Behind the scenes of a local theater production It"s a week and a half before opening night. A couple of scenes need to be rewritten. One of the songs still needs lyrics. The director has yet to see a run-through of the show, and therefore has no idea how the show works as a whole, much less how long it runs. The producer doesn"t have the money to pay for the posters or the time to publicize things properly. As for the playwright, well, he is just extremely pissed off at the other two for allowing his work to be placed in such a precarious position.
Woody Rau, writer, director and producer of the new musical "Fire at the North Pole."
How did this happen? What chain of events led to this? My name is Woody Rau. I am the writer, director and producer of the new musical Fire at the North Pole. What follows is a cautionary tale about how one, simple, off-hand comment can lead a person to extreme stress and self-doubt. The whole thing started last year, during the run of my play Santa Is Dead. It"s the story of an ignorant redneck named Duane whose actions offend God so much S/He calls for the second coming of Christ. It"s up to Jimmy, an angel with a slight drinking problem, to get Duane to change his ways by Christmas in order to spare humanity from Armageddon. Throw into this mix a transsexual pregnant with the baby Jesus and several nods to every Christmas story known to humanity, and you have a dark little comedy for the holidays. One night after a performance, I jokingly made the comment that next year I"m doing the show as a musical. The response from the cast was overwhelming. "That would be hilarious!" "You have to do that!" "Dude!" etc. So, my little joke became a reality. Since I know nothing about musical theater, I honestly thought this would be a piece of cake. The plan was, in July, I would find someone to write the music, use the first couple weeks of August to write lyrics and have auditions at the end of the month. From September through November we would rehearse and the show would open in December. In July, I contacted local musician Steve Murphy to write the music. Two weeks later, he gave me the first song. If you recall, I wanted all the music written in two weeks: NOT ONE SONG! But, no big deal, we had six months before the show opened. Plenty of time. Since I didn"t read music, Steve gave me a set of dummy lyrics to use as a guideline for writing. I would count the syllables and write a lyric that corresponded to the nonsensical one. A couple days later, I handed him my new lyrics for what became the title song of the play, "Fire at the North Pole." He read them and said, "These aren"t going to work." "Why not?" I asked. "The accents are wrong." "The what?" "When someone sings this, the stress needs to be on a certain part of the word," he explained, "or it"s not going to sound right." "What?" I had no idea what he was talking about. I gave the lyrics to my friend Ed Trout. He is the artistic director of ComedySportz and someone who has a lot of experience in the realm of musical theater. He took my lyrics and made them usable. By the time the auditions rolled around we had one song ready and Steve had another one in the wings. This was not exactly where I wanted the show to be, but there was still plenty of time. The auditions were a success in that I was able to cast all of the female roles. The male roles, on the other hand, were a problem. I had two men show up. Neither was right. The next week was spent trying to find actors. First, I went to Ed. "Is there any way you can do the show?" "Well," he said, "I won"t be able to make a lot of the rehearsals." "That"s fine. I can work around you." "I"ll be out of town the end of November," he said. "No problem. We should be far enough into the rehearsal process that we can just work around you." Little did I know that the phrase "work around you" would bite me in the ass. More on that later. Ed was in. He would play Duane. One down, two to go. Next I got in contact with my friend Dave Ruark. For those of you not in the know, Dave Ruark is a local actor who has appeared in several productions at the Phoenix, most recently Bat Boy. He also had the lead in the Edyvean"s farewell production of The Sound of Music. Dave is an amazingly talented man. He"s also a bastard. I offered him the part of Jimmy. "Which one is that?" he asked. "It"s the angel." "I don"t want that one. If I were to do it, IF, you understand, I would want to play the funny guy." "Duane?" "Yes, that"s the one. And I would want my name above the title on the poster." "That"s fine, Dave." "I"ll think about it." A couple of days later, I got my answer from Dave. "I can"t do it. It"s just not edgy enough. Besides, I got offered something else." "What?" "Joseph." Joseph and his goddamn Technicolor dream coat! Every single actor I had offered the role to was involved in that show. It was pointless to go into rehearsals without having two of the key roles cast, so we focused on music. In the next couple of weeks, Steve, Ed and myself finished four songs. Meanwhile, Steve and I were calling everyone we knew trying to find a Jimmy. We struck gold in late September. Michael Chowning is an actor who recently moved to Indianapolis. He had done a show at the American Cabaret Theatre and at Civic Theatre. He agreed to do mine. Finally, we could launch into rehearsals proper. So I thought. A lot of the cast had conflicts during the rehearsal schedule and I told them all the exact same thing: "I"ll work around you." I didn"t realize that all the conflicts were at the same time. So, it worked out that I was missing one or two people in every scene of the show. Those nights would be spent working on music, so the time wasn"t wasted for everybody. Just me. On the rare occasions that we had a full cast, we would block a scene, come to the song and Steve would make them do it over and over. Which is fine. The music is half the show. It needs to be good. BUT I NEED TO STAGE THIS THING! It would take an hour and a half to get through a five-minute scene. At the end of October, I called a moratorium on new songs. Counting the one that Steve was half done with, we had a total of 10. I had wanted at least three more, but we just didn"t have the time. With a month to go and finally a full cast, we were ready to dive in full steam. I redid the rehearsal schedule to allow two days for music and two days for actual dramatic-type stuff. We were going to be pressed for time, but we could still pull it off. Then we all started to get sick. I caught the flu, which turned into a cold, which turned into an epidemic. Everyone was coughing and hacking. It was horrible. It was the last thing that we needed, so naturally, that"s what we got. Which brings me to where I started. A week and a half from the opening night of a production plagued with missed deadlines, casting woes and illness. I get to rehearsal early and lie down on the green-carpeted stage of ComedySportz. I am extremely stressed. I start thinking of all the time that was wasted and all the difficulty that has gone into this production. I am just lying there, wondering why I even bother. I close my eyes. Suddenly, moments from rehearsals pop into my head. Good moments. Moments of near brilliance. I suddenly remember I have a great cast, great music and a great script. Things are going to work out. And if for some reason they don"t, I"ll just remember the first thing they teach you in directing class. Blame the actors. Fire at the North Pole by Woody Rau and Steven Murphy, with additional lyrics by Ed Trout, opens Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. at the ComedySportz Arena, 721 Mass. Ave. Tickets are $12. It will be performed Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Fridays at 10 p.m. through Dec. 20.