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Ready to Swash and Buckle

It's Saturday morning, and The Three Musketeers opens tonight. In defiance of all probability and logic, it has come together over the past couple of days with amazing swiftness. Our tech time was severely cut into by the delays in finishing the set; the lighting designer, as of last night, was still improvising cues on the fly; the sixty-five or so costumes are still getting their finishing touches, and the music is being integrated at the very last possible minute, but last night we performed for a thousand preview patrons and actually delivered a nearly polished and rather exciting show. It's still a bit wild and wooly; many of the acting scenes are underrehearsed, so much of the rehearsal time having gone to the fights; the fighters are banged up in a myriad of minor ways (although the only semi-serious injury is to Athos, with a puncture wound to his hand), and we're all having to keep our wits about us at all times; but by golly, it feels like we have a show. It's the perfectly normal and quotidian miracle that is live theatre, in action again-- we all know that somehow it's all going to work out, but we have a superstitious fear that if we count on it, this is the one time that the magic won't happen. So we worry, and fret, and wring our hands at the impossibility of putting together something so big and so complex in the woefully inadequate time we have; and yet our faith is rewarded, our doubts rebuked, our complaints forgotten in the whirl of performance. I'm reminded of an exchange that occurs two or three times in Stoppard's screenplay for Shakespeare in Love (I may be paraphrasing): "It will be all right." "How??" "No one knows. It's a mystery."

There's something I haven't explained till now, concerning how much the Festival has changed in the years since I was here last (and most radically in the past couple of seasons, since Phil Sneed took over and expanded the season to five plays). In the early years of the CSF, we produced a three-play season; all three productions rehearsed simultaneously, nearly the whole company was in all three shows, and we opened them on three successive nights in July and ran them in a strict rotation for three or four weeks. This was not all that hard to do, as there were very nearly no sets at all. We performed on the grass of the Mary Rippon stage; there was temporary forestage built to bring the action closer to the audience (though it was made permanent, and built of the local sandstone, I think for the 1967 season), and in some seasons a curving staircase up to one of the towers, which Edgar Reynolds dubbed "the Treppen" (German word for "stairs"). There were two permanent stone benches stage left and right, and for a backdrop the walkway in front of the museum building behind the stage, and the doors of the museum itself. This was in perfect consonance with the values of Shakespeare production preached by Jim Sandoe and Jack Crouch, which was rooted in the bare-stage simplicity of the Elizabethan playhouse, where scenery was likely at a minimum and scene succeeded scene with no more than a piece or two of furniture being moved on and off stage.

Modern "conceptual" Shakespeare production is far more ambitious in scope, and the theatre has extended its reach to reflect the change. Directors and designers want to transform the entire space to provide a visual correlative to their ideas about the world of the play; and greatly increased production budgets and a much larger staff allow us to have three individual sets, almost totally different from one another. I've previously posted pictures from the two other outdoor shows; now here is the just-completed (all but a few details being finished up today) set for Musketeers:

A comparison of the three pictures will reveal how little overlap there is between one show's set and another. Even the diamond-shaped thrust that is a basic element in both Macbeth and Musketeers is eschewed completely for Love's Labours. Clearly, the amount of platforming in the former two shows requires that the construction be solid and reliable; actors have to be confident that the upper levels on which they're running around, emoting and killing one another are safe and secure. Much of the framing is actually done in steel. So we need a substantial shift crew (eight or ten strong, I think) that can change over from one set to another, even if they have to work all through the night, following a performance, to do it-- I know they fully expect to see the sun rise on Sunday morning, which is their first changeover out of Musketeers and into LLL. We owe our personal safety, as well as the credibility of the illusion we're creating, to them-- the proverbial unsung heroes.

My next posting will deal with the next three performances of Henry after opening-- we do both a matinee and evening tomorrow-- but in the meantime, here's a link to the review in yesterday's Denver Post. Not a bad review, though the critic is clearly fuzzy about the play's date-- it was written about 1612, nine years or so after the accession of James I and therefore a little late to hope to curry favor with Queen Bess...

Everything's Open
Canon Completed

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