A cast of eight actors (and one very talented music director who often shares the stage) is a bit of an undertaking for our humble yet bighearted playhouse here on Third Avenue.
Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” is usually performed with a sizable chorus and orchestra, so a production with nine performers is probably the smallest this show could possibly be. Our amazing co-artistic director James Valcq has somehow made the impossible happen in every show I’ve worked on with him.
This cast size would be pretty modest for many theaters but, in comparison, TAP’s last show (“Red” by John Logan) had only two actors and our upcoming production, “Every Brilliant Thing,” has no one but the very talented Dan Klarer on stage (not that he couldn’t fill a stadium with his charm alone).
As for “Candide,” nine moving bodies can be a bit of a shock if you aren’t used to it. Have them start singing and busting out musical instruments and you have another set of challenges on your hands.
Luckily our staff here at TAP includes some remarkable people to ease the stress, not to mention the truly lovely and talented performers in this unique musical/opera/operetta. Having more people to account for is (as is much of the production side of theater) about learning to anticipate needs before they arise so that the actors will not have to.
When acting in high school and college, I would occasionally get the note that I was anticipating a moment, that you could tell I was just waiting for my turn to speak rather than letting it come naturally with the flow and reality of the scene. It is important when acting to try to stay in the moment of a scene, so that your feelings and actions look natural rather than wooden. For an actor, anticipation is a dangerous thing, but for a production staff member, it is a necessity.
In “Red,” the actors were often listening to music on a phonograph and changing it from time to time in the middle of scenes. Because I happen to be a bit of a masochist, I brought in a record player that didn’t hide the record and tone arm. The audience could see when the actors (Drew Brhel and Matt Frye, who are also performing in “Candide”) put the needle down on the record to start the music.
Since the sound had to come through our sound system, I needed to base my cues off of Brhel and Frye lifting and dropping — and in one case scratching — the needle on and off of the record. This often required my anticipating the duo’s subtle hand gestures as well as a routine of how each of them liked to drop the needle. To get this routine down it was crucial to work with the actors and understand their needs in order to anticipate when they were going to cue me to start the music.
Candide” has its own unique challenges in the realm of anticipation. What this production lacks in scenery it makes up for with an abundance of costumes and props.
In a show with so many costume changes and props moving about, it is essential that everything be placed exactly in the same spot every night so the actors have no surprises come show time. Figuring out where to place the props and costumes was a real project during rehearsals and tech, requiring many pages of notes as well as full participation of the cast and crew.
Dana Cordry (the TAP intern) and I can now set up all of the props and costumes in about a half-hour between the two of us. In the planning phase it was crucial to anticipate which changes Dana would need to assist with, and which props could be put off left, right or even on stage at the top of the show.
There is also a danger in anticipation when it comes to running the lights and sound. Anticipate too much and you may run a cue one beat early which could quite possibly derail an entire scene. There are some split-second cues that could cause catastrophe. Calling a blackout too early could cause our “Candide,” Michael Penick, to miss out on a wonderful moment in one of his truly beautiful soliloquies. Running a sound cue too early could interrupt one of the delightful quips of The Old Lady (played by the fantastic Becky Spice).
If any single piece of the whole is in error, it can affect an entire performance. By anticipating the cues and making sure to get them just right, I know I’m doing my part to help create a production that really shines.