Ten days out from opening, my Sondheim group is getting nervous. That’s not unusual. Neil Patrick Harris wrote in his memoir that when he performed in Sondheim’s Company, he didn’t start memorizing his part early enough. He figured he was a television star, used to receiving scripts the night before. When he started rehearsing, shortly before the first performance (it was a limited run of staged concerts with the New York Philharmonic), he knew he was in trouble. Everyone else was off-book, doing good work. Patti LuPone approached after one scene, told the other performers they were doing great, looked at Harris and said, “You’re getting there.” Harris had a fit; she had a bigger fit back at him.
Patti LuPone is not in our production. “Art isn’t easy,” Sondheim wrote. We sing that line, and we mean it. One of our castmates shared a story about another Sondheim show he’d been part of, when he blanked on his lyrics in front of an audience and had to stop the song. I asked if he’d been mortified. “Not really,” he said. “I think you have to embrace the whole process.”
I hadn’t thought about it that way before. Embracing the process means accepting failures as well as successes, and not necessarily preferring one over the other. This is contrary to our culture, which is focused on winning. Think of the competitive language we hear daily: beat this problem, box office record, ahead in the polls, winner, champion, best etc. Performers are supposed to “kill” their audiences.
As a sometime critic, I have been contacted by people who were upset I didn’t like their show. Rarely will I write a completely negative piece, but our culture only seems to be interested in thumbs (up or down). Embracing the process frees us from the requirement that no mistakes were made, that more than six people were in the audience, that bats weren’t flying around the balcony. Good is good; bad can also be good.
Steven Sondheim’s Putting It Together is the hardest theater piece I’ve ever worked on. The songs are relentlessly clever and difficult; they are also hugely rewarding. Every night I fall more in love with our production, as various secrets and elements are unlocked during rehearsal, through collaboration. Our director and choreographer have created a scenario using the barest suggestions in the text, filled out by committed performers who are increasingly embracing the process together. We’d love for you to join us.
Moss Island and The Earlville Opera House present
Putting It Together
Words and Music by Stephen Sondheim
Friday, July 24 – 8:00 PM
Saturday, July 25 – 8:00 PM
Sunday, July 26 – 3:00 PM
$17, $15 Member, $12 Student
Tickets available online and via The Earlville Opera House
18 East Main, Earlville, NY 13332
Janet Engle * Kathleen Krumbach
John Murphy * Nicholas Williams * Chris Bord
Director/Lighting – Pat Stone
Music Director and Choreographer – Christine Krumbach
Pianist – Mary Sugar
Stage Manager – Sarah Bord
Followspot – Susan Bord
Props/Sound Assistance – Deborah Martin