Posts filed under Nightingale

A special performance of Nightingale

For the most recent production of The Song of the Nightingale, Town Hall Theatre had received a few grants to put on student matinee performances for local elementary schools. These special daytime performances would be an opportunity for children, many of whom may not have seen a live performance before, to see a shortened version of the show. Unfortunately, one of those schools - Shore Acres in Pittsburg - could not attend due to air quality warnings in the wake of the Sonoma County fires last month.

 Actors Minseob Yeom, Chris Juan, Pauli Amornkul, Isabel To, and me performing at Shore Acres Elementary.

Actors Minseob Yeom, Chris Juan, Pauli Amornkul, Isabel To, and me performing at Shore Acres Elementary.

The lovely folks at Town Hall decided to coordinate and reschedule with Shore Acres to do a special on-site visit. We polled the cast to see who might be available, and once I knew who we had, I created a 20-minute reader's theatre presentation of the show which featured 5 musical numbers. We had no set, no props, no band (save for me on the keyboard), and minimal costumes. However, as soon as we began to narrate the story, we could tell we had the kids' attention! As Artistic Director Susan Evans put it, "They were rapt!" It was a delightful sight to see the faces of the kids light up and stay so engaged. Of course, this makes sense. Nothing is more powerful at painting the picture of a story than a child's own imagination. Even though they didn't get to hear all of the songs from the show or meet all the actors or experience all of the production elements, they still tracked with the story of the little bird who saves an entire kingdom with her song.

The Nightingale Returns

This past weekend, The Song of the Nightingale opened once more in the Bay Area, this time at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette. This is the first time I've had a second local production of a show, and a newly revised one at that. I approached this production as an experiment: if The Song of the Nightingale had a new theatre company producing it with a new creative team and a (mostly) new cast, what would I discover about the show? I'm excited to say that I learned that the story of the show still shines through. The design elements, direction, and actor choices may be new, but the characters remain trackable, even more so with the new revisions.

I also learned that this show is a very meaningful experience for the cast members. There are very few musicals that feature Asian-American actors, and those that do are problematic for a variety of reasons. I received feedback from actors in Nightingale that they were very proud to be a part of this show. Several of them felt that for the first time, they could be themselves onstage and backstage. That they weren't putting on a white character or a white perspective of what it means to be Asian. It has been a goal of mine to create more roles for Asian-Americans in musical theatre, and I'm so honored to hear the effect it's having on my friends and colleagues.

Finally, I discovered that I love this show. It holds a very special place in my heart as my very first passion project for musical theatre. The script and score are certainly written by a younger me, and it was an interesting challenging revising the material in a way that stayed true to that younger style of writing. At times, I did wonder if those watching it would sense this "younger me" and consider it an amateur attempt at writing. But while watching it on opening night, I felt confident that I love the show for what it is. The Song of the Nightingale will always be the project that started it all.

 Folks from both the Altarena and the Town Hall Theatre productions of  The Song of the Nightingale  pose together on opening night!

Folks from both the Altarena and the Town Hall Theatre productions of The Song of the Nightingale pose together on opening night!

Revising the Nightingale: An Ode to Long and Feng

The biggest script change from the previous version of The Song of the Nightingale and the upcoming Town Hall Theatre production is the removal of two clown-like twins named Long and Feng. This duo served as the Emperor's main attendants and provided a lot of the comic relief in the show. They did cartwheels, offered sarcastic commentary, and oh -- the puns! When it came time to revise the show, however, I knew that I needed to cut down the duration considerably. Long and Feng rarely did anything to push the plot forward, and anything that did feel substantial to the story could easily be handed to another character. I decided to try this new version without them. By doing so, I also discovered that removing the characters of Long and Feng allowed the humor and presence of the other characters to shine through more clearly, without any vaudevillian interruptions. What's remarkable is that the idea of cutting the twins from the show would never have dawned on me sans the prospect of a second production on the horizon. As I said in a previous post, I don't know that a show is ever "done," but I'm so grateful to Town Hall Theatre for this chance to explore and experiment with a more streamlined Nightingale.

And thank you, Long and Feng, for your time and service to the show.

 Feng (Isabel To) and Long (Christopher Juan) - you will be missed. But don't worry! Isabel and Chris are now playing other roles in the new production!

Feng (Isabel To) and Long (Christopher Juan) - you will be missed. But don't worry! Isabel and Chris are now playing other roles in the new production!

Closing Remarks

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In some ways, the closing of The Song of the Nightingale actually signifies a re-opening for me. For the past six weeks, I've been able to let the show be. The story has lived through the talents of the actors, stage manager, crew and staff. Even if I've had ideas or received suggestions on how to change the show moving forward, I've been able to stow those thoughts in a box marked "Do not open until December" in my mind. There is a sense in which, for this particular production, my role in the show already reached its completion on opening night, October 11th, 2013.

With the 22nd show complete (Can you believe it? The show has been performed 22 times!), there sits inside my gut a quiet sense of triumph and relief.  The response to the show was so enthusiastically positive, with many of the Altarena patrons saying it was the best show they have seen in that venue. I'm sure for several folks the show was not their cup of tea, but I am happy to know that the work resonated with or entertained a good number of our audience members.

I have described working on this production of Nightingale as akin to opening a time capsule. There is in Nightingale a sort of unabashed optimism which, while not altogether foreign to my current outlook, has been tested and transformed since the show's conception. Revisiting that optimism brought me to the question: Do I still believe in the message of the show? Do I still believe that anyone can change for the better? Do I still think that such changes in the individual will make the world better?

My answer is "yes." It is, perhaps, tempered by a more grounded view of the world; not everything can be solved by having a "cozy, imperial chat," like the characters do so easily in the story. And yet, I do think hope and naivete, in the best possible sense, go hand-in-hand. To believe that things can get better, even if a great deal of evidence indicates the likelihood of the opposite, requires a sort of child-likeness. I think that's why I'll always love fairy-tales. Through their magic, they ask us to believe like a child, and simultaneously compel us toward deeper meaning in our adult lives.

It feels trite or incomplete to say that I'm happy or sad or even simply "emotional" about the closing of Nightingale. The show contains a piece of my own spirit, and, for a moment, that piece had its chance to reveal itself to others. The moment is now a memory. And all those feelings you get when any significant event transitions into becoming a memory - that is what I am feeling with the close of Nightingale.

Posted on November 25, 2013 and filed under Creative, Nightingale, Performing Arts.