Monday, July 19, 2010

Neverwhere closes, long live Neverwhere

After 52 performances and over 4,700 tickets sold, the show came to an end yesterday.

Attending the closing performance of Robert Kauzlaric’s world premiere theatrical adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s NEVERWHERE, I had that sort of experience where you look back on the past year as a series of snapshots relevant to the present moment.

It was about this time last year that I listened to Mr Gaiman read his novel in audio book format as I drove to and from a wedding I was officiating in rural Ohio.  

I remember the auditions. Chris Hainsworth’s leather pants, goatee and long black hair waltzing in the door with a charming, disarming, confident and dastardly Marquis deCarabas. Kyra Morris’ simplicity of power and resolve reading Hunter’s monologue. Watching Rob out of the corner of my eye reading Richard opposite some other auditions and scratching my head in wondering “Why not?”

First rehearsal. Reading INSTRUCTIONS aloud with the cast. Describing, without a sketch to show anyone, how I envisioned the Beast of London as a 10 to 12 piece puppet of a giant boar that would fly apart when attacked and come back together again to strike.  Alan’s beautiful scenic design sketch, which now hangs in my living room.

I remember fondly the early combat rehearsals with Rick Gilbert. The rehearsal when Richard is running to his office late and no one sees him or recognizes him, where I sat back next to Katie McLean and we watched the actors sort out their traffic needs.  The night we actually choreographed the basic moves of the Beast of London fight with all the puppet pieces in the room. The night Sean Sinitski brought in his first homemade candy glass Kai Lung statuette.

On and on - the tech process, the opening process, the run process, the understudy and extension process - it all crept back into consciousness while witnessing the final utterances of these scenes by these actors in this space.

There is an exchange towards the end of the play between Door and Richard in London Below that Rob adapted from the book with an eye and ear to being succinct while staying true to the emotional stakes of the characters.  Yesterday’s goodbye had an extra layer to it. Rob and Katie have been friends for years and there is no doubt they will see each other again, but playing these roles in this relationship together is something they will remember all their lives, and when saying goodbye as characters, they were also saying goodbye as actors to their shared experience.

Maybe I got something in my eye.  I’ll never tell.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Pair of Special Guests

We received a few special guests at the show last Sunday, Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry.  Mr Henry is acknowledged in the dedication page of Neverwhere for bringing the idea of tribes of people living in the London underground to Mr. Gaiman who put it into a television series that Mr. Henry produced.  

They were incredibly gracious. Snuck in right before the curtain speech and hung out in the lobby during intermission to chat with our Artistic Director, Dorothy Milne, about how much they were enjoying themselves and that they intended to stick around after to meet the cast and offer congratulations and autographs. Which they did. Needless to say, everyone was totally thrilled and geeked out by the experience. Me included.

Mr. Gaiman tweeted that he will blog about his experience when he can blog again. I am especially proud for Rob, who received many hearty handshakes on his adaptation from the men who dreamed it all up in the first place, which is an incredible honor. And as a company of artists, meeting them and having their sanction that we did well is a tremendous validation.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Extension logistics and more (more?) press

Due to popular demand, we have just extended the run of Neverwhere until July 18th. While some of the original cast wont be able to do the extension, we've snagged some excellent understudies to back them up and will be running what we call put-in rehearsals (plugging in a new actor in place of the old one and doing a run of the show with them). I'll have a little bit of work to do, especially in tweaking the fight with the Beast of London, but regardless I'm glad the show has legs.

If you have 30 minutes to spare and want to hear me blab about staging Neverwhere in an interview podcast with my scenic designer Alan Donahue and projections designer Charlie Alves, you are in luck (clicky clicky).

And Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune wrote some more about us here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some more word of mouth and good reports

Yeah, so, word of mouth has been great and the show is selling out 5 shows a week! Imagine that - almost 500 people a week are coming to see Neverwhere and audiences are often hoping to their feet to applaud the cast for a second bow. It is, as you can probably see, very gratifying for me and Rob and the rest of the cast and crew.

Tonight I am rushing up to the theatre for an interview with Talk Theatre In Chicago, who will produce a podcast with scenic designer Alan Donahue and projection designer Charlie Alves talking with me about making our little stage space seem like London Below.

And for those of you unable to get to Chicago for the event, here's a teaser trailer...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Review Round Up

Greetings friends - reviews are coming out for Neverwhere and the response is rather positive so far. For the most part. The majority of quibbles have to do with the length of play - approximately 2.5 hours counting the intermission.  This is a little surprising considering 2.5 hours certainly is at par with the majority of theatre I've experienced and that we have condensed such a great deal of material into one evening's entertainment.  My theory is that the genre is either your cup of tea or it isn't. If it is, you are watching 2.5 of awesome. If it isn't, you are watching 2.5 hours of ambition, which can get tedious. Anyway, I wanted to share with you what some people are saying that could maybe entice you to see the show yourself.  We're having a blast and tickets are selling well!

Few American theaters can do this kind of thing — with such imagination, dignity, humor and judicious restraint — quite like the master storytellers at Lifeline. And thus it is safe to take Gaiman fans, young and old, to “Neverwhere.” They'll immediately see that their guy — and the worlds he has stuck inside his readers' heads — are in sensitive and aptly exciting hands.

spectacle and story so ambitious and colorful, poetic and vulgar, heroic and homely, it's like eavesdropping on your favorite author's waking dream.

Fanboys, take a deep breath: they've done it justice.

a blockbuster comedy, fantasy adventure.  Bringing it to the stage, Lifeline Theatre tackled the mission improbable with amazing results.  

Watching the lavish artistry and endless imagination now at play in Lifeline Theatre's world premiere production of "Neverwhere" -- Robert Kauzlaric's zesty stage adaptation of British writer Neil Gaiman's first novel -- it is easy to see why Lifeline recently racked up 14 non-Equity Jeff nominations. The artists and craftsmen who work with this ensemble are masterful.

I want to stalk this production like a 13 year old Bieber-fan.  I want to hand-embroider pillows with "I heart Neverwhere" on them and bake the cast little cakes in the shape of rats.

we had one kick ass evening.

For most of “Neverwhere” at the Lifeline Theatre I didn’t have any idea what was happening on stage. But I did know that I was enjoying one of the most creative, complex, and entertaining productions in Lifeline’s history.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A note about the obsolescence part...

I'm sitting in the back of the theatre, actors have fight call in 10 minutes and we open the house for the final preview before press preview tomorrow afternoon and Monday's opening.

Very soon now it will no longer be my job to tweak and change the things that are happening in the show. It is already taking on a life of its own. The actors are claiming the show, feeling their way organically through the tech supporting them, have asked me further questions for guidance or told me, yeah, they know what I'm talking about.

A good friend who is also a young director shared with me his metaphor that at this point in the process, a director doesn't have a place to put their stuff. I give the actors their backstage and dressing room space like forbidden territory - I do not belong there. The audiences come in and fill the seats, so I don't belong there. I sit in the seat in the far back corner, alone, gauge the audience response, try and appreciate the show as a first time viewer and scribble notes in the dark, often under the light of my cell phone screen, to find ways to improve the experience. These options become increasingly limited based on the corners I've boxed my designers and actors in through my direction in the previous weeks. So my notes are more sparse and specific. A few pages of this or that or more often than not, nothing at all. I've done my part and now the actors and my stage manager do theirs. When I come back, it will be as an audience member with a lot of insider information. 

There is a sweetness to this. I am tired from the constant expending of energy in coordinating the wishes and questions from such a large team. But there is an emptiness too in not having a family to be a part of anymore. And a vulnerability that comes from putting your art out for public consumption and criticism.  I often feel protective of my family in the week or so after an opening in regards to critical response but I've gotten better at that. I'm extremely proud of everyone's work and I am excited to share it with you.  This little baby has learned to fly, thus it must leave the nest.

The research on this blog may continue - there is always something new to share. For example, my dad, who saw the press photos I posted a week or so back, noted of Hunter's knife, a "kukri" style knife...
Even though it is native to Nepal, Tibet, and northern India it is based on the design of an ancient Roman sword - much bigger but the same inside curve and edge. Hunter would truly enjoy the Gurka tribesmen who use this knife as they are fearless and fearsome warriors. There is also the link to the English as they conquered this territory and brought the Gurka fighters into the royal army after learning how much they love to battle and how fierce and loyal they can be. Therefore it is no surprise on all kinds of levels that this type of knife would be in the hands of Hunter in London below. To me it also will emphasis its nearly sacrilegious use as a letter opener by Richard latter in the story.
Soon I will reverse the order of these posts so it reads more linearly and simply becomes a journal about our process retrospectively.  Thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoy the show if you get the chance to see it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Genre, Audience, and Defying Expectations

I am sneaking in one more post. I have found that when I tell people that I have been working on Neverwhere I get two different responses. Those who know the novel say, “That’s great! I want to see it.” This is rapidly followed by, “How are they going to do that on stage?”

For those who don’t know the play I get, “Oh, What’s that about?” Which is actually a trickier question.

How do you describe Neverwhere? Most people rely on certain genre descriptions to help people understand what they might experience when they read a novel or see a play. It is a mystery, a comedy etc. Some works defy easy descriptions. It is a fantasy in that it has fantastical elements, but many think of elves or dwarves when they hear fantasy. Two categories are often used. Urban Fantasy, which as the name implies puts fantastical elements in an urban, modern setting. Magical Realism, has also been used which generally describes fiction in which a recognizable world suddenly has magical events described with a journalistic distance, that is, in the narrative there is no surprise at the fantastic things that happen it is the reader who encounters the description and finds it surprising because it does not fit expectations of how the world is. Magical Realism has also been more closely linked to Latin American writers Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Isabel Allende. However, as often happens with descriptive words, that use has broadened to include non-Latin American writers like Haruki Murakami and Salman Rushdie. Certainly, Neverwhere could be described by either term.

While categories can be helpful shorthand can contribute to a convenient shared understanding of a work they can also be reductive. Genres often imply something about literary merit or seriousness of a work that I have always found distressing. Perhaps it comes from having been a voracious child reader who did not put aside childish books. Frog and Toad are still two of the best commentators on human (or amphibian) experience that I have encountered. By the same token I fall prey to the same judgments about genre. When I see a bright pink book with a woman’s legs in high heels or a shopping bag I cringe. I don’t know about the book and it’s relative worth, but it is being marketed under the derisive genre of “chick lit” and I do judge it on its cover and decide I don’t want it. It may be that I am simply not as interested in the complexities of dating and shopping but it may also be that I am ignoring a book because of what I assume it will be.

Genres also ignore the fact that there are fascinating works of literature in all time periods that simply don’t fit expectations. The Duchess of Newcastle, Margaret Cavendish wrote a novel called The Blazing World in which she imagined fantastic creatures, a utopia, submarines and equality of the sexes in the 17th Century. G.K. Chesterton regularly worked fantastical elements into his novels at the turn of the last century. R.C. Sherriff wrote a heart-rending play, Journey’s End, about his experiences in World War I and a fantastical and satirical, 1939 novel, The Hopkins Manuscript in which the moon falls into the Atlantic Ocean and examines humanity in the wake of the catastrophe. How does one define genres in places we don’t expect them or when a work uneasily resides in several genres: feminist treatise and utopian fantasy; mystery and allegory and fantasy; or satire and science fiction.

Similarly, in theater there are assumptions about what one will see and what sort of audience goes to the theater. Part of what I have loved about watching previews is how the audiences and the production defy expectation. Of course there will be a fight with the beast of London in a tiny theater. Of course audiences will range widely in age and appearance (truthfully most of these audience members are look way cooler that I have ever been).

All of this explains part of the enjoyment of Neverwhere. It defies expectations. On some level the references and the journey may feel familiar but there are also countless surprises. What happens when you can’t be seen? What happens when you see something for the first time or the 999th time?