Monday, July 29, 2013

The difference between "in the round" and "proscenium stage"

Things you never think of when you go to a show (until now):
Gosh, I'm glad to be on this side of the barricade.

SPOILERS THROUGHOUT! I am assuming you know the story of Les Mis. My intention in this post is to marvel at the execution of the show.

(Show photos from Toby's Dinner Theater Les Mis FB photo set)

This is why I love tech theater.

Even though the "same two questions"1 are 1) If you had the ability and the inclination to, who would you want to play in this show? and 2) Why?, as much as I watch the actors, I really do watch the techs. But that's on the back end of, "Wow, I love how they did this," not the creative end of "so, the dude jumps off a bridge, which rises behind him as he lands in a river. So how are we doing this without actually offing our leads every night but Monday?"

I was wondering how they'd build a barricade at Toby's Columbia for Les Misérables, seeing as it's in the round. And they certainly pulled it off to astonishing effect.

Prior the show, I figured they'd create the kids-in-a-snow-fort effect, with dense low stuff, tables and barrels, surrounding the stage, and they'd hole themselves "safely"2 inside. I am so glad they did not because, watching the show, what struck me was:

I am glad to be on the behind-the barricade side. (50-50 shot!)
If I were on the "outside" of the barricade, I would be very defensive.
Rifles pointing at me?
I would be using my fingers as guns to defend my table.
And, knowing me, I would mime along with the offstage voice as though it were an onstage voice played by me: "You at the barricade listen to this!"3

1 Oops. The "same two questions" are 1) What was most impactful? and 2) What are you going to do about it? I guess that makes these the "different two questions...?"
2 Have you seen the show? Yeah. "Safely" is kind of a relative term. Plot-wise, of course. This is no Spider-Man: Turning off the Dark. All due tech safety precautions have been taken.
3 This is when it's good that I have the ASL of the show pretty well internalized from terping it at CVHS. When I sing along it's not auditory, and if the theater is dark enough, no one can see me.

Loved loved loved the show shirts: Keep calm and build a barricade.

The barricade set was rather industrial but visually open the whole width across the center of the stage. Scaffolding and trapdoors and ladders and stockroom-style rolling stairs, relying on the audience's mind's eye. I was surprised at how much verticality the show used, with permanent-for-this-show balconies on each of the four aisles. If the actors were any taller, people at center stage would have been braining themselves on lighting elements. This in addition to all the ladders and posts I was constantly watching people to jump off of safely and not spin someone else (or themselves) into, especially when carrying a corpse4. And massive set pieces coming in and out all the aisles, at high speeds, in the dark.

4 Mad props to Dan Felton (Valjean) for hefting and carrying Jeff Shankle (Marius) through the sewer set. Some serious weight training there, as well as sense of placement to not take Jeff's head off on a vertical post during a pivot.

The most dramatic bit of all was what I am deeming "Best. Death. Ever." was Larry Munsey (Javert) stalking the full width of the theater on a scaffolding bridge. Then, tethered to the ceiling, a thin cord holding him from a straight-up plummet, Larry jumped as the techs pulled the bridge out from under his feet. That, plus the lighting, plus the musical cue... W-O-W.

So. Guess I gotta see it again.

P.S. Kudos also to the pit orchestra -- all FOUR of them in a given performance -- who pull off the whole score as though they were each a dozen musicians. And to the conductor/keyboardist, who is also the ~Valjean~ understudy!

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