“Joseph” – Out of the Desert (Part 3)

Camel caravan in a desert

Ok, the show was at the end of April.  It is now July.  I have not made my final post.  I am not even sure if I can remember the intensity of feeling that rushed on me in those final few days.  I will valiantly attempt this grand feat.  It hardly seems fair to leave you in the lurch without finally wrapping it all up.  Bear with me. 

Dress rehearsal day.  That pinnacle of weeks of pain fun.  Picture it.  You wake with nerves and adrenaline pumping so fast you worry that you have developed a heart condition.  The notebook is full of things you noticed at last night’s rehearsal.  Or things you just haven’t quite got around to tidying up.  There are notes for the backstage crew, notes for the sound team, notes for almost every member of the cast, notes for the band, notes for front of house (no, really).  Each note needs addressing.  By the end of the day (and night) each note needs to be crossed through with a cheery little tick beside it.  You have the afternoon rehearsal to tidy things up, to perfect those dance steps, to make sure everyone knows when they need to lift a hand or turn a head.  At the end of the afternoon rehearsal there is no more you can do.  It is out of your hands.  Scary?  You bet.

The whole day turned into a bit of a blur.  So much rushing around to speak to the costume team and get everyone kitted out (and note down what was still needed for the actual show), getting lists out to Front of House, clearing up the last queries with backstage (such as, where the boney sheep need to be and when they will miraculously make their own way off the stage) and practising the bringing on and off of our beautiful over-sized Pharaoh’s head.  We danced.  We sang.  We danced some more.  We attempted to do both at once.  We then threw in some acting.  Before we felt we’d even started we had hit that tea-time deadline – time to eat.  Cast and crew disbanded and in true Barnstormers-style headed out to the local takeaway establishments and returned with burgers, fish and chips, sandwiches, salads, pasta, curries…you name it, one of us was probably eating it.

I had naively forgotten just how many questions get fired at the Director on dress rehearsal day.  Everyone suddenly wakes up and really does want to know (and this time might remember) the answer to everything.  Any attempt at finding peace seemed to fail: “can I just….?”, “can you remind me….?”, “when do I…?”, “where do I…?” coming from every conceivable angle.  You know people claim that stress can do serious damage to your health?  Let me tell you they are absolutely right.  Stress was coursing through my veins.  So, ladies and gentlemen, I left the building.  I even left my notebook.  I ordered my pizza and refused to return to the fray until I’d had some time and space alone.  

It was so quiet outside.  I managed to find one last lingering patch of late afternoon sun and there I sat.  I read for a few minutes – a book of reflections that I’d brought with me just in case (sort of my emergency First Aid kit) – and I said a prayer or two.  It also gave me space to chat to my little big brother for a few calm moments before the pizza was ready and it was time to return.  Deep breaths.  The chaos continues (it always does) and everyone started getting into costume and make-up for the dress rehearsal. 

The questions went on and on and on….but the clock kept ticking and suddenly it was time for the curtain to rise, so to speak (there was no actual curtain), on our dress rehearsal – the first performance in costume.  Then I realised I wasn’t actually in mine and I needed to kick the whole thing off leading the Choir onto the stage and playing my cameo role as Director.  A few frantic moments followed to get myself ready.

I won’t spoil the rest of show week by raving too much, after all there was more to do and much that improved between the dress rehearsal and the opening night, but I was dumb-struck (well, not quite…this is me).  The cast was wonderful.  They made me cry, with pride.  What particularly caught me was watching the Choir in their full technicolor costumes singing their hearts out with great big smiles on all their faces.  It was so beautiful and they were so perfect that I couldn’t help but sob.  I don’t think I got away with it.  At the end of the evening we all trailed off home, exhausted, but hopeful.

The sound and lighting crew (and extended support team) worked very hard over the following day and the Monday evening to get everything set up, cues written down, cues tested, fades checked, shadows removed and more besides.  By the end of Monday night we were ready to go.

The costume team and lots of very able sewing buddies worked extremely hard between the dress rehearsal day and opening night to get all the missing bits and pieces finished up including the gloriously glitzy collars for Pharaoh and Joseph, all the final gold or silver sashes for the guards, the finishing touches to Pharaoh’s Elvis outfit, gold belts and hats and the beautiful corn onto the tabards for the various dancers.  Thank you to all who put in so much time and effort to get us over the line just in time.

It felt like only seconds before I was walking in the door on Opening Night clutching the box of programmes (my other job – as if directing was not enough).  The seats were out – all that remained was to number them.  The band was running through a last-minute final rehearsal.  The cast was queuing for make-up.  The mics were being tested.  The front of house team were getting tickets ready (we’d sold out every night so this was not as easy as it sounds) and cups out for the interval drinks.  I was running around with my notebook collecting the last ticks.  There is nothing like the buzz of opening night.  Everyone has a job.  Everyone is full of excitement (or fear).  Everyone is there for just one purpose. 

We did our singing and dancing warm-ups.  I don’t think the stage could cope with any more people than we had up there with all the cast, Choir and Pit Singers joining in.  The poor stage was creaking.  It’s done well all things considered.  We had our “group hug” – our little moment of bonding when the last of our motivational speeches is given to psych everyone up for that moment when they come onto the stage and see all those faces staring back at them.

To say I was nervous was a gross understatement.  Ok, I had a little bit to do at the start of the show, but it was over so fast I barely noticed.  No, this time I was not nervous for myself.  I was nervous for everyone else.  I was nervous that someone would sing the wrong words, or wave the wrong arm, or forget to act, or fall over.  I was nervous that they would get too scared and forget to enjoy it.  And it wasn’t just nerves for one person – I was nervous on behalf of over 40 people!  There was nothing more I could do and maybe it was that I found the hardest of all.  It must be like sending a child off to the first day at school or watching them learn to ride a bike.  You know they are in good hands and you have done all you can to prepare them but in the end success rides only on their shoulders.

I squeezed an extra chair in for me at the back by the sound desk and sat, literally on the edge of my seat, notebook and pen in hand, grinning away wildly as they stepped through the show with great ease.  I was so unbelievably proud.  I laughed out loud at the funny moments and watched the audience around me smiling and laughing through the show.  I watched on as they seamlessly changed the mood from one scene to another, belted out the fat harmonies they are so known for, and looked on amazed as the vision I had for the show came to life in full, spectacular technicolor, gold and glitz before me.  There has never been a moment quite like it.  It was all there, just as I’d imagined it, but this time it was real, thanks to the hard work of so many people over so many months.  Authors casually use the phrase that someone’s heart was “full to bursting” – now I know what they mean.

By the time the Brothers were reconciled to Joseph at the end of “Joseph All the Time”, I was literally sobbing with tears of joy, relief (!) and pride at all they had achieved.  By the same time on the last night I was sobbing still and didn’t stop until the end of the Megamix (when I was being called to the stage and couldn’t be seen crying yet again).  It was one of the most emotional moments of my life.  I’d spent almost every night in every week for 4 months preparing for or running rehearsals, and that didn’t include the time spent discussing ideas and requirements with crew, costumes, lights, sound etc.  I’d given almost all my life to the show for that short time and rarely thought of anything else.  The week before the show I’d sworn that I was never, ever going to direct again.  By the end of the show I was certain that I would. 

I am still so very, very proud of everyone.  I’m welling up even now at the thought of how overwhelmed I was at how every single person did their part (or parts) so brilliantly.  I cannot think of a better way to end my posts as Director than sharing the email I sent to the cast and crew following our final performance.  Thank you for following me on this journey. 

“Way, way back 15 weeks ago

Not long after rehearsals began

I looked at the size of the cast for this show

And said to myself: “Is this a good plan?”

Barnstormers doing Joseph again

So much to do and so little time

Barnstormers doing Joseph again

A crazy few months but it all worked out fine!

I can’t believe that all those 15 weeks of rehearsals, kilos of cakes and too many bananas for anyone to really ever want to think about have all gone so quickly.  It barely seems 5 minutes since I started testing early staging ideas on the set of Snow White (not during the show, honest).

Cheesy though it is, words are not going to be enough to express just how proud I am of everyone involved in Joseph.  Perhaps my rather emotional episodes at the end of the last two shows say enough.  If not, then the enormous smiles on the faces of everyone in the audience proved to us all that we had given them a show to remember.  You were all stars!  Being part of the audience was a fantastic experience – getting to see first-hand the stunning amount of energy, enthusiasm, talent and fantastic singing that Barnstormers is becoming so famous for.  All those cheers and standing ovations were for real!  You should all be very, very proud of the fantastic show you performed night after night whether you were on stage, in the band, singing in the pit, part of the crew (backstage, sound, lighting, make-up, costumes or anything else I should know better than to forget!)   

It was so amazing to watch you all get better and better every night until it became clear that my infamous notebook was surplus to requirements.  May it rest in peace.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the entire team on stage and off who helped give life to the dreams I had for this show and literally made my dreams (and Joseph’s) come true.  It was better than I could ever have imagined!  From the patience of the backstage and props/scenery crew creating giant Pharaoh heads, bony sheep and golden chariots and the lighting team’s creation of “sad desert” lighting, to the costume team’s creation of Joseph and Pharaoh’s glitzy numbers and smoking lounge attire for “Potiphar” – it just could never have been what it was without you.  Thanks to you all this production of “Joseph” will always have a very special place in my heart.

Have a fantastic few weeks catching up on rest and getting make into “normal” life (whatever that it).  I’ll leave you with the challenge of trying to get those colours out of your head…red, yellow….

Thank you again, and God bless.

PS  Watch this space for posts from on-stage (or should I say “on board”) on our latest venture: Titanic the musical.

[Photo of “Camel caravan in a desert” by m_bartosch: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=681 ]

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