The Gospel At Colonus – The Music and the Movement

We are nearing the end of our third week of rehearsals; in my last post, I mentioned the upcoming rehearsal with the choir There are many parts in The Gospel at Colonus – actors speaking powerful text, quartets singing harmonies and performing movement. In addition we are fortunate to have Tony Jones, Choir director of the LA Youth Choir of the Gospel Workshop of America and his dedicated singers who will fill the Colonus choir stand with their fervent singing.

Last Sunday, at the end of our regular rehearsal day, thirteen choir members arrived for the first rehearsal at the theatre with Musical Director Abdul Hamid Royal and Tony Jones.

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Abdul Hamid Royal and Tony Jones work with the choir on the music from The Gospel At Colonus

We had set up the chairs around the piano in the rehearsal room, and spirits were high as everyone assembled to sing through the choral numbers in the show. After a rousing welcome by Wren T. Brown, and a brief tour of the set in the theatre, Abdul Hamid lost no time, jumping immediately into the material with the choir.  It soon became clear that the talents brought by these young people are real and significant.

Producer Wren T. Brown, Director Andi Chapman and I were sitting at the tables in the room working on our own tasks, and basking in the music. It is unquestionably one of the perks a stage manager has to get to listen to the voices that are on any show, but particularly on this production. There are some phenomenal vocal talents in the show – Dorian Holley 

, Jackie Gouché

and LaVan Davis,

whose sense of humor and actor’s sensibilities support his vocal chops. And without exception, their voices are exceeded by their  humility. What’s clear from watching the musicians on the show is the joy that they each derive from using their voices in service to the work at hand. It has inspired me to watch them support the text with their voices. This play is tricky – the language is oblique at times, and both Andi and Abdul Hamid have worked hard to make sure the story is clear.

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Andi during a moment of listening to the Sunday Choir rehearsal

I know I’ve digressed from the choir, but in my earlier posts, I focused more on the text and the fact is that Bob Telson’s music is equally important to this play.  Back in the rehearsal room, at one point, as they sang “Let the Weeping Cease” with the music building in intensity and volume, I glanced over toward Wren and Andi. I can’t speak for what they were feeling, but I was moved to tears by the emotion of the choir’s commitment and their faith. It was palpable in the room.

The day before, our first day on stage, just at the end of rehearsal, Andi, as she was talking to one of the actors, and standing on the steps into the house, took a step back and slipped off the step, falling hard on her right knee. It was shocking and unexpected and required an impromptu trip to the emergency room that night. But on Sunday, she was sitting IMG_4209with her leg propped up, her crutches behind her, grinning with my same excitement about the contribution that the choir was bringing. The music was a good tonic to the pain in her knee. This blogger pushed a little too hard with the insistence on pictures  however, and got this photo saying

Talk to the hand.

In addition to the music work, we have done some musical staging with the effervescent Keith Young. I had never worked with Keith before. He is extremely laid back, but brings a rigor and groove and expectation that his actors will do well.  And he is the funniest choreographer I have worked with. His imagery is quirky and unrestrained. He employs a lot of laughter and an extremely talented assistant who executes the choreography with precision and offers useful suggestions to make the moves easier.

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Keith Young

There are two musical groups in the show, the Ismene Quartet, headed up by the afore-mentioned Jackie Gouché, and the Choragos Quartet, led by LaVan Davis, in the role of Choragos. After blocking in the rehearsal room, last Saturday, both groups got on stage with Keith to begin movement.

What I have come to appreciate even more through this process is that we as individuals bring unique gifts to this project. The men in the quintet, Milton Ellis, Otis Easter, Gerald J. Mitchell and Ricke Vermont all are strong and experienced singers. Keith has given them pretty straight forward movement and has guided them and refined the movements based on their skill and in celebration of their vocal talents.

In the course of staging one of the numbers, one of the singers was having a little trouble getting the steps. Another choreographer might have said, “Actor A, please swap with Actor B because you aren’t getting the steps.” Not Keith. Instead of shaming anyone, he reworked the steps so that the actor became featured in the number; he did it with such grace, remaining flexible in his approach so that no one felt less capable and the number ended up working just as well. Keith’s philosophy is clearly karmically correct.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.

Romans 12:6

It is that kind of grace that makes it so nice to go to work each day on Colonus.

The Gospel at Colonus – Week 2

COLONUS ARTWeek two of rehearsals for The Gospel at Colonus has hastened the alchemy of character and scene work, familiarity with the music and blocking into a cohesive and, at the risk of jinxing it, potentially thrilling production. We are now working through the play each day, making discoveries and strengthening the telling of the Oedipus at Colonus story. Director Andi Chapman is skilled at opening doors by asking her actors the right question at the right moment in their process, and allowing their answer to be “I don’t know yet.”  I have watched a half-dozen times as the actors have listened to the question, and then thought a minute, their eyes widening in recognition. Watching Andi and the actors dissect the literal and metaphoric meanings of the script’s text has reawakened my creative intellect, reminded me again why I love being in rehearsals. The rehearsal room is (in the best circumstances) a crucible of exploration; time is taken for the important work of being and representing humans in all their heightened emotional phases – love, grief, remorse, pride, redemption. The two actors playing Oedipus, Roger Robinson, and Ellis Hall continue to raise the bar for each other – the musical text fortifying the spoken text in a powerful way. The depth of the work in the rehearsals has inspired me as well as all the others in the room, which bodes extremely well for the audience’s comprehension of the story.

Our numbers have grown, with several more talented singers joining us. Abdul Hamid Royal, our puckish and ironic Musical Director, has met and rehearsed once with the choir with another rehearsal planned this weekend. He has worked with the Choragos Quintet separately from the main rehearsals. The men in that Quintet (LaVan Davis, Otis Easter, Milton Ellis, Johnny Gilmore, and Gerald J. Mitchell) each have amazing vocal instruments and under Abdul Hamid’s direction, have blended strongly as a group.  Tomorrow we will assemble wholly for the first time, the four members of the Ismene Quartet (Jackie Gouché, Dorian Holley, Ricky Nelson and Sharletta Morgan-Harmony). If Jackie and Dorian are any indication of the level of talent of the other two, we (and you) are in for a treat.

That’s what I mean. Every day on this project has been like Christmas, or a birthday – the moments musically and dramatically unwrapping in front of our eyes.

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Madison Orgill-Rhoades, former USC student headed up the paint call at Colonus this week.

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Early moments of the load in for Colonus

Tuesday, the pieces of Ed Haynes’ set arrived in the back of a huge stake bed truck. Built by Sets-To-Go owners Mark Henderson and Tim Farmer, the set is not for the faint of heart. For the past three days, at every break and before I leave at night, I have hurried back to see the progress they have made in the load in. When I left rehearsal the first night, Andi sat next to Ed on one of the top choral platforms, overlooking the laying of the carpet on the lower stairs.

(I’ve already shown you too much. You will have to wait to see everything assembled when you come to see the show.)

Speaking of giving it away, this is a generous group. Each day, we have had several contributions of food from cast members, which makes the rehearsal room almost completely self-sustaining. We almost wouldn’t need to go out to eat, except this group likes each other and likes to eat. A combination which makes our lunch breaks very enjoyable.

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Jessica’s meta shot of her computer open to my blog….I promise it was before rehearsal began.

Tomorrow we get on stage for the first time, and will do spacing and realize in three dimensions the work we have done in the rehearsal space.  We will roll the freshly tuned piano into the theatre to support the work. Four of our five designers, Ed Haynes, Phil Allen, Naila Sanders and Karyn D.Lawrence will join us to see a stumble-through. Tom Ontiveros will join us later in the process. There is plenty left to do and plenty of time to do it before we begin tech rehearsals on June 9th.

Jessica, my PA, shared her snapchat photo with me yesterday. snapchatWhile snapchat is a younger person’s game, I am nevertheless learning how to more effectively use technology as a tool in stage management. When new actors join the company, I still will call them to touch base and make sure they have their call, but now I also  text them my contact info so that they can ingest it into their smart phones. That way they know whose call they aren’t answering…Just kidding – they are very responsible and acknowledge their calls. Though a busier group of actors I have not seen in a long time.

Now’s the time for you to book your tickets. Group sales are taking off – You can buy your Tickets to The Gospel At Colonus here. Hear’s to seeing you in the Holden for Ebony Repertory Theatre’s upcoming production.