In the theater things don’t always happen in a nice, sequential and unstressful order. And in Equity-waiver theatre—read low-budget—things not going as planned is the order of the day. Meaning a playwright doesn’t often have the luxury of a wonderful space to work in, fabulous designers to bring her vision to life, a positive casting period during which actors ideal for the roles you’ve written show up to audition and a smooth but exciting rehearsal period where each rehearsal builds upon the last; until finally your show peaks on opening night in front of an appreciative audience with top critics in attendance loving your play who would then write great reviews. Oh, would that it were so easy! In fact, getting a play up is more a case of overcoming obstacles—whether those obstacles be physical or mental. And with Villa Thrilla, we had our share of both.

Once we had our cast—a challenge in itself and no fault of the casting director—rehearsal began with just four weeks until opening night. Four weeks is not much time when you’re mounting a new play with a cast of ten; particularly when it seemed impossible to get all the actors to the same rehearsals, even though the play they’d signed on to do required that their characters be on stage at the same time.

You do your best to get peoples’ schedules ahead of time in order to plan rehearsals but a few people in our cast apparently hadn’t heard about looking at a calendar to verify their availability before committing to doing Villa Thrilla. Did they not know about Yom Kippur or their Mother’s birthday when they signed on? We also lost a cast member one week into rehearsals, lost another cast member for a week and a half when a parent 2000 miles away became sick and a were burdened by a third cast member who was so difficult to work with we wanted to lose him but couldn’t because replacing him would have meant losing another cast member we liked and there just wasn’t time to get new people up to speed.

The fact that we didn’t have all the actors to rehearse with when we needed them, and when they’d agreed to be there before we hired them, made more work for Gary Lee Reed (Director), Josephine Austin (Stage Manager) and me. Gary couldn’t tell what he was looking at with the stage missing up to five people at any given rehearsal, which resulted in his having to block scenes multiple times. Josie was constantly changing blocking in her master script and having to phone errant actors who were late or hadn’t shown up. And I was not able to watch and rewrite during rehearsals, something I’d been counting on. Why couldn’t I? Because I was standing-in for missing cast members—often two or three of them in the same scene. I spent my rewrite time dashing around the stage speaking with multiple dialects and vocal timbres providing “real” people for the actors (who had actually shown up) to rehearse with. Some nights, we wanted to strangle someone—usually someone who was missing—and yet, we had to try to remain upbeat for those who bothered to come. What would be gained by screaming? I don’t know we didn’t try it. I had hoped the rehearsal period would be a gloriously fruitful time when my script would change and grow in leaps and bounds. But alas, I didn’t get to have that luxury on this one.

Being an AEA actor as well as a playwright, I like to think I understand actors but when I put my producer hat on for Villa Thrilla, I was shocked by the behavior of some of my fellow thespians. Emergencies are one thing but it would never occur to me to commit to doing a show, commence rehearsals and then spring a few “unavailable” dates on the producers. In retrospect, I would have helped myself by choosing a play with a smaller cast but I’ve already explained why I chose this play in the post entitled THE PLAY’S THE THING

Shockingly, we did not have our entire cast onstage at the same time until five days before opening. And the only thing I can say by way of comfort if you’re considering producing your play is that once we got to tech, the actors were mostly great. They showed up for the remainder of rehearsals and performances and, for the most part, knew their lines. So you may get a few more gray hairs, but if you hire professionals, they will be there when it matters—for them.

Next up: Ticketing