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?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Process and Obsolescence

I wanted to expand on what Paul had said about previews, mostly because he has been a little modest about how unusual their process of working on an adaptation is. This was my first project with Lifeline, so I was not familiar with their process, which is unique to their mission to present adapted works of literature on stage. A few weeks ago, I got to sit in on an in depth discussion of the script with Paul, the artistic director, stage manager and ensemble members.

You should understand that many of these ensemble members are double or triple threats, they are actors, directors and adaptors in their own right and they have a carefully honed ear for storytelling and how it translates on stage. We sat there for a couple of hours, with a couple of bottles of wine and worked through everyone’s notes on the script after seeing it on stage. These were very detailed thoughts or notes about the script, how things translated to the stage and looking for places where the storytelling hit bumps. I was impressed both with the thoughtfulness of the comments and the kindness with which these comments were delivered. It was clear that the priority was making sure that a good story made it to stage and didn’t get muddled in the process.

Last week, I got to watch previews with the design team and more ensemble members all taking notes and comments on each run through of the play. In addition to all of these, Paul also got comment cards from the audience as part of the preview process. Again, I should explain that these were pretty enthusiastic audience members; some standing in the lobby writing notes well after most of the audience had left. The adaptor, Rob, then made more rewrites, Paul, the cast and the design team re-teched certain scenes and there will be more previews this week.

Admittedly that is a lot of cooks in the kitchen (to start mixing metaphors) but, remarkably, there seemed to be no bumps or crashes.

I am looking forward to watching the play again this week, even having seen the play in various forms many times. When you get to see theater again and again you get to see subtle changes in the performances and big changes as technical or design elements change.

At the same time, I am starting to get a little wistful and sad. This is the point at which my role (a shadowy, vague thing to begin with) in the process starts to end. A dramaturg is always a bit of an outsider, a benevolent observer, an information gatherer, a bit of an interferer, a scribbler and but always a fond well-wisher. At certain point, I stop giving feedback and just watch the creature that is a play as it lives, moves, and has its being.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


We have been through three incredible previews thus far. Previews are full runs of the show with lights and sound and all tech running as a performance with paying audiences who are invited to give feedback via paper surveys in their programs.  It gives me a chance as director to sit in the back of the theatre and watch the actors juggle their many roles in front of a large audience (about 300 people saw the show this weekend) and to gauge how our show might be improved.  

Clearly the show is working, the audiences are enthusiastic, but with consultation with my theatre collective, the Lifeline Theatre Ensemble, and Rob as adaptor, we have made some significant cuts and re-writes and are re-staging some elements this week, tightening choreography and fights, and making some of the technical elements clearer. 

Our Ensemble is fortunate enough to own our performance space - a luxury not common in Chicago Non-Equity theatre.  Since we are constantly producing world premiere adaptations, we have adopted this preview process with a full week of rehearsal between previews and opening for just this purpose - honing and enhancing our work with the benefit of audience experience and thoughtful feedback. 

Here are some of the promotional pictures - are you getting excited? We sure are!