Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nov 5: Opening Night!

Last night was opening night for the play I'm stage managing: "Master Harold" ... and the boys by Athol Fugard. I didn't know anything about the play when I said yes to the job, nor have I ever been a stage manager before. But that's what I do. I say yes because I've never tried it before, and then I try to figure out how to do the thing. This time I was lucky I was working for a director who likes to mentor and an experienced cast.

The stage managers for the two plays I've done before didn't do the same jobs, so far as I could tell. So I think it may depend on what the director wants and what the play demands. As for me, I sat with a script and read along and gave lines or blocking for every rehearsal. And I taught ballroom dancing, gave literary analysis, helped with props, sent out emails and reminders and information on our private Facebook page, took photos, eventually made sure the stage was set up every night, created the loud sound of glass breaking with a crash bucket (sorry to give that away), and made homemade pea soup for Hally to eat on stage. After the show, I clean up and get it ready to go again. Basically, I was the stage mom. Oh, and I got to know some wonderful, talented men I can call friends now. They even gave me a card and a gift! I was so surprised and touched. I didn't expect that.*

But back to opening night! I've watched rehearsals and run lines for this play for weeks, and I still wiped tears last night and I still gasped when Hally....oops. No spoilers. The three men who played Hally (Master Harold), Sam, and Willie (the boys) were so perfectly cast, I wonder that Athol Fugard didn't have them in mind when he wrote the play.

And a powerful play it is. Set in South Africa in 1950, Fugard tells the story of his friendship with two African men who worked for his mother. The story is what you might expect, a clash between racism and love, pride and shame, history and the need to change. A few of the scenes are so shocking we recommended people not bring children under 17.

What struck me  most though, as I listened to this play over and over, was the perfection of Fugard's words. Every word serves a purpose in this script as he slowly develops two powerful metaphors through an upcoming ballroom dance competition Sam and Willie are preparing for and a kite story from when Hally was younger. I wanted to go through the entire play in slow motion with the audience and say, "Look how he foreshadows the slow foxtrot at the end of the show, and listen when Hally accuses Sam and Willie of "trotting around the dance floor." See how Hally says "catch" twice and then Sam says it too. The repetition means something here! And notice when he uses the word "fair," because one whole scene is going to wrap around that word and you won't forget that scene. You won't hear the word "fair" the same way again. The simple craftsmanship of this play makes it worth seeing. OK, I'm such a word geek. The story is powerful too.

And the characters. In a few lines Fugard can show so much of the complexity of Sam and Willie's lives. We end up knowing more about them than Hally does. He has been sheltered, "safe inside his white skin," and they know he couldn't handle it....but we know he will have to, especially after the rainy afternoon we witness.

After one short snippet of a story Sam tells about being beaten with a cane in jail, Hally explodes, "Jesus Christ, Sam, I've had quite enough." So Sam stops. But the audience gets no such relief. This is a one-act play that lasts about an hour, forty. No intermission to empty the bladder, grab a snack or a smoke or a little relief from the story that's building on that stage. There are several scenes that are so shocking one reviewer who came to the final dress rehearsal said he had to hold himself back from running up on the stage and stopping the action.

I can't say anything else about the play because I have readers who will be attending the next two performances. I don't want to give anything away, although I'm still surprised by some of what happens, and I've seen it over a million times.

After the play we had a dessert reception in the lobby. I went up to greet some of my friends who had come out for the play. The director and the music director for the musical I'm in, Scrooge, were both there. And each one said at different times, "As of Monday, you're my bitch for the next 6 weeks mine."  I've missed more Scrooge rehearsals than I've attended so far, but the music director has been kind enough to offer a weekly extra during the day for those of us who wanted to come. I'll catch up.

"MH" ... and the boys has been a great experience. I've learned so much and been so fortunate to work with the director and the cast. It's kept me busy and moving on. And now I'm ready to switch to some singing and dancing. As of next week, I become Mrs. Dilber--and make sure you read that in a cockney accent, you 'ear?

* We got the director Crown Royal. We always get the director booze. He needs it by opening night.


  1. I love going to the play. Something we almost never do since having kids. Stopping by from NaBloPoMom :)

  2. Welcome, Shelby. An advantage of having grown kids is that I can now get involved in things like theater instead of just driving somebody else to rehearsals. (My son did lots of theater when he was growing up.)

    One thing I did when they were younger though was to buy season tickets so we'd have to get a sitter and go. I'm too stingy to let theater tickets go to waste. We did that for several years and enjoyed some plays we probably wouldn't have chosen otherwise.

    Blog on!

  3. Participating in theatre productions, on or off stage, is like a drug.

    I see you are not hooked.

  4. I'll probably be injecting it between my toes soon. It's been fun to see what the world looks like from behind the stage.

  5. "Between my toes"?

    That's where I'm injecting my Botox™