Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Theatre Thoughts: The Wells Fargo Wagon is a Comin’

THEATRE THOUGHTS: Notes From the Executive Director

On Saturday, October 29, the cast of Theatre Charlotte’s production of The Music Man reunited to perform 6 songs from the show as the kick off to the Wells Fargo Community Celebration at the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the Wells Fargo Museum. It was remarkable that we were able to bring together 35 of the 41 cast members over a month after the show closed to do this performance. But, it was a tight cast and they were proud of the work they had done and wanted to share it once more.

I had been working with Wells Fargo and Arts and Science Council officials for several months leading up to this, as it was just too perfect for us to lead off the festivities with the song “Wells Fargo Wagon” and the Wells Fargo wagon riding up the street. Originally, the Wells Fargo Community Celebration Day was scheduled for a Saturday in September, smack in the middle of our run of the show. That would have been a great marketing tool for the show as well as for our overall brand. However, Wells Fargo pushed the date back to the end of October. This created some doubt as to whether we’d be able to participate or not. The Wells Fargo team reiterated that they would really like us to perform. So, at the beginning of rehearsals the first week of August, I started getting cast members to commit to the appearance on October 29 and to put it on their calendars then.

The production turned out to be quite good with the members of the cast enjoying the work they were doing together. This made it all the easier for them to keep their early commitment. I made arrangements with the costumer, Jamey Varnadore, to have the costumes cleaned and ready to go for October 29. Ryan Deal, our fabulous music director, and Mike Charlton, the drummer from the show, were also lined up for that day.

We had a scheduled rehearsal for Saturday morning, October 22 with members of the Wells Fargo team on hand to approve the numbers we were going to perform and to time them (these folks were very precise). Only half of those committed to performing could attend this rehearsal. Ryan and I had six songs picked out to rehearse and we would let the Wells Fargo people tell us which they wanted. In addition to “Wells Fargo Wagon,” we sang “Iowa Stubborn,” “Ya Got Trouble,” “Till There Was You,” “Gary Indiana” and “76 Trombones.” The cast members that were there sang beautifully and the Wells Fargo team was so impressed they asked us to do all 6 songs! They said they would work out the timing of the speeches to accommodate the musical numbers.

When I awoke at 5:15 am on October 29, it was pouring rain and was extremely cold and quite windy. I was anxious about whether we would be able to perform outside on Tryon Street. By the time I left at 6:45 am, the rain had stopped, but the wind had picked up and the temperature was in the low 30s (and the cast would be in costumes designed for July 4, 1912 and not two days before Halloween!)

Everyone showed up, got in costume and prepared to rehearse at 8:30. Wells Fargo had a wireless body microphone for all cast members. There were a number of technical glitches, so we never really had a sound check or rehearsal, but the performers were on top of their game. At 9:30 am, my six year old, Chloe, her first time with a body mike—and boy was she excited about that—kicked off the ceremonies with her line, “Papa! The Wells Fargo Wagon is just comin’ up from the depot!” Then the cast began to sing “Wells Fargo Wagon” and as the song neared the end, up galloped the real Wells Fargo Wagon. The cast waved and sang as it approached. The song ended and Mayor Foxx, Kendall Alley and other Wells Fargo officials disembarked and made their way to the podium.

The Mayor welcomed everyone in a short speech and Jay Everette, a Wells Fargo official, began to announce the recipient organizations of $100,000 in grants Wells Fargo customers and employees had voted to receive. As I conferred with Ryan about the upcoming numbers, I heard something to the effect of “and we would like to award $10,000 to Theatre Charlotte.” Well, that was one of the most surprising moments in my tenure as Executive Director! We had not been told ahead of time that we were going to receive this and it came as a complete surprise. And there I was, dressed like a stage hand complete with walkie talkie. Stunned, I made my way to the podium and mumbled to Jay Everette that had I known, I would have dressed differently. He laughed and said it was just fine. We posed for pictures and I floated back to the side of the stage with The Music Man cast. The cast then flawlessly performed the other five songs and the performance was over.

We were treated to a thawing out with hot chocolate and hot cider before we were guided a couple of blocks away to get a group photo taken in front of the Wells Fargo Wagon. And that completed this really rewarding morning and brought The Music Man to a joyous ending!

-Ron Law
Executive Director, Theatre Charlotte

Monday, November 7, 2011

Director's Note: Cuckoo's Nest

Many of us have very fond memories of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. My first introduction was the now-classic film, which I saw the day it opened, without much advanced hype. I was immediately enthralled with its story and acting. Since that time, I was given the chance to direct two productions—both more than twenty years ago. On both those occasions, I steadfastly refused to read the novel, because I reasoned that most of my audience would not have read the book.

This time I have rethought my approach to the material and have returned to Ken Kesey’s masterful novel as my primary source. We have tried with this production to be as faithful to Mr. Kesey’s vision as possible within the confined of the two-act version of the adaptation by Dale Wasserman. The cast has been encouraged to read the novel and have found depth and insight into their characters through the words of the late Mr. Kesey. When possible, we have staged iconic moments, not as they were in the movie, the three-act Broadway original, or the two-act revision, but as they are described in the novel.

We as a cast and production team have enjoyed the journey with Mr. Kesey as our guide. We hope you will also.

-Charles LaBorde
Director, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST at Theatre Charlotte

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Theatre Thoughts: MTA Awards

THEATRE THOUGHTS: Notes From the Executive Director

Awards. Awards for theatre excellence. Competing with other theatres and theatre artists. The Metrolina Theatre Association (MTA) Awards. So easy to dismiss them—until you actually win. Then suddenly you feel a bit like a hypocrite. That was the position I found myself in on Sunday, October 9 at the Metrolina Theatre Awards banquet at the Omni Hotel.

First, some background info for those who are unfamiliar with MTA. MTA represents more than 60 theatre organizations, along with hundreds of theatre artists, directors and producers in the Charlotte region. MTA was established on April 1, 1984. Its mission is to advance member participation through technological innovation, strengthen arts awareness in the community by creating new ways to engage the public and be a strong advocate of the performing arts. Whew. Anyway, one of the ways of helping create arts awareness is the awards process and ceremony. But, I always thought, “Awards? Who’s going to care the day after the ceremony? And competing with one’s peers? Not such a good thing.”

Anyway, The Metrolina Theatre Awards recognize outstanding performances and creative elements in 8 categories - Drama, Comedy, Musical, Regional–North, Regional–South, College/University, and Special Event. The Metrolina Theatre Association organizes more than 80 peer nominators; for the 2010-2011 season, MTA nominators attended 105 adjudicated shows, submitting thousands of nominations. They then completed a preliminary ballot to select the award nominees. The final vote was certified by an independent accountant.

The 2010-2011 Theatre Charlotte season was outstanding, both in terms of revenue and artistic quality. It was the finest in my six years as Executive Director and most likely one of the most successful in Theatre Charlotte’s 83 years. It included ANNIE, STEEL MAGNOLIAS, THE GRADUATE, THE GLASS MENAGERIE and RENT, with bonus productions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR. There was excellent work done by many actors, directors, designers and stage managers. For this work we received over 40 nominations in various categories, including about 10 for our outstanding production of RENT.

In spite of my outward cavalier attitude about awards, I went to the ceremony baffled about certain nominations and the lack thereof, but feeling excited about the chances of some of our nominees. The event itself proved to be a lot of fun. I enjoyed the ambience of the hotel ballroom. I liked being able to socialize with so many area theatre people. Then the awards ceremony began. As the final awards—the MTA Exceptional Awards for Technical Excellence, Emerging Artist of the Year, Theatre Person of the Year and Theatre Company of the Year—approached, I was actually excited about what Theatre Charlotte’s participants had won. Chaz Pofahl, Outstanding Actor in a musical for RENT, Billy Ensley for his direction of RENT, John Hartness for his lighting design of RENT and Ryan Deal for musical direction of RENT, were deserving of the awards, as were Laura Moore, Vito Abate and Marla Brown for their original writing for special events and Ann Israel and Laura Moore for performances in special events. Then the announcement of Outstanding Musical. I expected it to be RENT and it wasn’t. I was surprised at how badly I felt at that moment, considering how much I tried to convince myself awards didn’t really matter. I was not unhappy for the winners, but felt badly for all those connected with our excellent production of RENT.

The presentation of the Exceptional Awards began. It was now time for the Theatre Company of the Year Award and Theatre Charlotte was a nominee (as we had been a handful of other times during my tenure as Executive Director and had never been selected.) After the disappointment of RENT not getting the award, I was not feeling positive about being selected as Theatre Company of the Year. The nominees were announced and the envelope opened and… Theatre Company of the Year…Theatre Charlotte! I have to admit, a jolt of adrenaline surged through me and I bolted from my chair. I don’t remember what I said exactly. I thanked all the appropriate people. And then Michelle Gutt, the Theatre Charlotte Board President and I posed for pictures with the Theatre Charlotte award.

To sum it all up, I am still not totally sold on this awards business, but, I do have to admit, when you win one, it is pretty damn exciting.

-Ron Law Executive Director, Theatre Charlotte