I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of saying “Yeah, sure! I’ll do that!”
When I was approached to direct Young Frankenstein at Theatreworks in New Milford, CT, my first thought should have been: I better read the script before I say anything…remember what happened when you agreed to direct Dirty Rotten Scoundrels without reading the script?
But there was no thought. Just a “Yeah, sure! I’ll do that!” that flew out of my mouth like a fruit bat zeroing in on a ripe banana.
I’ve directed a lot of shows, and I thought I’d seen and done most of what I was most likely to encounter in theatre until I finally sat down and read Mr. Brooks’ script.
To be fair, Young Frankenstein isn’t exactly great American theatre. It is, however, a beloved and revered piece of our collective comedic mythos. Only those of you with the stoniest of hearts don’t crack a smile for at least one of the terrified horse whinnies that dutifully follow the mention of the iconic Frau Blucher.
But the script! Mel Brooks basically took his screenplay, reformatted it for the stage, and added a LOT of music.
I’m sure that all sounds well and good, and you’re wondering what on earth I have to blather about. Well, I’ll tell ya what I have to blather about: Spectacle musicals taken directly from the screen to the stage.
Now that I’ve directed several of these beasts, I have this to say to the show creators: Since a huge part of your residual profits from these shows occur AFTER they’ve closed on Broadway or the West End, take a moment to consider what community theaters all over the world have to put themselves through in order to properly produce something that you spent millions on.
It all rests on this: There are no traditional black outs between scenes, just the mystifying: “…as we transition to…”
Transition to? Sub-text: this was a jump-cut from one location to another in the film.
Musicals like Young Frankenstein are filled with jaw-dropping transitions. With a dollar and a dream, you can make these transitions happen quite nicely. The thing is: most community theaters only have dreams, not dollars.
So why even attempt such shows? Because audiences want to see them. Actors want to be in them. Set designers want to design them. And crazy people, like me, want to direct them.
So, getting back to my message to the men and women who create these monster shows: Out here in the hinterlands, where a budget for a musical like Young Frankenstein wouldn’t even have covered the catering for the first read-through with the original cast, we’re learning. And while we learn, we create. We problem-solve and improvise. We’re self-taught. We turn ourselves inside out making your transitions happen. And we never back down from the challenges left behind in your scripts. At this point, there’s probably more talent for this work out here in Community Theatreville than exists in all your unions…combined.
There’s no feeling in the world that compares to pulling off a show like Young Frankenstein in a house with less than 200 seats. Of course we haven’t opened yet, but we will on May 4, and the Heavens will tremble at our audacity, despite the impossible transition-filled
To my sisters and brothers around the world, I salute you! We do what we do with virtually no money, buoyed only by our love of theatre and the support of our loved ones and our communities. Imagine what we could do with the resources a show like this one originally consumed!
Transition to: the Heavens trembling at the thought.