Posted on December 13, 2013
When we set out to remount and tour the children’s musical Still Awake Still!, our main stroke of luck was that the original cast, Carolyn Connors, Dan Witton and Renato Vacirca, who helped create the show, were still keen to be involved. The last time they engaged with it was the final performance of the show in its premiere season in the Fairfax Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne, in October 2011. Then the actors turned the page, and filled their heads with the next challenge, and the next and the next and the next. That was a long time ago – such is the nature of theatre funding and venue lead-times. Theatre makes publishing seem speedy, and advertising meteoric.
Second time around there are changes and modifications, because the show must survive the rigors of trains, boats and trucks, and hang together physically and mentally, and be enjoyable for the audience and the cast and crew, through the marathon 21 performances in USA, and 68 shows around Australia. The split-second timing that made the show exciting and funny must be learned afresh, with the help of the video of the premiere season. The melodies may be in the performers’ deep memory but lyrics, and all cues and actions must be relearnt.
Meanwhile a small support tribe, the makers of sets, props, lights, and costumes, have been beavering away in their individual workspaces, solving their particular problems to make the show road worthy, for example the cute cake rack that, with repairs, did the job for the first season now has five emergency replicas.
The Boys get a new set of shirts each and a second pair of tails. Miss T gets a new lighter gown for Darwin, Cairns and Townsville. For the makers these To Do’s for a show that happened a long time ago, that has suddenly come back into focus, is not as exciting as creating the thing in the first place, but it’s work.
And how will the show be packed? How many road cases? The show is travelling to theatres of all shapes and sizes. It must be like a cassette that can slot neatly into each venue. It’s a complicated show with tight turn-arounds. Sam Doyle (Technical Manager) decided the top section of the big grand piano should stay in one piece to save precious time. The road cases were configured accordingly so that bumping-in and bumping-out is smooth, and the show becomes a well-oiled machine.
It was funny seeing all the paraphernalia at the remount. The last time we saw this collection of crazy objects was when we transported it to The Storage Place in 2011. Since then it has lain undisturbed, except for a visit from Rosalind Price (Executive Producer from Jump Leads) to check if moths had eaten the carpet. We waved to it every time we swooped over the Bolte Bridge, and thought of the $154 a month it was costing.
Jessica Wilson (Producer/Director) found the venue for the remount, a smallish theatre, convenient and affordable, the Guild Theatre, Union House at Melbourne University. It had a nice feeling about it – theatrical, collaborative – but it didn’t have a loading bay, so large heavy pieces of set had to be manhandled upstairs. It did have a tasty choice of lunch downstairs, and all the practical things a student union provides. The Guild became our dark world away from the world.
Jess consulted the cast and lined up dates when they were free. This was no mean feat as an actor/musician’s life is a patchwork of engagements. Finally, Steph Cox (Tour Manager) drew up a schedule so everyone knew what was expected of them. The Activity column had entries like: BACKDROP BRAINSTORM, LX FOCUS, PLOT, TECH HOLD, ART FINISH and the Detail column: PROPS & MECHANISMS, BRING BACK THE MUSIC, BUMBLE THROUGH.
Monday 4th November, cast and crew found their way to the Guild. At the first meeting everyone sat on the circular carpet that frames the set, and Jess began the process of bringing the show back to life. The performers had already rehearsed the music with Sue Johnson, the Composer and musical ‘mother’ of the show. Rehearsal days were full on, and every now and then an anguished cry would go up – ‘My car!’ – and somebody would bolt for the door to feed the meter. The first week was warm, and students drifted around in summer clothes, with a lot of kissing going on.
Jess, backed by Rosalind, did the heavy thinking about the remount, and the waking-up-in-the-early-hours-with-a-head-full-of-details. They strategized, in collaboration with Steph and Sam, whose desks were covered with specifications, lists, plans, diagrams, tools, biscuits…
All the planning and pre-production required to take a show on tour is the huge underwater part of the iceberg; audiences see only the gleaming tip – the polished performance. We won’t even mention the endless, sticky business of grant-writing, fundraising, contracts, insurance, visas, marketing materials, understudies, booking travel and accommodation, freight… It takes a steady partnership between Jessica Wilson (independent producer) and Jump Leads (not-for-profit arts development engine) to make it happen. The part played by Regional Arts Victoria, who mastermind the Australian national tour, is a story in itself!
For the cast, health is top priority – body, voice, and hands – especially for Bass Boy, Dan who leaps in and out of the piano like a monkey. One young friend, on seeing a Dan after a show, exclaimed ‘He’s an actorbat!’ which is exactly right but Dan is even more than that: he can sing like an angel and play the double bass while dancing.
The show went well in the two test performances at the end of the remount, but this is our ‘hood’. Will they like it in New York, Townsville, Pittsburgh, and Dandenong? One thing we know is that we have an efficient, tireless crew and a trio of exceptional, seasoned performers. Dan can make you laugh just by eating his breakfast. Caro can sweep to the piano and sing up a storm. And Renato? – you just watch him; you can’t help it.
Photos © Steph Cox, Elizabeth Honey