We have moved into the Lucie Stern Theatre for our Four Immigrants Tech rehearsals! While reflecting on this phase of the rehearsal process, the word that keeps coming to mind is "trust." With the exception of some minor tweaks here and there, the script and score are set for this production. So now, one of my primary tasks is to trust the rest of the team to do what they do. Thankfully, the design and technical teams make that an easy task. Since I am not a particularly craft-y or tech-y person myself, I am continuously finding myself in awe of the theatre magic I am witnessing in the show's sets, props, costumes, sound, and projections. I know my show is in good hands, and I can't wait for the show to open with all of its storytelling elements in place!
Week 2 of rehearsals started off with a rough run-through of the show on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the cast, Leslie (director) and I went on a walking tour of Japantown, San Jose, which brought us all a bit closer to the history behind Henry Kiyama's comic story. Publicity photos have been released (as you can see above)! And as of yesterday, the entire show has been blocked! Now, it's time to review, tighten, and clean up what the actors have already learned, as well as make necessary changes to the script and score along the way. We have our work cut out for us, but everyone in the rehearsal room is a delight to work with! There's a real spirit of collaboration that is exactly what a new musical needs.
Last month, while in London, I had the privilege of visiting with Oily Cart Theatre, one of the few companies dedicated to creating productions for young audiences living with special needs. Specifically, Oily Cart focuses on children with autism spectrum condition (ASC) and/or profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD). While developing Story Explorers, I knew it would be paramount to visit with and learn from an organization that is already doing the work - and Oily Cart has been creating this work for over 30 years.
My day started with Oily Cart's Artistic Director Tim Webb picking me up from my hotel and driving me out to South Ockenden where we would watch performances of Light Show, the company's latest offering. On the way (to and from), I was able to barrage Tim with question after question about what goes into the creative process for sensory-friendly work. He was very patient in answering all of my questions and adding insight that I would never have considered.
The performances of Light Show were captivating and eye-opening. The artistic concept of the piece was paper, so everything from the set to the seats to the costumes to the props were made to look like white sheets of paper. The three actors - Plane, Fan and Hat - were all objects that could be made from paper. The story of the show was a day at the beach, and was sectioned into different moments about the beach. Each moment centered around a brightly colored object. Orange heated pads were brought out to simulate the heat of the sun. Then came sun tan lotion in bright orange containers. There was also a segment with a large, elegant silver and blue raincloud, followed by a mischievous purple raincloud that sprayed water at the audience. The show featured original music accompanied by a double bass. Each song was thoughtfully composed, but remained lyrically simple enough for all of the children to follow.
It's difficult to capture in words what the experience of watching Light Show was like. And perhaps that's the point. The work that Oily Cart does is to create theatre that does not rely on verbal language or abstract concepts which must be followed in order to be enjoyed. While there is a structure to the show, the audience doesn't necessarily need to track a protagonist's emotional or social journey, nor is there a pressure for audiences to "understand the plot." Light Show put more emphasis on moment-by-moment experiences than on laying out a linear storyline. Each performer is trained to respond in the moment to a child's reactions. Tim described it as a "grand communication system," where the actors are hoping to connect with each audience member in a language that makes sense to them - be it lights & color, music & sound, the feeling of suntan lotion on the skin or drops of water on the face.
This doesn't cover half of what I learned from my visit with Oily Cart, and unfortunately, I didn't snap any photos during the show, because I wanted to take in the show live as much as possible. But suffice it to say, I came away from that visit feeling more equipped and prepared to venture into my first sensory-friendly work. I'm excited to think through ways to tell stories that my neurotypical brain doesn't often consider. I can't wait to explore and develop and learn more and be corrected. I am entirely indebted to Mr. Webb, their wonderful touring company, and all of Oily Cart for allowing me to be a fly-on-the-wall, and to witness one of their magical productions.
Note to self: when you write a show featuring a cast of 16 out of which 13 of those actors have two or more costume changes, and when that same show has not one, but TWO fashion show scenes in it, you better be sure you have a damn, good costume designer and team in your corner. Amazingly, that is exactly what I have for The Song of the Nightingale.
Yesterday was our costume parade, and I was blown away by what Costume Designer Liz Martin and her team at Pink Depford Designs have created. Wait - I need to emphasize that last word: created. In the East Bay world of locally produced theatre, costumes are rarely created (I can't tell you how many times I've sat in the audience, looked on stage and said "I've worn those pants before!"). But for Nightingale, we are getting to see costumes that have never been seen - anywhere! Keep that in mind when you come see the show!
I won't give away too much, but Liz and her team were able to use historical Chinese garb as the springboard for pieces with modern touches and imaginative surprises. This was important to me as the show itself whimsically straddles history and fantasy. The costumes are vibrant, eye-catching and will play an undeniably large role in the storytelling. And some of the outfits are just downright beautiful.
In spite of the heavy load of work and the long hours it has taken to get to this point, Liz told me that she and her team still had a lot of fun putting the pieces together. They enjoyed letting their creative juices flow while at the same time considering the reality of budget and logistical limitations. I once read somewhere that creativity bursts forth more vigorously in the face of constraints. And the costumes for The Song of the Nightingale are no exception. I am so thankful to have such passionate and talented collaborators. They truly are giving the small, brown bird her wings - and her own line of clothing.