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Good Grief! Using the Grief Sheet to Improve Community Theatre Production: Telling The Story Better Than It Has Ever Been Told

Good Grief! Using the Grief Sheet to Improve Community Theatre Production: Telling The Story Better Than It Has Ever Been Told

by Kenneth F. Anderson


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Good Grief! Using the Grief Sheet to Improve Community Theatre Production was written to encourage theatre directors to take advantage of the benefits involved in a daily written critique of amateur play rehearsals. In over 40 years of directing community and school productions, as well as acting for other directors, I have yet to meet a director who employs this technique. I don t know why this is so, except that it does require a large investment in time. Typically, the directors I have known wrote grief notes and then assembled cast and crew to convey them verbally. Obviously, much time is wasted following this method since everyone has to listen whether or not they are specifically involved. Furthermore, the published grief sheet provides the perceived need for instruction as well as a record to return to, to refresh the memory in regard to the needed improvements. which often are forgotten otherwise. The Grief Sheet is also a team builder, and the team concept is an essential quality of a successful theatre company. In writing this book my collections of grief sheets have enabled me to relive some exciting and memorable productions.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780595245499
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 11/10/2002
Pages: 616
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.37(d)

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Good Grief! Using the Grief Sheet to Improve Community Theatre Production

Telling The Story Better Than It Has Ever Been Told
By Kenneth Anderson

Writer Club Press

Copyright © 2002 Kenneth Anderson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-595-24549-9

Chapter One

Ain't Misbehavin'


Conceived and Originally Directed by Richard Maltby, Jr. Based on an idea by Murray Horowitz and Richard Maltby, Jr. Orchestrations & Arrangements by Luther Henderson Vocal and Musical Concepts by Jeffrey Gutcheon Vocal Arrangements by Jeffrey Gutcheon & William Elliott Leasing Agent: Music Theatre International Producing Organization: UW-Fox Valley Production Dates: October 20-22, 24-28/89, 8 PM Place: UW-Fox Valley Theatre

CAST for Act I, Sue's, an Elegant Night Club in Chicago, 1942: Pianist: Rocky Daehler Percussionist: Maureen "Mo" Milbach Bassist: Faye Tengblad All the Other Instruments: Polly Buchanan The Entertainers: Rebecca Welhouse, Mary Stumpf The Maitre D': Xavier Leath The Bartender: Joseph Wise The Cigarette Girl: Amy Madaus The Customers: Cory Breese, Tod Galloway, Charles Seter, John White III The Club Owner: Sue White CAST for Act II, The bridge fell down and business never recovered so Sue's is now Xavier's Place, a place where folks like to gather. Xavier: Xavier Leath

The Habitues: Becky, Mary, Joe, Amy, Cory, Chuck, John, Sue, Tod TheBand: Rocky, Mo, Faye, Polly

Musical Numbers. All music by Thomas "Fats" Waller alone, except where (*) indicated. Songs not written by Fats Waller were recorded by him.

ACT ONE: AIN'T MISBEHAVIN' * (1929) Music by Thomas Waller and Harry Brooks. Lyric by Andy Razaf LOOKIN' GOOD BUT FEELIN' BAD (1929) Lyric by Lester A. Santly 'TAIN'T NOBODY'S BIZ-NESS IF I DO * (1922) (The first song recorded by Fats Waller) Music and lyric by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins Additional lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. & Murray Horwitz HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (1939) Lyric by Andy Razaf SQUEEZE ME (1925) Lyric by Clarence Williams

HANDFUL OF KEYS (1933) Lyric by Richard Maltby, Jr. & Murray Horwitz (based on an idea by Marty Grosz) I'VE GOT A FEELING I'M FALLING * (1929) Music by Thomas Waller & Harry Link Lyric by Billy Rose HOW YA BABY (1939) Lyric by J.C. Johnson THE JITTERBUG WALTZ (1942) Lyric by Richard Maltby, Jr. THE LADIES WHO SING WITH THE BAND Lyric by George Marion, Jr. YACHT CLUB SWING * (1939)

Music by Thomas Waller & Herman Autry Lyric by J.C. Johnson WHEN THE NYLONS BLOOM AGAIN (1943) Lyric by George Marion, Jr. CASH FOR YOUR TRASH (1942) Lyric by Ed Kirkeby OFF-TIME * (1929) Music by Thomas Waller & Harry Brooks Lyric by Andy Razaf & J.C. Johnson ACT II SPREADIN' RHYTHM AROUND * (1935) Music by Jimmy McHugh Lyric by Ted Koehler Additional lyric by Richard Maltby, Jr. LOUNGING AT THE WALDORF Lyric by Richard Maltby, Jr. THE VIPER'S DRAG (1943) "The Reefer song" (Traditional) MEAN TO ME * (1929) Music and lyric by Roy Turk & Fred E. Ahlert YOUR FEET'S TOO BIG * (1936) Music and lyric by Ada Benson & Fred Fisher THAT AIN'T RIGHT * (1943) Music and lyric by Nat "King" Cole Additional lyric by Richard Maltby, Jr. & Murray Horwitz KEEPIN' OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (1932) Lyric by Andy Razaf FIND OUT WHAT THEY LIKE (1929) Lyric by Andy Razaf FAT AND GREASY * (1939) Music and lyric by Porter Grainger & Charley Johnson

BLACK AND BLUE * (1929) Music by Thomas Waller & Harry Brooks Lyric by Andy Razaf FINALE: Songs by others which Fats Waller made hits I'M GONNA SIT RIGHT DOWN AND WRITE MYSELF A LETTER * (1933) Music by Fred E. Ahlert Lyric by Joe Young TWO SLEEPY PEOPLE * (1938) Music by Hoagy Carmichael Lyric by Frank Loesser I'VE GOT MY FINGERS CROSSED * Music by Jimmy McHugh Lyric by Ted Koehler I CAN'T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE * (1928) Music by Jimmy McHugh Lyric by Dorothy Fields IT'S A SIN TO TELL A LIE * (1933) Music and lyric by Jimmy Mayhew HONEYSUCKLE ROSE (reprise)

THE PRODUCTION CREW Director: Ken Anderson Technical Director: Mick Alderson Vocal Director: Becky Welhouse Rehearsal Accompanist: Rocky Daehler Choreographer: Amy Madaus Costume Design: Cari Wimer The Golden Fingers: Ruth Anderson, Beverly Waring Light Board: Barb Mitro, Sandy Douglas Follow Spots: Mary Mancosky, Kevin Lorenz Sound Operator: Randy Konrad Properties: Randy Locke

I saw this musical revue at least twice, each time with five singers and a piano player (the first time, the piano player had his ample, tuxedo-clad back to the audience the entire performance, until the end when curtain call took place. The idea, of course, was that the piano player was an impersonation of Thomas "Fats" Waller. That the pianist turned out to be female didn't lessen the effectiveness at all. However, I am a story man, and my immediate reaction was that this revue should have a story; in fact, would be more effective with a story. With that concept in mind, I began a series of drafts around the idea of a night club where enterainers sang, frequently accompanied by house personnel such as a maitre D', a bartender, and a cigarette girl, and then further accompanied by customers, as well as the night club owner. We kept the song list intact and, finally, settled on ten characters, named in the cast list. The drafts, which I called "Eye Witness" after a very early idea used in my first production of the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, developed nicely with the help of cast, musicians, and crew.

I will enclose a late draft of the Eye Witness. It lists five men and six women, in addition to the night club band. We began with six and six, and we ended with five and five by performance time. To save time, I numbered the performers, beginning with the club entertainers, and used the numbers in assigning story and song.

The Director's Notes also has a reference to how the story was constructed.

I cast the play with the best singers/actors I could find, and then I began writing the story based on the people we had. In the early rehearsals, with the help of the vocal director, Becky Welhouse, I tried to determine who the best singers were for each of the 29 songs, while also seeing that everyone had a significant piece of the action. This will explain the comments on the first published grief sheet. You see, I was also writing a script.

Ken Anderson

Grief #1.

The objective for rehearsal on 9/6-7 will be to get some idea of vocal quality and personality. To that end, we will have everyone begin work on the Act II Finale songs since everyone will have some part of in that section.

By the way, the grief sheet is a principal means of communication, and I will use it to tell you how your story is progressing, keep you apprised of marketing or production developments, and solicit your advice for improving our product.

Tentative schedule:

1. Act II Finale

2. Black and Blue

3. The Joint is Jumpin'

4. Find Out What They Like (all women?)

5. When the Nylons Bloom Again (all women?) 6. Fat and Greasy (all men?)

7. The Jitterbug Waltz (everyone?)

8. (Whatever else we think will be useful)

Grief #2.

All: Actually, I am three or four griefs behind. Just haven't gotten around to them.

First, let's discuss what is called assessment on your rehearsal schedules. There are three parts to this.

First is the review of the story, as it stands. You have in your possession the last of several drafts (though not the final) of the story. You recall that the objective from the first was to adapt this review into a play. All we have now is a beginning. We will work on the story throughout our preparation for performance. You must find your own character. You have a beginning with the three groupings I have designed. Where will you take these?

Second is the review of the costume design. This phase of creativity may have a lot to do with who you are going to be. For example, I've specified the date of the story as 1942. The world was engaged in the largest, most destructive and dangerous war in history. I grew up in that era; in 1942 I was beginning my freshman year at Amundsen High School on Chicago's north side.

Life went on in a normal sort of way, though the reminders of the giant conflict were always in front of us, sometimes devastatingly so (my cousin Dennis died of "Malaria" in the notorious "Bataan Death March"). News of the war was ubiquitous, on radio, in newspapers, on the streets. There was wide-spread rationing including fuel, many foods, many types of clothing, as well as a network of "black marketing" designed to circumvent rationing. Automobile, truck, and tractor manufacturing ceased. The government lobbied incessantly for money to fight the war, and people bought "war stamps" and "war bonds" for this purpose. Scrap metal drives were organized. Paper drives were conducted in the schools (the paper drives at Amundsen were a sort of holiday, albeit very productive for the "war effort"). And yet, as I have said, the civilian life went on in a familiar way, and this gets us back to the importance of the costume plot.

Surely there will be a uniform or two. Perhaps the women will have to paint on their stockings, as many did during that time. ("Paint on their stockings"! Yes, they would use make-up and then draw a seam down the back.)

Third, we must review where we are on vocals and the assignments. Of course, the first requirement, which I mentioned during auditions, is to be heard. Then you must develop the personality appropriate to your character, whoever you are. Think also of size. I want your characters to be so large that they will transfix the audience members. "Ten feet tall" is a place to start. (Get in the seats, watch yourself appear on stage, and fill the theatre. Be somebody exciting!)

Please remember that we are a team. We have a mutual objective. Here are some things we must work on together. Since my grant efforts were unsuccessful, we have to rely on ourselves for providing the box office receipts and ad income that will enable us to do what is necessary to promote the production and pay for the assistance we need, such as musical accompaniment. We began our ticket sale last Saturday night with a fine program of highlights of the coming season. This will sell tickets, but think, also, of recruiting people who will be willing to sell season tickets, and think of becoming a salesperson yourself.

Program ad sales have been a one-man operation for some years. If you have a lead to a potential advertiser, please pass the name on to me; I will pursue it.

Let's resolve to make this production the best that has ever happened. Last week I read Russell Baker's best seller, The Good Times. One of the passages I picked out for the Mass Media class, which seems very appropriate for us, too, is the following:

"I had to concede that Catling (a contemporary on the Baltimore Sun who had just written an artistic review of Oklahoma) was not just a good writer, but obviously my superior. They had been right to move him ahead of me. I congratulated him on his writing and meant it, and continued cultivating him, hoping some of his skill might rub off. His Oklahoma review left me with an important lesson about newspaper writing which I tucked away in my head for the day when my luck might change: Don't settle for writing it the way it has always been written; dare to write it differently, and maybe you'll write it better than it has ever been written before."

I hope you all see the relationship to our endeavor. Even the choice of words is familiar, isn't it?

All: For tonight's assessment, we'll begin with a quick review of the concept. Then we'll do the songs in sequence, stopping to discuss story, costuming, timing. Throughout, be thinking of who you are. As I noted during auditions, the characters are not described to begin with; therefore, you have to develop them during rehearsal.

Finally, let's see if we can't determine what parts need the most work, and adjust the rehearsal schedule accordingly.

Grief #3.

All: WFRV-TV was most cooperative with our PSA. They agreed to dub and distribute. Today I will call the Public Service reps in each station to advise of the imminent arrival of the tapes.

Add Maureen "Mo" Milbach, percussionist, to the team. I'm still trying to recruit a bass player.

All: Tonight, 9/28, the schedule says "soloists." Really, you know better than I do what needs the most work. In regard to the solos, my M.O. is to let the soloists do their own choreography, unless they ask for help. (If two or more people are involved, the responsibility for choreography belongs to our choreographer, Amy Madous.) You see, I do choreography, did it for several years thinking that it was blocking! As the director (I am the director; you are the actors. I will not tell you how to act; you will not tell me how to direct), please note that I have a considerable amount of experience. For example, in regard to choreography, note that the choreography must be head to toe. The label of inexpertness, naivete, whatever is obvious when you see the performer working only from the waist up. Of course, you must know that the objective of choreography is to assist you in telling the story, and telling the story is always our primary objective. We are going to tell this story better than it has ever been told, and the only way we can do this is together, as a team.

Our version of Ain't Misbehavin' is unique in that we are creating a story. Central to whatever evolves is characterization. Let me reemphasize the need to decide who you are. At this time you have some general classifications: performer, employee, customer, and, in some cases, a bit more of a direction; e.g., club owner, maitre d', bartender, cigarette girl, but there is lots of room to grow in every case. Particularly, think of the relationships among the participants. Finally, let me remind you that these characterizations must be large (I'd say about ten feet tall).

Note how important it is to get into the role psychologically. A technique that has helped me, well-known to some of you, is the use of eidetic imagery, seeing and hearing yourself on stage. The experts say that the way to do this properly is to relax comfortably somewhere and then strive to see, hear, and feel in detail. Put yourselves in the seats. See yourselves performing, telling the story. From the stage, make psychological contact with every audience member. (Technique can help you here. For example, in establishing eye contact with a large room full of people, make your first contact to the nearest audience member, then expand it, but always retaining the nearest contact as the bench mark.)

In regard to vocal technique (hey, what do I know; I admit that I sing only as a trick), my observation is that you must find some way to watch each other. For example, I watched Janet Planet doing this with Tim Dorsey at that exceptional jazz concert a few weeks ago at the Paper Valley Hotel. Watching will go a long way towards assisting intelligibility.

Let's do the best you can to get the memorizing out of the way. It is my observation that it is difficult to make large progress until the work is memorized. As most of you know, there is no secret to memorizing. Mostly, it takes hard work and repetition. Where what you have to do is a response, you must memorize the cue as well as the response. Acronyms are often helpful. My latest information on this business of memorizing suggests that there must be a pattern that you infer; the organization must be clear to you. Acronyms can aid you in remembering the pattern, or, even, a simple set of numbers might assist you. If you feel the need, I'd be happy to talk with you about it.

Grief #4.

All: Note carefully the revisions to the rehearsal schedule. 10/18 will be the first full dress rehearsal. In regard to make-up, probably men won't need any, and women can use basically what you would use in daily life, but we will look at it. 10/19 will be the first opportunity to work for an audience, the Premiere for family and friends.

I should have the latest revision of the story line ready tonight. Grief from Amy Madous: If you are doing your own choreography, or just want to dance and move, here are some suggestions on style. Avoid pointed toes or straight arms. Flex ankles and wrists. Be funky as a chicken and loose as a goose; come on, everybody, and shake your caboose.


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Table of Contents


An Introduction....................xi
Ain't Misbehavin'....................1
Big River....................47
City of Angels....................103
The Fantasticks....................219
The Front Page....................259
Jesus Christ Superstar....................305
My Fair Lady....................373
Our Town....................405
The Playboy of the Western World....................443
Steel Magnolias....................477
Sugar Babies....................511
Twelfth Night....................557

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