Sunday, April 21, 2013

20th Anniversary Memories - Lysistrata

Part of the cast of Lysistrata
Lysistrata was a huge and complicated endeavor. It was marked by difficulties with the co-producer and the publicist, difficulties that I won’t be exploring too deeply here but definitely colored my experience. It also had a directorial concept (my own) that proved difficult to fully realize, logistically. But more on that later.

On the positive side, the show included a number of talented actors and a very talented group of assistant directors, including my current Associate Artistic Director, Henry Akona. It also inspired a translation/adaptation I am quite proud of, now printed by Theater 61 Press. The translation has inspired a surprising number of productions, particularly university productions, including shows in Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Aachen, Germany.

I had had a brainstorm about performing Lysistrata with a cast of 100. It seemed doable. The amount of resumes I receive for each show is overwhelming, and it seemed to me that a huge company could be assembled. The chorus would become a huge environmental element that would immerse the audience in the Bacchanalia that was the play.

Part of the cast of Lysistrata
It was a good concept in many ways. I thought it would attract some press, and it did attract some press. And I do think I was right, it was doable. The fact that it didn’t happen as envisioned…well, there’s more to this particular story.

The space we used was actually the basement of a bar in DUMBO, Brooklyn, right next to St. Ann’s Warehouse. At the time it was a large, empty space, except for some distinctive architectural details, like its Ionic columns and two-story wrought iron stairway. It seemed ideal for an environmental production.

For the principal performers, we had a good and reliable bunch. Our trouble was the chorus. We were a non-Equity show, because we had signed on to an open ended run. But attracting enough actors for a non-Equity Brooklyn show to fill out a chorus of 100 turned out to be a logistical problem. Yes, they came. But yes, they went. The turnaround in chorus members was tremendous, and we were in constant state of casting and recasting.

Those we did keep were a mixed bunch. Some were terrific, stalwart cast members with talent. Some had never done a show before, and I remember receiving a call from one after a show saying “I got lost walking from the subway, and by the time I figured out I had walked the wrong way, I felt so upset that I decided to go home.”

Part of the cast of Lysistrata, with Corey Einbinder, chorus leader
By the time we were in opening week, we may (or may not) have had actors who had, at least briefly, called themselves members of the cast, but we certainly did not have 100 cast members onstage, more in the realm of 50. In truth, we needed only about 60 to make the cast seem full, but we were a bit short of that. The program listed all who had ever been part of our cast, and a few who hadn’t, with transparently absurd names like Caveman Coletti. And then the flu hit… On the night reviewers came, I think there were 35 people onstage, and our claims of a large cast had become increasingly questionable.

Still, those who were there did a game job, and a few nights later with the full cast onstage I felt proud a quite a few moments onstage. And I do think that those involved enjoyed their experience. We got some good reviews, mixed in with a scathing one written on the day of 35 actors. Many of the actors have continued to work on UTC61 productions. And the script, as I mentioned, has lived on in numerous productions.

Sometime I would love to do the play again and try to realize my original vision. I remain convinced it can be done...though I don't know when I would have the energy to try to achieve this particular vision, once more.

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