In May of 2001, I directed my first show outside of college. That’s a gap of seven years, if you want the math. Well, let’s call it six and a half. My last directing gig at Berry was a restaging of The Actor’s Nightmare during my graduating semester, a play I’d put on the previous spring.
In 2001, I directed Romeo & Juliet for Theatre Noble. Or Noble Theatre. It depended on who you asked, really. Much like North Fulton Drama Club does now, most of Noble’s performances were staged outdoors. Just where these outdoors were varied from show to show. Their first Shakespearean foray was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, staged on the square in Roswell. I was not involved, but from what I recall, their biggest complaint was the tremendous amount of noice from the busy highways running along two sides of the square. In the fall of 2000, they took on Hamlet. I was cast twice in that production, both as the Ghost of Hamlet’s father and his nemesis, Claudius. That one took place at old Mill Park, still near Roswell Square, but down a sidestreet and away. Hans Meyer, who had directed me earlier that year in GSU’s production of Stephen Dietz’s Dracula, had the title role.
That next spring, I was given the directorial reins to Romeo & Juliet. Most of them, anyway. Exact titles aside, I took the production to heart and saw it through. Hans was Romeo, another title role. Our Juliet was perhaps a little shy, but that worked more often than it didn’t. The always excellent Zip Rampy was Romeo’s father, though in retrospect, I think he would’ve been better suited for Juliet’s papa.
For the most part, I saw the performances I wanted to see, found the emotions I wished to uncover. The stumbling blocks were lessons I’ve never forgotten. Little things. Never let an audition fool you into a false sense of ability. Anyone can get one thing so right, only to let everything else fall far short. Stick to your ideals as much as is reasonable, but be ready to compromise without taking the change personally. Also, keep an eye out for the health and safety of your actors. Stage combat is great, so long as it doesn’t leave an actor with a painful limp or worse.
The other day, during another of our preparatory house-cleaning/house-clearing sessions — we’ve new carpet arriving in a week or so — I found a pair of CD-Rs. The cue-to-cue music and preshow music from Romeo & Juliet. Without hesitation, I set those aside to import. I remembered most of what I put into the preshow, but not everything, so I knew the rediscovery would be worthwhile.
What I found after a first re-listen was that I was still mostly satisfied with the choices I made. Pre-show music serves a few purposes. Practically, if you start a set of songs at a given time before curtain, then each progressive track is a kind of countdown. “Five songs to go.” With any luck, the preshow will serve to ease the audience’s bodies into their seats (physically) and their minds into the emotional space you’re hoping to create. Big philosophical talk, I know, but I do believe it works.
The pre-show for Romeo & Juliet is basically a mixtape. From Romeo to Juliet? Maybe. Maybe the other way around. There’s a lot of hope and longing going on here, tempered with a wry sense of humor. Otherwise, I would’ve never opened the set with Travis’s take on a Britney Spears tune. The practical charm of “Frank Mills” (from the musical, Hair) has always slain me, particularly the way that Shelley Plimpton sings it. It’s “Loss Cat” for lost love and I adore it. “It’s Not The Spotlight” is very Juliet, at least how I read the girl. From there, we roll on to Cat Power, Cowboy Junkies and Tori Amos doing a triple-set of covers. That all three original songs were established by male singers is no accident. “I’m On Fire” remains my favorite of the set.
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
and a freight train running through the
middle of my head
If that ain’t love … the kind that distracts with impunity and ignores reason entirely.
I’ll let you make your own decisions and assumptions about the rest of the set. Music does nobody any good unheard, so I’ve uploaded the pre-show as a mix. Feel free to take it and give it a listen. The playlist is as follows:
- “Baby Hit Me One More Time” – Travis
- “Frank Mills” – Shelley Plimpton
- “It’s Not The Spotlight” – Beth Orton
- “Satisfaction” – Cat Power
- “Sweet Jane” – Cowboy Junkies
- “I’m On Fire” – Tori Amos
- “So This Is Goodbye” – Stina Nordenstam
- “Here There and Everywhere” – Emmylou Harris
- “Seeing Other People” – Belle & Sebastian
- “Love Is Blindness” – Cassandra Wilson
- “Willing To Wait” – Sebadoh
- “You Had Time” – Ani Difranco
- “The Stars Will Steer Me” – The Prayer Boat
Download: Romeo & Juliet Pre-Show Mixtape Thing
I’m trying a new upload service thing. If the link gives you any troubles, just let me know. Otherwise, download, listen and let me know what you think.
One More Thing: If one slightly romanti-tragical mix is not enough for you, Beth at A Cup Of Coffey has a metric tonne of melodic heartbreak on tap this morning.