Friday, October 29, 2010

Attention to Detail

I've spent more of my time in the past two years focused on doing burlesque than on making theatre, but I still write and direct, occasionally act, and I go to plays with Andrew all the time.  In burlesque, the best performers pay great attention to detail in the few minutes they have to tell their stories.  In theatre, attention to detail can make or break the hour or two of action on stage.

Let me clearly define this concept.  A production fully commits to the given circumstances of the play.  Everything contributes to the concept and vision the director wants to communicate with the work.  I call it "going all the way" in burlesque.  It doesn't require a huge budget; it requires a team that understands the piece and cares about making it amazing.

I'll give a few examples of where the production paid attention to detail and where it didn't. 

Production #1 we saw a few weeks ago.  The set was simple and utilitarian.  The play was about the end times where the economy was so bad that the players were engaged in a lottery to become applicants for an undefined job that would provide the winner with food, clothing and shelter.   The players' street clothes were clean and new, not showing any indication that times were tough.  The starved applicants were presented with a continental breakfast upon their arrival at the competition complex and NONE of them raided the food table.  One of the three people who visited the food table over the course of the play actually behaved like a starved person living in uncertain times.  The other two players shredded the croissants and tossed their bits around like confetti, and the remaining three applicants didn't touch the food at all.  For a play about the absolutely destroyed economy and crumbling social structure, the given circumstances that landed these players in this situation were largely absent in the work.

Production #2 we saw last weekend.  The show was about a teenage girl dealing with the death of her mother and the downward spiral of her desperate attempts to be loved.  The playing space was very utilitarian and lighting was used to show what was real and what was imaginary.  The costumes were simple and perfect for the individual characters.  The actors played the reality of the situation for blood.  What delighted me as an audience member was the set dressing that wasn't necessarily used beyond creating an environment.  The show was simple and elegant and had impact because everyone in the production was committed.

Production #3 we also saw this past weekend.  This dark comedy was set in Wisconsin and dealt with the unusual circumstances surrounding a missing person.  The set looked like an actual home from the proscenium arch covered in siding to the window on stage that had snow falling outside.  The actors were fully committed to the reality of the situation.  The cabinets and refrigerator were full, they brewed coffee on stage and used the working sink several times.  The costumes were spot-on, reminding me of my youth living in Wisconsin.  The attention to detail was exquisite.

Whether you have a huge budget or not, you are responsible for the attention to detail in your own part in the production.  Show that you care about what you're doing, because that breeds good reviews and future work.

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