begin!!”