One of the elements of the Hangar residency I was most curious about was directing a TYA show for the Ithaca community. At the beginning of the summer, all of the fellows read each KIDDSTUFF series play and ranked them in order of preference. I was very pleased to be paired with Furry Tails…With a Twist, which was high on my list. The play is two hander, for a pair of actors who arrive at a theatre fully prepared to present three beautifully wrought fairy tales. All goes wrong when their script gets mixed up and they are forced to figure out how to tell the stories all by themselves.
I had cast two talented, hard working actors but it was difficult to express to them how much energy this performance would require and how they would need to be completely in sync in order to take care of one another on stage. There was also a major audience participation component where we had to bring three children on stage. How would this sequence go? How could we rehearse it? We were all anxious about these open questions. While we were in rehearsal I was told that I’d need to write a curtain speech explaining the exits, theatre etiquette etc. We also had to mention our sponsors, one of which was the Ithaca Community Childcare Center (or, IC3). While writing this curtain speech I had a wild idea…
I asked my wonderful Lab Company assistant director, Callan Gies, to give the IC3 a call and ask if we might bring our show to them toward the end of our rehearsal process. They were extremely receptive to the idea and so on that Friday we would venture into the unknown and do the play with no scenery, costumes and very few props for the IC3 students.
Rachel Musson and Giuseppe Mele are intelligent and soulful actors, but they were obviously nervous on the morning of our “performance.” It was as if they were about to be reviewed by the New York Times! Their anxiety grew with each step we took into the IC3 and the sweat began to form on their brow when 60-odd 4 and 5 year old children filed into the big gym where we were performing.
The cataclysmic event in our play is the moment when the pages of the script go flying all over the place and the actors realize that their show might be ruined. When the pages flew from Rachel’s hands into the air and flapped all the way down until they covered the floor, the children erupted in the most honest and joyful laughter and applause. I could palpably feel the happiness and excitement we had brought this audience with the story we were telling. The actors could tell as well and they immediately sunk into their roles deeper than they had ever before. And in that moment we found our play. I have never felt actors (our whole team in the rehearsal process, actually) take ownership of a play so suddenly. It was a very special moment.