Making theater: The Path to Perfection

by Artist Development Fellow

The OFA awards Artist Development Fellowships annually to promising and/or accomplished student artists and creators who have an unusual opportunity for artistic growth and transformation. We have asked them to keep us updated on their experiences. Today's post was written by Sam Linden.

I started doing theater in the third grade and haven’t stopped since. I’ve been an actor, director, music director, writer, technician – if it’s a part of theater, I’ve dabbled in it. However, until this past June, I never had the opportunity to work on a professional theater production. My role as Artist Development Fellow intern/observer for CAP21’s production of "The Trouble With Doug" was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life. I got to observe the entire rehearsal process, which was as full of ups and downs as any amateur production I’ve been involved with.

Larry Arancino, the show’s director, was fascinating to watch. He engaged in a dialogue with the performers, threw out ideas, suggestions and subtext, coaxing every last bit of potential to the foreground. What was perhaps the most interesting element was his attention to each minute detail and his drive for perfection. Larry would work a single exchange of dialogue – no more than three of four lines – over and over again, improving it each and every time.

As someone who has struggled through music directing two shows, I also found it amazing to watch a truly great music director at work. Greg Brown not only worked with actors (who were all great performers, but had varying degrees of vocal experience) but conducted the pit orchestra and played piano like a maniac. Again, it’s the attention to detail that stood out for me; Greg made sure every cut-off, every vowel, every last note of a very difficult score was performed correctly, and when that was impossible, he suggested revisions to fix problem spots. He took an already excellent score and made it sound truly remarkable.

Of course, working with the writers of "The Trouble With Doug" was the real pinnacle of the experience for me. Daniel Mate (the lyricist and co-book writer) and Will Aronson (the composer and co-book writer, who was also a music concentrator at Harvard!) were not only extremely talented theater artists, they were friendly, welcoming guys who didn’t mind an over-eager college kid tagging along. From them, I learned about the art of writing a musical (both received MFA’s from NYU Tisch’s Musical Theater Writing program) and also about what happens after you write the show. Through the workshop rehearsal process, each line and lyric was refined, and every melody and underscoring was perfected. Entire songs were replaced and rewritten for this production, and changes were made right up until the final dress rehearsal. The show was never "done" – it kept getting tighter, cleaner, better. Even now, Daniel and Will are doing some more refining of the show.

As for me, I’m still working on the "write a musical" part. But I’m getting there, and my time at CAP21 was a good start.

[Caption: Sam Linden]

[Caption: Our man Sam Linden (center) was recently in "Bat Boy: The Musical" at New College Theatre. Photo: Molly Dektar]