I am very pleased with the production of Bestill that just closed. This musical was not the typical fare for the Florence area, and some audience members were challenged by the serious themes. Reactions were mixed. A few people seemed disappointed (maybe angry?) as they left. Some left appreciating the music but maybe not as appreciative of the overall show. Most were very enthusiastic, though. And even the worst reactions were good reactions in that it forced some people to think about some things they might normally choose to ignore. Some of the best compliments were from those who said it gave them so much to think about. I’m especially pleased that it presented some difficult material to our students and will hopefully expand their ideas of what theatre can be and do. My favorite compliment was from an older couple who had popped into the matinee and were so excited when they left saying, “This is where we are right now!”–referring to the spiritual views expressed–and stating how surprised they were that this material even appeared here in Florence.
All that being said, the process of creating something like this involves many steps. At the beginning of the rehearsal period, we used the first draft. After the initial readthrough, I rewrote that draft and presented a second draft about a week later–it switched some scenes around and added a new scene near the end of the play. I avoided throwing too much at the actors after that point, but we did change or add a few lines here and there up until about a week before we opened. And, okay, maybe a line or two just before we opened.
The cast did great work. They were very consistent from opening night on, getting a little stronger each night. They made me proud each night!
By opening night, I thought I had already gotten out of the rehearsal process most of what I needed as a writer. It’s so interesting to see the words of the page embraced by the actors and discover what challenges them. And by sitting and hearing the same words over and over for a few weeks, I found many of the problem areas. By opening night, I already had a third draft on my computer.
Opening night audience was largely students and people I didn’t know. My curtain speech said nothing about the material they were about to see. I watched from above. No one shuffled around out of boredom–they were all engaged–but some clearly got uncomfortable during some scenes. No one left at intermission, though I think some students wanted to. At the end of the show I was a little disappointed in the reaction. People mostly seemed to like it, but they didn’t seem sure of how to take it.
It’s an odd little musical. None of the songs really set themselves up for applause–they feed right into the dialogue–and most of them have a serious tone. There is humor in the play, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a show about awakenings–spiritual, sexual, and literal. The same sex aspect is approached very realistically, and the spiritual aspect is certainly a nontraditional view. There was a comment on Facebook that someone posted saying, “It was a little much to take.” That’s fine, because clearly they had talked and thought about the material, so I was happy to push them a little out of their comfort zone.
On Thursday morning I met with a class that contained several students who had seen the show the night before. It was clear that they really got everything I had intended–they were asking the kinds of questions I had hoped the show had inspired, so I reconsidered my assessment of the Wednesday performance.
Based on Wednesday crowd, I altered my curtain speech and gave a heads up to Thursday’s audience that the show they were about to see would be off-off-Broadway at best, and that they might find themselves challenged by some of the scenes, but to keep their minds open and go along for the ride. The Thursday crowd was about half full of professors who knew me and Brandon and Charles, and the response was much more positive, though some of the students were still a bit unsure of what they had seen.
The Friday crowd loved it. I had several good friends in the audience, but it seemed to go over much better than it had with previous audiences. Seriously a very enthusiastic response–more than I might have expected.
Saturday matinee was about half full, so they were quiet, but they seemed enthusiastic!
And Saturday night was my family and another very enthusiastic group!
In short, I guess I needed to be reminded how much the response to a show can depend on audience dynamics and expectations. But overall I am beyond pleased with the response.
But here we are. The feedback from the audience brought home some other issues that I need to address in the next rewrite. The great news is that, even though some structural changes are necessary, there seems to be a sense that this show has legs. So Brandon and I will be working on it a little more, and then seeing what we can make happen!
If you missed it, and you’re interested, we filmed quite a bit. And the process went so well, we’re ready to start work on the next one.