Working on a Michelle Rodriguez original musical is a whirlwind process. I’ve known Michelle for four years now, so I can’t quite say this came as a surprise, but each day brings with it the joy and the craziness that goes along with Michelle’s genius. The joyful moments are the ones when I arrive at a music rehearsal to find actors excitedly/nervously working their way though the notes of a song. Michelle is not only an amazing writer, but also an amazing teacher and I’m constantly impressed at how, with her coaching, these actors are able to shape these songs over the course of just one hour. Yesterday I stopped by a rehearsal where Su Young and Pat were learning “Across the Miles” – the first song between the two protagonists in which we see their journey to the mysterious home of the Bear-Prince (curious what a Bear-Prince is?? Find out on March 8th!). When Michelle and I encouraged Pat and Su Young to give it their all and really try to feel the emotions of these characters while singing the song, Pat reminded us that they’d only started learning the song a mere 30 minutes before. We reminded him that this is no normal musical, every moment is BEARreling ahead (hehehe), throwing our all into it even if we’re not sure we’re quite ready (this could be the summary of this whole process as far as I’m concerned). Of course he and Su Young nailed it. It was a great reminder for everyone in the room of just how much this process can sometimes feel like flying by the seat of our pants, but that at least we have put together an amazing team to who are willing to go with us every step of the way.
Speaking of amazing team, our cast is the definition of AMAZINGNESS. Seriously, these kids are the A team. Not only do they drink “sleep drink” like champs, but they are also making amazing, fun, creative choices every day in rehearsal, and oh yeah, they can sing too. If you come to this show for one reason (okay two reasons – Michelle’s music being the first), it should be this stellar cast. In all honesty, their talent inspires me on a daily basis, and their willingness to be along for this ride not only makes this process possible, it also makes it a hell of a lot of fun.
Of course there are also the crazy moments of Michelle’s genius, like when she texts me frantically, at 3:47 in the afternoon: “Alison, it’s urgent, call me before 4.” Urgent meaning some lyric to a song isn’t quite right, some harmony isn’t working for the singers, etc. The thing about these crazy moments (the moments when I stop being Alison the director, and start being Alison whose job is to keep Michelle sane) is they all speak so wonderfully to how devoted Michelle is to this project. She keeps telling me that it is her “thesis,” and she really treats it that way. She, and our wonderful librettist, Elena, have been amazing about taking everything in stride, really listening to the feedback that I and the actors give them on their work, and rushing to make changes as fast as possible so we can have the new material in rehearsal the next day. Their commitment to the project has made this exciting for everyone involved, and in return we’ve all done our best to provide an environment that mimics a professional workshop production, so that on March 8th, they will have the very best play they were capable of producing.
My highlights of the people who make this process wonderful and crazy would not be complete without a mention of our production manager/stage manager/assistant director/person who keeps Alison sane, Frank Pagliaro. Frank is not only good for sending hundreds of emails (I find myself texting him while on the elliptical, “send these 5 emails to these 10 people…”), but for lending a critical outside eye to the work we are all doing. His input is the last piece in the puzzle and without it (as cheesy as it sounds), this whole process would not be possible.
So join us for the culmination of this exciting and a little bit scary process, March 8-10 in the directing studio! When East o’ West o’ is selling out faster than Mormon’s, you’ll be glad you did!