Adventures in First-Time Music Directing, part 2

firsttimedirecting2

When we last saw our musical heroine (LOL), I was battling against my own problems as well as trying to get the cast members interested and invested in their performance. With the show literally days away, we were still struggling.

Running Out of Time…!

Despite several rehearsals with me attempting to conduct the music and my friend directing, it seemed like Seussical was just not coming together. The cast as a whole had a hard time staying on-task; they were getting just as discouraged (and as tired) as we both were, having rehearsals that felt like they lasted days, without any significant improvement to show for it.

Act 2 of Seussical especially was very difficult, with its more demanding musical numbers and stage wizardry. But the strangest thing? As Act 1 slowly got polished, Act 2 languished, and several times my friend even mentioned just performing Act 1 and leaving out the second part altogether. It was a drastic idea…but with so little time to go, either cutting the show down to the performable parts or scrapping it altogether were looking like our best options.

The Surprise

I fervently did not want this to happen; my friend and I had worked too hard, and a few of the cast members had worked too hard, to let it all go down the drain. So, on the Monday before the first show, I came in ready to “inspire the kids to work hard,” having practiced all my best pep talks.

But when I came in, I learned the news: in the time since our last rehearsal, my friend had had several conversations with many of the cast members, who were actually thinking of quitting the performance because “it was going to be a disaster.” My friend’s amazing (and galvanizing) response was something along these lines: “Go ahead and quit; we will do the show without you.”

Apparently, over the next several minutes, word got around to the rest of the cast that the show would still go on even without some of its leads. They had thought that the threat of them quitting would somehow tank the show completely; they had now found out to the contrary. Much begging and negotiating followed, and somehow by Monday all the cast came back absolutely ready to work and to do their best!

The Last Week of Rehearsals: A Complete 180

The afternoon rehearsals on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday felt like we were working with a completely different cast. Lines were learned, songs were practiced until mastered, and some cast members even put down their phones for the first time since I had begun to work with them. Best of all, the cast began to work as a team, listening to each other, even helping each other with lines, songs, and costumes.

Riding this tidal wave of sudden success, I also learned how to conduct them better, especially when we rigged up a lighted music stand so that the actors could see me conducting from the back of the tiny auditorium. At last, it felt like I could communicate with them and help them stay on-task; at last, I felt like I was doing my job and helping them to do theirs. As a result, I gained their respect and trust, which had been lacking since the beginning because I hadn’t yet proven myself to them.

Performance Weekend

The dress rehearsal performance on Friday, followed by the two shows on Saturday, were whirlwinds of activity (and my shoulders and arms had never been so sore! LOL). I got to enjoy the show as well as help to keep it together; I could have burst with how proud I was of the cast’s hard work.

Despite sound and lighting issues (one of the light panels self-destructed during the dress rehearsal, and a speaker blew during each of the Saturday performances), we managed to keep it rolling and keep it professional. Part of the dress rehearsal performance was done with the house lights up, for instance, and yet the cast kept going. And, when the speaker blew halfway through the second song of the 3:30 Saturday performance, I saw several of the cast members’ eyes widen; I kept conducting, they kept singing, and we finished the song a capella while my friend and the tech crew hooked up the new speaker. The cast carried it off beautifully each time, learning and displaying the true meaning of “the show must go on.”

The show was a good success for the drama department, bringing in not only parents and friends, but much of the community as well. Many people were impressed with how professional and pulled-together the show was, and it created a new awareness of the drama department at our local high school (which has been more sports-focused in recent years). All in all, we were flushed with victory after a long and hard-fought battle, and I felt honored to have even been a part of it.

What I Learned

This experience was quite educational for me, in some negative ways and positive ways. I learned that I’m probably not going to be a concert pianist any time soon, but that I can do some musical things, like conducting, that I’d never tried my hand at before (literally or figuratively). I also learned that doing a perfect job is less important than being consistent and persistent; I became less concerned with how perfectly I was “performing” for the students, and instead concerned myself with being a role model for a good work ethic, continuing to try until I was successful. (Believe me, that was HARD for this OCD perfectionist to abide by!)

I know that I didn’t do much to help the show be its best; my friend really accomplished that by motivating her students in the only way she could reach them. I saw how much they respected her for her no-nonsense honesty, even when the truth was temporarily harsh on them. But I do know that I helped encourage and give help where it was needed, and for that, I can be grateful and proud, too. For once, I wasn’t the star of the show, but it didn’t matter–I got to help.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *