This is my first time directing a One-Man Show. Hard for me to believe, but it is true. And what better way to cut my teeth than to start with a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-Winning play about a variety of interesting themes and characters?? This is a true story about a person named Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf who survived Nazi Germany, the Communist Regime and was there when the wall came crumbling down…and lived to tell about it. But it isn’t only HER story, it’s the story of the playwright who discovered her, and her murderous father, and the colorful “back room cabaret” she ran right under the Stasi’s nose, and the Nazi Soldier who could have taken her life in a second, but chose not to…and all the 33 people in between. It is an amazing story of the triumphant human spirit, and the courage it takes to be who you TRULY are, with no excuses or regrets.
And to help me on this quest there is ONE actor. The amazing Kraig Swartz. And he is AMAZING. Thank God for him. Truly. Kraig on the other hand has done COUNTLESS one-man shows. I think he has done FULLY COMMITTED nine times around the country (and even won a Barrymore Award for it.) Did I tell you he was talented? Do you know how many accents, languages and dialogues it takes to bring 37 people to life? Especially when some of them are male, female, German, American, Texan (they deserve their own category), Indian, English, French, and, oh yeah, Japanese? People of all ages, physicalization and background. And Kraig attacks them all like the PRO that he is.
We spent the first two days (those quiet days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve) talking. Just talking. Just the two of us, with the stage management team in tow. Already that was odd. I’m used to lively colorful discourse, lots of disagreement, finding ways to compromise and learning how to work together with a cast of 4 or 6 or 8. But instead it was just quiet, rational, friendly discourse. Kraig and I are both people-pleasers. There were a lot more YES’s than NO’s in the room during the first two days. But you know, I firmly believe that art is subjective. There truly is no right or wrong, there is only someone’s taste. And with a one-man show, I went into rehearsals thinking it would be a LOT more interesting to me if he helped create and sculpt how this piece came into being since he was going to be the ONE person carrying the load.
We discussed psychological gestures, pitch, tone of voice, whether they hit their V’s hard when they spoke English with a German accent. Each character is different. A different stance, a different manner of holding the head, a different manner of opening the mouth so the voice is changed. It’s been fun, fascinating and inspiring work.
And then we got up on our feet. And by that I mean Kraig’s feet. And it was as though he’d been doing the show all his life. He showed up OFF-BOOK (which means completely memorized) by the way. (Did I mention there were 37 people in this show and some of them speak other languages? Yup, like I said, amazing.) Sometimes a whole page or two would go by with me just watching before I would stop him so we could discuss one thing or another. Scenes with three people in them, about which I was still practically thinking about as THREE ACTORS, not just one, were done in an instant…Kraig figured out which way to look to represent all three, where the reactions were, when he was moving as one character or the other, and POOF it was done. Already we’re beginning to work on nuance and timing, a true gift to me, as the director, in an exquisite piece that absolutely requires timing and nuance.
I could go on, but really, I want to try to reserve SOMETHING for next week’s post. Next week I’ll tell you how the first run-through went!