“The show must go on” has been a theatrical mantra since the beginning of time. But when the health of our community is at stake, the show just cannot go on, even though it breaks our hearts. When our staff made the decision to cancel our production of The Laramie Project last week, there were eight wonderful actors, three designers, a stage manager and a director who had already been working for weeks, if not months, on their specific roles for this demanding production. We had to tell them it was not to be.
Director Suzy Newman takes it from here:
Dear Theatre Patrons and Colleagues,
The cancellation of a play is so extremely insignificant in the large scheme of things. I am certain that many of us are pointing out truths like this to ourselves right now about infinite small events in our lives. To me, it seems very significant to be reminded why those things are meaningful enough to you to have to give yourself that little lecture.
On Monday, March 16, I sent a letter to a group of eight people: the cast of the next play I was directing at SLO REP. I had planned on doing this for several weeks. Though I had intended to do it sooner, I had set Monday, March 16 as my absolute deadline. We were to begin rehearsals on March 30th.
When I’m nervous about something I tend to procrastinate. I don’t know why I do this; it makes me feel even worse, gets nothing accomplished, and I’ve learned — time and time again! — that when I finally sit down and make some choices about things, things that I know will likely change later anyway (because that is the nature of our business), then I feel not only relieved, but exhilarated.
I was particularly nervous about leading this project. It is a true story that speaks to and is beloved by many — particularly many in the theatre community. Stemming from that is a laundry list of reasons to be nervous and, in case you were wondering, I believe I thought of every single one.
But on Sunday, March 15 I finally moved past the dread and the stuck feeling and reached that feeling of exhilaration. I literally felt like I was leaning forward. My head was flooding with images. My breathing had changed.
I wrote a draft letter to the cast of The Laramie Project in a matter of minutes — it’s easy when you are genuinely excited about the people you are writing to. In that letter I told Tom Ammon, Alicia Veium, Christian Arteaga, Patty Thayer, Robert Kiner, Katherine Perello, Greg Gorrindo and Sabrina Orro how much I was looking forward to spending the next several weeks with each of them working on this wonderful play. How difficult it was to cut anything at all from the script and that we could discuss any proposed line cuts they felt strongly about. How thrilled I was to get to direct some of them that I’ve known for so long but never directed, and those who were brand new to me and those who I’ve seen on stage but didn’t know, and to work with some old friends again.
I told them what to focus on before we started; to start making bold choices about the many characters each of them were playing; to think about dialects and physicality with abandon because we had time to try things and fail and then try more things. I wrote that (Artistic Director) Kevin Harris and I been talking for months about how to make this play dynamic and impactful and great theatre. I told them that we have had production meetings with the creative team — Dave Linfield and Randon Poole and Amanda Johnson — talking about the most effective set for all these scenes, and figuring out how to do all the kick-ass tech we were planning; about how the costumes were going to make them look like New York actors, the Tectonic Theatre Project folks, each with their own individual style – because this story is also about those people and how they felt telling the stories of the citizens of Laramie. I told them about how we were going to make it rain on stage during the funeral; about what we’d say about Matthew in the program; about how we’d make the rehearsals all work with everyone’s schedules; about the collaboration with GALA and their presence in the lobby for the run of the show.
Obviously that is not the letter I sent. Instead I wrote them the following:
It’s amazing that missed opportunities and experiences that didn’t exist can be grieved, but I’m now realizing they can. I guess it’s simply called disappointment, but that doesn’t really feel like a big enough word.
I already have pictures of each of you in my head on the SLO REP stage.
We have all been ramping up to this with such anticipation and enthusiasm and I know that each of you have felt the same. I am so sorry we will not get to have this experience right now. And I’m sorry that we won’t get to share it with audiences.
To put it lightly, being cancelled – and all of the reasons why – are a big f***king bummer. But it’s how we move through it that matters. It is impossible to read this play so many times in the last months and not feel that.
I look forward to my next opportunity to meet with, work with, create with each of you. I feel certain it will happen and that all of the attention that we’ve put onto The Laramie Project has already come to something good.
I hope everyone is staying well and keeping their internal fires lit for the things that are significant for them in good times.
Patty here again: We will be back! And we’re currently dreaming up some creative ways to fill this time while our theatre is dark. Watch our website and social media channels as we evolve and find a way to share this time with you. In the meantime, we wish all of you the very best things. Stay safe. Stay healthy. We’ll get through this together.
Photos by RyLo Media Design, Danielle Dutro McNamara and Jamie Foster. We love you all!