Tag Archives | Trouble With Words

Many Hats

This post is by Coeurage’s Production Manager Michelle Stann, lighting designer and stage manager for Double Falsehood.

My title says “Production Manager”. In reality I am the production manager, resident light designer, stage manager, and general tech for Coeurage. It’s a lot, but I like having a hand in every aspect of the production.

When I was asked to take on all of these roles for Double Falsehood, my first thought was, “Oh good, this show will be a break from the epic, award winning musical we just did.” I was only partly right. The Trouble With Words was an original, unknown piece. We had no idea how it would turn out, how much the experience would tax us, or how successful we would be, but we knew we had to show it to people and we had to do it well. Double Falsehood turned out to be a similar beast. It’s an unknown, “new” Shakespeare play that was co-written and adapted. The play hasn’t been performed since the 1700’s and we are the west-coast premiere. We have to show it to people and we have to do it well.

Double Falsehood The pre-planning of the show went pretty well. Now that the company is almost finished with its second season, we have gotten pretty good at thinking ahead and anticipating the needs of the next show. We got all of our ducks in a row during the run of our last production so that we could hit the ground running with this project. For me that means planning production meetings, setting up a calendar with a list of due dates and goals for the company, getting design elements in place, and continuing to manage the production as we went along. Again, it’s a lot, but it pays off.

My favorite part about designing this show was that it was completely new. Just like the last show, there was no blueprint from any other company that I had to compare myself to or live up to. Just an original presentation of a show few people have ever even heard of. It was a blank canvas and I was ready to paint. My parameters were 1950’s rural Midwest, simple town, hot and lively wilderness, and multiple locations. The real challenge of a small theater is finding a way to make what you have planned in your head into a reality. There are several limitations including lack of dimmers, lack of lights, and lack of space. It can be frustrating at times, but I find it also makes me more creative with my choices.

I decided to use a lot of different angles with the lighting of this show. It was a play off the “Double” in the title. Every scene has a light that is slightly off kilter. To balance or “double” these lights are partner lights that are angled traditionally creating a pretty picture with one or two elements that are slightly off in each scene. It makes for a play that seems like any other Shakespeare play until you really take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You see, Double Falsehood is not your typical Shakespeare play. The play ends in several marriages, but I dare you to call this play a comedy.

Now that the show is up and running, we can only wait and see what people think not only of the play itself, but our execution of it. We took on quite a challenge for such a new company, but we are excited to hear the feed back. We knew we had to show it to people and we knew we had to do it well. We hope you enjoy.

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Thoughts On The Show Closing…

Post by Gregory Nabours, company member and creator of The Trouble With Words.

Thoughts on the show closing…

Where do I begin?  To sum up this experience in a few paragraphs seems impossible… and yet, when pressed, I’m finding it difficult to form even a few sentences.  I guess that’s just… (wait for it)… The Trouble With Words?  This whole experience has been something of a blur… and yet, I feel that it is the most significant accomplishment in my life to date.

To start with… when I agreed to do the show, it should be noted that there was, in fact, no show.  What I had was a few songs, and the desire to turn them into something more.  I knew that I wanted to do a song cycle, I knew that I wanted it to be called “The Trouble With Words,” and that was about it.  When Jeremy Lelliott (our Artistic Director) approached me and asked me if we could do the show, I blurted out “yes” before giving it too much thought.  Usually if I allow myself too much thought, I think myself out of things, and I didn’t want that to happen this time… so I said “yes” as quickly as I could.  I cannot express how many nights I lied awake wondering if that had been a mistake.  I knew that this would be my first real introduction to the public as a songwriter, and I knew how important first impressions were… after all, we only get to make them once, right?  At the time I agreed to do the show, only 8 of the 19 songs that would eventually make it into the musical existed… which left me, roughly, with about 3 months to put together 12 new songs.  Basically, I needed to write a song a week.  Seems fair enough if this is what I want to do for a living, right?

Here’s the thing about writing music (or writing anything, I imagine): Inspiration is difficult to control.  When a person has a profound thought, or is emotionally charged by an event (or sound, or image, or smell) then everything comes out very naturally… but how does one control that?  The inspiration for one of my favorite songs (The Ballerina’s Lament) came from listening to a roommate bitch about their life one day… a scenario that normally drove me crazy.  What was mundane every other day had suddenly became profound… and 2 hours later, I had a song because of it.  It seems that creativity ebbs and flows… and the trick is to catch is when it’s close at hand, because it isn’t going to stay very long.  Can one influence it?  I’m still not sure, but I certainly tried.  I put myself through a series of awkward rituals (ex: writing while cross-faded, or staying awake past the point of exhaustion to access more of one’s subconscious) but found that results were never consistent.  Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it just left me feeling uncomfortable the next day.

Well, the weeks went by, and (one way or another) songs came out… not surprisingly, my 1-song-per-week concept turned out to be naive.  Not every song that I wrote actually made it into the show.  Some fell flat of the bar that the others had created.  At one point, I realized that I had too many male solos, and not enough female solos… so another song gets cut, and 2 more get added to the “to-be-written” list.  As the show became more of a cohesive entity, certain songs simply didn’t fit into the grand scheme of things anymore.  I didn’t write the closing number (No Words) until a week before we opened.  In fact, the song is actually about my fears of writing an appropriate closing number (“No more words… ’cause the pressure keeps on building, and I don’t know what to say anymore.”)

Throw in lighting, costumes, set, sound, choreography, 6 cast members, 4 swings, and a 6-piece band (also being orchestrated right up until the show opened) and a group of songs slowly but surely became a show.  I wish I could say that opening night was a proud breath of fresh air, but in truth, I didn’t settle into the run of the show until recently.  Every performance offered new challenges that kept me distracted from enjoying the bigger picture, and now that I actually look forward to the weekends… it’s time to close.  I suppose that’s just the nature of the beast.  It would be a lie to say that I’m not saddened… but I think that’s always how it feels when you close a good show.  It’s like going off to college and saying goodbye to your friends and family… you know that you’re moving on to bigger and better things, but that doesn’t make it any easier to actually say goodbye to the thing that you’ve grown to love.

This show has succeeded at everything I had hoped for… audiences love it, the cast loves it, and it’s opened up doors in my professional life that I wasn’t sure I’d reach.  So the big question is – what’s next?  Many of the reviews that have come out say things like “hopefully Nabours is hard at work on a big book musical”… and I’m just thinking, “Hey, I just finished writing this show a few weeks ago! Can I have a moment to reflect!?”  But I guess it’s a good sign that people want to see more from me.  I have offers from film directors, producers, theaters, and writers… and those are some big decisions to make when all you want to do is play your show another weekend.  I have faith that this show will live again, bigger and better than ever… but what do I do until then?  I’ll let you know when I do.

Greg at the piano

Greg at the piano

I need to thank some people.  First and foremost, I need to thank Ryan Wagner and Jeremy Lelliott. Without your support and your belief in me, this show never would have existed. Your vision and your dedication never faltered, even when I had my doubts, and I am so very grateful for that. Patrick Pearson, thank you for plucking these silly ideas out of my head and putting them onto the stage. Aside from turning a collection of songs into a theatrical work, you were also an integral part of the creation process. Michelle Stann (lighting) and Ric Perez-Selsky (sound), you are the only two people aside from myself (and Aimee) who can actually say that you were at every single performance.  You were at the theater before I arrived and after I left almost every night, making sure everything went along without a hitch.  Your dedication astounds me.  Erik McEwen (hair, costumes, makeup), you made my show shine in a way that only you could. Nobody knows style like you do, and 3 months of upkeep make you as valuable a part of this production as any.  Rebecca Eisenberg (front of house), you know how important first impressions can be to an audience member, and nobody sets a tone like you.  Your professionalism shows in everything that you do. Tiffany Cole (choreography), you made my show move, and you made it move well. Jeremy Lewis, always present, and always offering aide to anyone who needed it.  Nicki Monet, nobody writes a check (sometimes multiple times) like you do. ;) Brian Morales (orchestrations), you are just so immensely talented that it can be frustrating at times.  You are my right hand, and I know that our relationship will grow and prosper for years to come. Nobody can do what you do, and I hope you know that. To my band! You guys are just so good. I could play with you every night and die a happy man.  I know that I’ll have the joy of making music with all of you again in the future, but just know that you have made this experience truly unique and beautiful.  And, of course, I need to thank all of Coeurage Theatre Company, as you’ve all had a hand in the success of this project.  You are a family to me.

To my cast (swings included!)… ugh… you guys just can’t know how much I love you all.  I don’t think I’ve ever worked with such talented people.  It truly is an honor and a privilege to watch artists such as yourselves take these songs and craft them above and beyond anything that I could have imagined.  It is every writer’s dream to be able to watch their work come to life in such profound ways, and to watch the journey that you have all taken with this show has been the opportunity of a lifetime.  You reinvent the wheel every night and always leave me wanting more.  You guys are the reason I look forward to the weekends.  I know this isn’t the end of the line for this show… but even taking an extended break will make my heart a little heavier, and my weeks a little longer.  I’ve suppose it would not be inaccurate to say that I’ve grown accustomed to your faces.  :)

When the lights go down on Saturday night after curtain call… it will mark the end of a chapter in my life.  I take immense gratitude in knowing that I will be surrounded by the people that I love and respect.  So many have put their lives on hold to make this dream come true, and it just leaves me speechless… but I promise that it won’t be wasted.  We’ve got two more shows… let’s make the best of them.

~Gregory Nabours

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The Life of a Swing

Post by Sammi Smith, company member and cast member in The Trouble With Words.

At 1:45am on a Friday night, I received the following text message:

“Hi… Are you able to go on for me tomorrow night?”

It was from Sarah, one of the cast members of Trouble with Words who I understudy for as a swing. I had performed for her once before, but had had several weeks’ notice that time because it had been my scheduled guaranteed performance, an advantage that Coeurage gives all its swings and understudies.

Several thoughts went through my head. First, was Sarah okay? And then, was this a permanent thing? I’m so excited! I have to get my shift covered! Will I remember all my music? I should go over the opener. I have to call my parents! Are all my costumes clean? No coffee for me tomorrow. Where are my ballet shoes? Josh and I need to practice the tango! I should shave my legs…

The work shift was the first obstacle. I was scheduled to work that night as a hostess. Saturday morning was dedicated to calling my co-workers to see if anyone was available. They weren’t. Next, I called my manager and explained the situation. Sarah and I both work there and luckily he likes us both. He was very understanding and said he would find someone. Phew!

Next, I had to assess the costume situation, send word to friends and family, and, of course, prepare. Slightly aromatic pants got a dose of Febreeze and a tumble with a dryer sheet. Luckily my parents had the evening free so they reserved two seats for the show. Then a vocal warm up and music review, singing along with rehearsal tapes, and going over the harmonies that were fuzzy since the last performance. Coffee was nixed and replaced by lots of water to get well-hydrated.

Performing for Sarah the first time was unbelievably thrilling. It was my first performance stepping in as an understudy. Ever. Usually I get a full rehearsal process with gradually added technical elements. Get off book. Stop/start rehearsals. Begin running songs over and over again. Then add lights. Then costumes. Then sound with body mics. Add the live band. Then add the audience. In this instance, all the elements had already been there for weeks, and I felt like the last piece in the puzzle.

What a blur. Big, grateful props to the cast who came in early to run dances and songs. Their subtle guidance on stage steered me from wrong moves and missteps. The girls helped me with my many costume changes and gave me tips on how Sarah handled the transitions. It was over as quick as it began, and I was relieved and exhilarated. Weeks of prep, nerves, and lack of coffee was all worth it, and I would have been perfectly happy to have just had that one night.

Sarah’s text in the middle of the night changed my whole perspective. My life as a swing is not about just one night (of course! duh) but about being ready at a moment’s notice. This was the real challenge, and I spent my day focusing intently on the job at hand, professionally handling the evening. With a successful performance under my belt, an incredibly supportive cast, and the knowledge that I was going to have an amazing time no matter what, I drove to the theatre feeling confident and excited. And at 8:05, the curtain rose…

- Sammi Smith

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