Five Things I Learned from the Portland Bad Kitty On Stage Workshop

This week, I was in Portland for the first workshop of Bad Kitty On Stage at Oregon Children's Theatre. I have never worked on a co-commissioned piece before, so I didn't quite know what to expect from this sort of dual development process. Over the course of the two days, I learned some new things and was reminded of things that were good for me to remember. Here's just a handful of them:

1. Theatre people are theatre people.
Prior to the trip, I wondered whether I would notice any differences between theatre folks in Oregon and theatre folks in the Bay Area. I guess I thought that geographic and demographic differences meant that I would feel like a bit of an outsider. This was far from the case. As soon as I met Stan Foote (artistic director of OCT) and Dani Baldwin (OCT's director of Bad Kitty On Stage) and the rest of the production team members, I fell immediately into a familiar patter and pattern of talking. We had just met, but the conversation flowed happily back-and-forth between professional and personal topics, and there were some good laughs along the way. There was a lot I didn't know about OCT or the theatre scene in Portland, but I definitely felt welcome and like I was still part of the larger Theatre community.

2. Actors are awesome.
I've said this before, but it's always such a treat when an actor takes what you've written and gives it life, whether on stage or in the rehearsal room. And for a show like Bad Kitty where the characters are mostly cartoon-like animals portrayed by humans, this was a particularly delightful moment. At one point, actors were playing a dog and cat interaction scene which ended up with frenzied barking and meowing while rolling around on the ground. Instead of being hesitant about any of it, they did what awesome actors do: committed to the characters 100%. This continued to happen throughout the workshop, and made it easy for me and the other creative team members to visualize and hear what the show could become.

3. Feedback can be fun.
After each read-thru of the script, Dani and I spent time discussing the script draft with the actors. The environment stayed very positive, but also yielded some very helpful and straightforward critiques. Throughout the conversation, the tone remained respectful and we also shared some great moments of laughter. I think I'm much better at receiving feedback than I was four or five years ago (when feedback sessions made me want to curl up into a ball and give up - but that's another blog post?). I try to listen first and avoid any desire to be immediately defensive, let each person have their opinion and say, and take notice if it strikes a chord with me, or if I'm seeing a similar trend in other responses. The feedback process is no longer terrifying, but feels like just another part of getting the work of writing done. And if it's with a pleasant group of people, it can actually be enjoyable too.

4. Theatre is best experienced live.
My original thought for the music of Bad Kitty On Stage was that I would be creating a sort of "Saturday morning cartoon" score for the piece. I imagined using grand orchestral sounds to create pre-recorded tracks that seemed akin to what you might hear in a Looney Tunes piece. But after the first reading, Stan, Dani and Nina (Executive Director of Bay Area Children's Theatre) were convinced that the music needed to be experienced live. This would mean, of course, that instead of a score with multiple parts, it would most likely come from a single keyboard. However, everyone was willing to trade in the multi-layered, pre-recorded score for a simpler, live one. We talked about how seeing a pianist play while the show was performed would be a unique experience for a young audience member, and it would also add charm and character to the work, similar to the days of silent film. I have nothing against pre-recorded tracks, since I used them for Tales of Olympus. But I have to agree that the flow of Bad Kitty On Stage will feel much more connected and well-timed with the action on-stage if the music is performed live.

5. I love what I do.
I had a few moments in Portland when I looked around and thought, "Am I really here? Am I really in a room with people who are enthusiastically playing domesticated animals? Is my job really where I get to write something, talk about it, then make changes to what I wrote? Will I really see this script I've written on stage with full costume, sets and lights?"  Three years ago, when Tales of Olympus was opening, if you had told me that I'd be flying to Portland for a two-day workshop, I probably wouldn't have believed you. So, when I was in Portland, enjoying this wonderfully new experience of a co-commissioned workshop process, I was reminded how lucky I am to be doing what I love, and loving what I do.