It’s theatre gigs like this that makes you wish you were licensed to use building squibs.
For the last two months, Parker and I have been exercising our positions as masters of illusion and sabre saws to piece together a set for Poudre High School’s fall theatre production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! (I am not being enthusiastic. That punctuation is part of the title.) I am now…proud…I suppose…to announce that we are now one week from presenting this classic tale of life, love, marriage, death, death threats, perversion and packed lunches on the American frontier.
That’s the plug. Now for the meat of this post.
Fun Fact: Oklahoma! was a favorite presentation of USO shows during World War 2 (Gasp! No numerals?). It depicted, in no small terms, all the great, wholesome things that ‘our boys’ were fighting for back home (like hot meals and singing), while forgiving all the not-so-wholesome things that ‘our boys’ were doing while away from said home (like killing people, and purchasing pornographic postcards from Arabs).
Oklahoma! is almost certainly the worst musical ever written, down to the imperative exclamation in the title, and is quite certainly the worst musical ever performed. It is, essentially, three hours of borderline misogyny and hicks singing atonally. The songs are poorly written (which is all the worse because they’re so catchy); there are so many lewd jokes the show could be an episode of Chappelle’s show, if not for the lack of a bald black man throughout; and the entire affair is bisected by a ballet sequence brought on by the inhalation of a ‘special kind of smelling salts’, coincidentally also purchased from an Arab. The climax in this farce is a bidding war over a lunch hamper between an arsonist and an idiot.
And that’s just the script.
The casting for Poudre’s rendition of Oklahoma! is fitting, if not questionable: we have actually attracted a handful of ranchers – real, live ranchers! – into the fold who are willing to sing, two-step, shoot things, threaten to shoot things if they don’t marry their daughters, and make themselves look like asses to all of their friends. I suppose they rationalize this as a sacrifice for art.
I’ve been trying to avoid this, but I suppose I have to bear scrutiny about the technical activity for this trainwreck. (A metaphorical trainwreck, of course. Our last real trainwreck got every one of the techs cursed out, and nearly killed a third of the chorus and all of our pit orchestra.)
Technical theatre for Oklahoma (screw it. I’m not punctuating that blasted word anymore) didn’t meet until after cast auditions were held, because we didn’t have a technical director. Actually, we did, but a ‘Mystery Director’ is pretty much useless when you can’t do shit. Eventually, some of us learned that the TD was Ms. Cindy Eby (and the rest of us already knew, because she did tech for Shakespeare in the Summer), and we had TECH! Hooray!
Actually, we had design meetings. This was actually pretty cool, except we had no real commission from the other directors and no design concept. Instead of building, we listened to the soundtrack of Oklahoma while drawing, listened to the audio track of the movie adaptation of Oklahoma while drawing, and debated whether or not Sean Cummings’ concept for a dada-esque ‘Okla-horror’ show should be implemented while drawing airplanes dropping bombs on cornfields and curiously happy Santa Clauses.
My first suggestion for a set piece was a twelve-foot high cutout cow outfitted with building squibs that would be placed, without the cast’s previous knowledge, and detonated closing night. The idea was rejected, but talk of twelve-foot-tall cows, and building squibs especially, continued for weeks.
Once we had design plans for a set (notably still lacking a unifying design concept: we had everything from minimalism to kitsch), we set about building.
Actually, we were told by the school district that we would not be permitted to build. Recent technical mishaps, including the alleged crushing of one student underneath an electric lift, prompted some inconsiderate jackass in an admin position to approve a statute requiring all student techs to go through a “qualification training”, in which they would learn to use screwdrivers, before they would be permitted to dutchman a flat or rip plywood.*
Luckily, desperation won out. The fact that we had just over a month to create a show with only one certified student tech (e.g. me) persuaded the district to waive the restriction. Our valiant crew of noobs were given carte blanche, handed screw guns, and told to go to town.
We took the advise, and went to town. Then we came back from town, some of us sporting souvenirs, and started building.
Time passed. This is actually just a brief placeholder used in stead of about three pages I could have written, but won’t because I:
a. don’t want to take up the entire first page of this blog with a single post,
b. think this post is getting to be too damn long already, and
c. can’t specifically remember everything that transpired between whenever the hell that was and whenever the hell now is. I’m so tired.
In fact, I’m sick, and can’t sleep. When I do sleep, I dream light plots for Oklahoma.
Did I mention that I’m now the light designer? I can’t tell, I’m so tired.
I actually didn’t do jack shit with lighting until last monday – the first night of tech week – when I removed some gels, found out that a half-dozen of my instruments were entirely fucked, and discovered that I was sick. One week later, I am proud to announce that I am still sick. However, my lights are gelled and working, I have memorized virtually the entire musical, and have hung no less than two new curtains and a cyclorama, the latter by myself. I am now incredibly tired, sick, and sore. I am also repeating myself.
Oklahoma will be either a mediocre production or fail outright (to my knowledge, the cast have not even learned the finale yet). All of you that are able, willing, or required to should come to see it on November 16 (Thursday) and 17 (Friday) at 7 PM, or on November 20 (Saturday) at either 2 or 7 PM. You can mock our pain.
MOCK IT GOOD!