To “B” or not to “B”, minus

I have had the privileged of directing “Little Shop of Horrors” for Signature Productions these last three months, (my first community theatre directing gig in Las Vegas) and I cannot begin to tell you the personal reward I have gained from the experience. Now…like any theatrical experience I would argue, not all of the moments have been paved with gold. There have been heartache, concerns and moments where I found myself saying “but, I have to do this for the good of the show.” Overwhelmingly, however, the cast is filled with talented, bright (and kind) people…the crew is a bunch of determined, sassy worker bees who have bloodied their knuckles for me…and the executive board of Signature is supportive and trusting. It’s been a very valuable experience.

You can imagine, like any actor / director waiting for public feedback, we were anxious to see what the theatre reviewer had to say. He said, “B-.” (He said a bunch of other things too…but will any of it be remembered? The B- is all that will live in the annals of time.)

When I read the review online at 2:30am…yes, I’m a freak…at first I felt my heart in my throat. Immediately my mind raced to all the shows I watched this year…especially the ones rated “A” shows…and I picked them apart. (I suppose that’s human nature, right?) But then…after the fevered flashback, I scratched my pug, ate about half a pint of bitter Ben and Jerry’s. It didn’t help that much. Finally I thought to myself…..this is exactly what I needed.

Please allow me to say that I appreciate the review and commentary, and I believe the reviewer in question has every right to rate us according to his thoughts and expertise. (After all, we invited him!) To him, thank you for coming and I look forward to offering you more opportunities to adjudicate more shows under my direction.

But, for the sake of my cast and crew, whose “A+” spirit reflects months of hard work, a determined and fun edge to the story’s approach, and creative prowess that extends beyond any mere review…I argue that this opinion is a very good thing. Yeah…I said it. This “B-” is a GOOD thing. (I would also argue that I wouldn’t be writing this post if we did receive an “A!” Ha!)

You see, theatre is so wildly subjective. A spring poking the patron’s butt….a speaker on stage left that’s “too loud”….or the fact that the concession stand ran out of Snickers….all of these things can seriously manipulate any theatre-goers experience before the curtain even rises.  It’s not hard to imagine that some of these musicals (especially ones that are often done) are ones a reviewer might attend as part of “a day’s work.” I respect this critic…and I’m sure this critic respects the hard work and energy that went into the piece. That’s not arguable. I think what everyone would love to see is this critic’s rubric. The standard by which all of the shows rated this season were held to. (And if you’re lucky…maybe you’ll get a chance to meet the wonderful wizard behind the curtain too. As if!) It isn’t going to happen.

The fact of the matter is, I was hoping for an “A” as a means by which to boost morale. That’s all it’s really good for, internally. From a marketing perspective…I like to think a “B-” in many ways is perhaps even better than an “A” (especially considering all the “As” I’ve seen handed out this year! And congrats to all!) I hope theatrical patrons will want to check out the show to develop their own opinions. I guarantee you (having been in many shows), a theatrical review is absorbed by a performing cast…and challenged. I can’t wait for you all to see the show!

I guess I’m old school. Because I now think this B- is a blessing. Surely the show isn’t “bad”….I mean, by school standards a “B-” is “above average.” That’s good, right? By theatrical standards (and I would argue, society’s standards)  …anything less than an “A” is unacceptable. (And we wonder why our students aren’t well-adjusted nowadays.)

I could break it down. I could argue that the reviewer’s last three shows all got an “A.” An arguement could be made that Signature Productions won “Outstanding Theatre Troupe” two years in a row…and this year all three shows garnished a “B.” (Gotta break up that trend!) It could even be said that the reviewer doesn’t like “Little Shop” (and everyone knows that!) But, I refuse to suggest any of these things. (Even if they rattle in choice ensemble members’ heads as they wait for their cues in the wings.) Instead, I’m going to suggest something else. (And it’s wacky!) I’m going to suggest that this show was adjudicated effectively by a person with the credentials to do so. It’s a crazy notion, I know!

Maybe…just maybe…the man is doing his job and calling it as he sees it.

Maybe…just maybe…there isn’t any underlining drama or influences.

Maybe…just maybe…my initial mindset (and grumbling) about the rating is exactly what’s WRONG with the community theatre mindset.

I have been overly excited to be an audience member this year on numerous occasions…catching many of the shows previous reviewed. I have a tendency to agree more often than not with the reviewer’s assessment. (Not always, mind you…*insert specific examples here*….but I won’t, because I’m trying to make a point.) Call me an eternal optimist, or a hopeless romantic…or just someone who wishes for a better way of doing things in general…but I would hope that other theatre companies would WANT productions to thrive and succeed. No one is driving home to their elite mansion (purchased with the revenue made from these shows) after each production. Pretty much everyone is putting these shows on because they love to create. They love bringing people together, and collectively generate something good, for the sake of theatre.

Like any clay sculpture…or lyrical dance….or Blue Man Group performance….there will always be someone who goes “AWESOME!” and someone who goes “WHAT THE….???” Always. If the goal in theatre is to appeal to everyone, then we are doing ourselves a disservice and shooting ourselves in the foot before we even begin. It ain’t gonna happen. All we can do is trust our creative spirits, work hard, and find joy in recreating these fantastic worlds every night, in the hopes that audiences will want to get lost in them for a while. Who could ask for anything more?

A “B-” says to me “this is an above average musical, that I found a few faults with that held it back from being superior.” It could’ve been worse. Far worse. This rating does not say “avoid this show.” I take pride in knowing that this show is being perceived as above average from a reputable critic (even if, just barely)….and that the heartbeat of the cast and crew are still pumping at a superior level. The rest I will leave up to the audiences. I think that some will love this show…and some will not. I didn’t need a theatrical review to tell me that.

It’s unfortunate that audiences don’t get to see the special moments that go into shows like “Little Shop.” That one rehearsal where Carnell’s head was the stand-in for the small plant puppet. That one moment when Jake nailed those notes for Skip Snip after a nearly 7 year theatrical hiatus. That one moment when our leading actress looked me in the eye and said “I have restored faith in myself.” Those moments are magic…and the ONLY real reason I love theatre so much. I wish audiences could see that “heart.”

I’ve always viewed theatre as kinda the mad scientist experiment of the performing arts. So subjective…so wonderfully imaginative. Every time I direct a show I feel like I’m piecing together a macaroni collage, or something. People usually don’t understand what I’m doing until I get everything together. Even then, I feel like there are times that people stand back and look at the finished product and go “well, yeah…but it’s still macaroni.” I never think about the macaroni. Ever. I think you’re missing the point if you think too hard on the macaroni. It’s what you do WITH the macaroni that’s important.

To read the review, CLICK HERE. I hope you all come to see “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS” at the Summerlin Library / Performing Arts Center. It runs through August 27. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.SignatureProductions.net.

I love my cast/crew…and I couldn’t be prouder of them. They don’t need an “A”….they have “life experiences!” Heh.

Perhaps it’s my ADD…perhaps it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a group of people on “Little Shop” that is professional and talented enough to make me think this way….but in my house, if you get a “B-” on your macaroni…that goes up on the fridge, for all to see.

I’m going to finish my Ben and Jerry’s now. I betcha it tastes a lot better.

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One Response to “To “B” or not to “B”, minus”

  1. erikball123 Says:

    You can check out CITY LIFE’S review of the show here: http://www.lasvegascitylife.com/articles/2011/08/04/ae/stage/iq_46256503.txt

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