Wednesday, April 21, 2010

jestina's calypso, postmortem

hard to say how i felt about the show, except i know i glad it over.
it was hard, and in too many instances harder than it needed to be due to forces beyond our control. but i think our audiences were truly supportive, encouraging, generous and forgiving, of us, of jestina, and of our desire to make theatre in our image.
people overall enjoyed the show and griot wuk hard.
i had problems with the venue- i admit up front that the venue we selected was an auditorium, not a theatre, but is used/rented out as a theatre regularly. i only heard on show night and after the fact that everybody we know who ever worked there said they were never going back, and i wholeheartedly join that group. never again, uwi open campus gordon street auditorium. hated it, plus they told our producer they were blacklisting us 'cause they didn't like it when i spoke truth to power.
this post isn't just about the venue though, but about the production, so lemme start by stating preliminary facts going into tech+performance:
griot productions is a brand new company being launched with this inaugural production of jestina's calypso by earl lovelace, who worked with us on revising his 1974 script for our run. the venue is an auditorium with arena seating, which means our show would be viewed in the round (audience on all 4 sides, no real or immediate backstage especially this particular arena). when we requested the venue after visiting multiple venues since our 1st choice (little carib) is currently, and for too long now, unavailable, uwi's space management/administration (we thought) asked griot to come and meet with them in person to discuss our plans. at this meeting with the head of accounting mr.rez, wendy who seems to handle bookings and other secretarial stuff, ms.bobb/babb director of open campus, and a lovely dude whose portfolio+name we sadly don't recall, they got all up in our business, way more than necessary for an enterprise that only required assurance that we could+would pay on time, and would attempt nothing illegal on their premises, under (inter)national law or their in-house rules. they wanted to know about our vision, mission, intentions, ambitions (individual+company), reasons for choosing theatre, reasons for choosing to work home in sweet t+t, reasons for choosing the piece, future plans...real ting. we talk the talk and they agreed to rent us the space. we were allowed to lay our set on their wooden floor but not to screw into or otherwise directly attach it to their wooden floor. they took us into the space for a walkthrough, pointing out dressingrooms+bathrooms, and watched us do a voice-test with one of us standing centrestage speaking to another @ the furthest away part of the back of the house then switching places to make sure acoustics were decent and we'd be able to hear actors. they stood with us during griot's discussion that ended quickly with our agreement that acoustics were good enough that we didn't need to rent microphones, thank the universe...
1. i was asked repeatedly by audience members, "why allyuh didn't use microphones so we could hear them properly?" and "why allyuh didn't get air conditioning?"- seemingly unrelated questions, but not. i was livid on our 1st day of tech last week when i walked into the space to discover the sound of air conditioning. 7units and 4 additional vents, the space is sweltering without them all on. with them on, even my voice (excellently trained, doh need microphone to reach back of house up to at least 1,500seats) can't be heard. actors standing 5feet away from each other onstage cyah hear each other. so the choice, since nobody @ the space thought it right to mention the ac noise when they heard us decide against mics, was to let the audience sweat to hear the actors, or sit comfortably and miss dialogue. and yes, actors' job includes vocal projection, but trust me when i say that even the strongest voices would struggle in this space. we tried running the ac all day to chill the space, then turning it off immediately before performance opening night ('cause, of course, the other problem is that you can't know if something will resolve for a room full of warm bodies what it resolves for cast+crew of less-than-20 until you put the warm bodies in the room and try) figuring we'd barely make it through before total meltdown with a no-intermission runtime of an hour+15. the audience, all dressed for our gala, looked like they were suffering collective heatstroke and isoke looked like a drowned rat rather than pretty girl, sweating onstage as laura, weave sticking to her face; stage management made the call to turn the ac back on about halfway through. the audience cooled but since the actors never exit once the show begins, they couldn't tell the ac was on and thus didn't adjust projection to suit (not that it helps that much in that space anyway) and even when they realised they couldn't hear each other and made the fix, it only helped marginally cause the ac so damn loud. next night we cooled all day again, then turned most of the units off for performance and tried to compromise with only some running, but the audience still had trouble hearing over the noise and still wasn't comfortably cool, although better off than the previous night's temperature. lose-lose situation that made griot look like we were too stupid to rent microphones for a production or care about audience comfort.
2. 1st technical rehearsal (which space management/admin[?] knew we planned to have) we didn't have basic functioning sound equipment on site. they said they'd have it for us next day, but as our 6p.m. tech start approached, we found out they had done nothing to resolve it whole day since our complaint the night before, and now saying they would buy it in the morning, even though they had all day to look for the piece of equipment, not find it, and replace it by close of business in time for our rehearsal. when we made a fuss, they called the person they shoulda called the whole time and he came and found what we needed, on the premises the whole time, meaning we lacked sound in our previous night's tech for no damn reason.
3. after the venue meeting, our production manager requested final paperwork so we could cut a cheque for the rental. they took a month to invoice us, giving the figure the friday before tech week, then pressured us from monday morning for the money, like we should come up with it instantly after waiting a month on them. on wednesday when we tried to load-in they wouldn't let us in until we paid the next installment in cash. i later complained to ms.bobb/babb that the lack of sound equipment for a scheduled technical rehearsal is unacceptable and that bathrooms, dressingrooms and technical requirements are non-negotiable, without raising my voice or cussing which griot production manager tonya can attest to, in spite of the fact that bobb/babb was rude enough to interrupt a conversation from the top of a staircase then not come closer to speak with us, making us strain to hear her and repeatedly ask her to repeat herself from the floor below, over the noisy ac. next day, bobb/babb called isoke (producer) who she apparently thought i was, and started screaming at her on the phone about how she (meaning me) was rude to her. she shouted+screamed at poor confused isoke who eventually worked out the identity issue, then babb/bobb said she no longer wanted to give us the venue and jumbie sok for the full balance immediately or we were out. then even after sok acquiesced on the $, bobb/babb said she planned to tell everybody not to come to our show. so not only was she not grown+intelligent enough to say something one time about her perception that i was rude (which i wasn't, she just didn't like the truth) she, when it was too late, took it out on an unsuspecting innocent over the phone (nice of them to make us sit through their ridiculous meeting to then not know which of us 3 is which) then announced intentions to blacklist us. 'cause that's the way uwi professionals deal with shit.
4. the only time we think we actually dealt with space management/admin was when a woman came into our almost-complete load-in to say that we had to stop and move shit so they could put carpet on the floor under our set. i only saw her this one time, when she was telling us we had to let them put down carpet to protect the floor, in spite of it having been discussed in their too-invasive meeting that we could only lay stuff on the floor and needed a protective layer of ply demarcating our playing area, which we'd now already paid for and incorporated into the set. luckily we fought them down on the carpet issue, 'cause the road+house woulda look mightly silly on carpet...
5. for some reason, the head of accounting mr.rez, was the one who approached me while our lights crew was hanging instruments to say that the last time somebody brought in outside lighting (the space only has regular room lighting and no grid to hang from) it pulled too much power and overloaded in-house circuitry; another thing they coulda told us when they heard our site-visit-meeting talk of lighting rental costs and limited places available to potentially hang instruments, but didn't seem to think it important to mention. luckily our boys brought their own dimmer packs and handled it.
6. mr.rez was also who i spoke to when wednesday+thursday+friday had passed with them never unlocking male+female bathrooms+dressingrooms (1 of each) in spite of our repeated requests. while we set up for the gala saturday afternoon i asked the dude they made us pay to be on-site in charge of ac (which didn't stop him from asking "why?" when we requested it, like is any of his business once we pay to use the space) and not finding sound equipment and other crap we were fully capable of ourselves, and he say call mr.rez, mumbling something about storage. i call and mr.rez tell me he cyah help 'cause the male dressingroom they refuse to open whole week locked 'cause they using it for their own storage, leaving our cast of 7 young men+women all dressing in a single 6x8 room. he say they couldn't unlock the female bathroom and our female gala audience members (some of whom are older and walking with assistance) would have to walk across the yard to another building to pee, because the cleaner had the key. i asked if that was because the cleaner was finally coming to do the job, as the male bathroom we'd been forced to share all week had been filthy everyday in spite of signage insisting it's cleaned daily. he said no, but to make it up to us, he'd ensure it was all clean and female bathroom open for the next night's show (we'd never get the male dressingroom)- as though that was a big favour, having clean bathrooms when renting an auditorium. i ask mr.rez one time if he's the accountant, and he hastened to correct me, he's the head of accounting. so i bawl, good, i then take that to mean that in light of the conversation, he'd ensure we were refunded appropriately and didn't pay for amenities not received, because no bathrooms+dressingrooms for a professional production is unacceptable, and had we been told we wouldn't get bathrooms for audience and dressingrooms for cast, we woulda gone elsewhere. sorry.
7. blocking (choreographed movements of actors on+off+aroundstage, interacting with each other and set+props). my bad. i blocked my show for theatre-in-the-round cause that's the space. i thought about the fact that if we didn't fill the house it'd be a waste of major time+effort+energy, but i'd rather block to accomodate audience potentially not there than have people come and never see actors' faces. so on both nights of performance with the house half-full and audience seated in one half of the arena only, i was asked why i had actors back the audience so much. when audience cyah see people sitting on the other side of the arena facing them across the playing area, they doh recognise blocking designed to accomodate those seats; makes sense, "why they backing me?" is more immediate than "what they facing?"...maybe i shoulda anticipated half-houses as a 1st time production company, but i think i'd do the same thing again cause i doh ever want to not consider potential audience.
8. they ask how i could cast an ugly girl in the pretty girl role, opening night only; those who know her ask wha' happen to she. me+isoke/laura apologise. we didn't get her weave right for the 1st performance and it was throwing major shadow on sweaty face. poor laura looked dark+harsh+aggressive, and the heat due to no ac didn't help...we trim them bangs way back and had laura right come sunday. sorry...
other than that, i thought the actors did the best they could with less-than-ideal working conditions, and delivered a performance that grabbed audience members with laughter, then left them crying. i loved our set+costumes, big up paulette alfred and (michael) guy james studios.
griot learned that we should question every tiny detail because businesspeople do not volunteer information based on good sense for the venture, and that people do not always honour commitments to sponsorship and other assistance, willing to leave you and your big event twisting in the wind. we learned to let nothing get in the way of having tickets+flyers early. and that we never ever want to work in uwi's gordon street open campus auditorium again.
other shit went down, but this is what i have for now and this post is ridiculous already.
comment, nah; tell us what you thought about jestina's calypso...
walk good.

ps: we reading to select for a run of 1-act plays in june/july, so also comment with suggestions, nah!

[disclaimer: a version of this post exists @]


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