I can’t, I’m in tech; Bravo, ‘M. Butterfly’

Clive Owen

NEW YORK—All of us “on the island” have begun the arduous process of tech. This is when the actors, wearing body mics, costumes, makeup and wigs, start working to marry our bodies and the staging with design elements: lights, sound and sets.

Nicole and I are on almost the exact same production schedule, with her tech period starting a couple of days after mine. I sent her (and my mother, with whom she’s staying during tech) a message outlining what she needs to do. Of course, my mother is old hat at this, having raised a theater kid from a very early age, but since this is Nicole’s first production, she needed reminders.

Being in this production poses a few challenges. We have to make sure that the audience surrounding us on all sides gets a great experience. We need to stand, sit and, at times, get out of the way so that no one’s view is blocked. We need to move in ways that bring attention to the right dramatic elements onstage, and the design team checks everything out to make those things happen. (By the way, the overhead lighting system at Circle in the Square was created by one of our lighting designers, Jules Fisher. There isn’t another theater on Broadway that has that.)

Sometimes, design elements have necessitated changes in our blocking, which means that Michael Arden, our director, will head to us, share his ideas (some of which arrive in his head at 4 in the morning) and rehearse. Traffic patterns, cues or walking speed may change.

Another significant challenge for the actors has been sand. It hampers walking, makes it hard to dance and difficult to move around. We can’t place spike marks to help us with staging. We have to take it off of how far a speaker is, where the theater exit signs are, or how far they are from the fixed set pieces. We also pray a lot.

Watching the designers do their jobs has been quite fun. I’d usually sit somewhere in the house not too far away from where I need to be, in order to see exactly what the stage looks like when the cast is standing still for lighting.

Peggy Eisenhauer and Jules Fisher are continuing to create incredible lighting states that tell the story of this island with clarity and purpose. Our sound design team led by Peter Hylenski and his associate, Justin Stasiw (who was the sound designer of Atlantis’ production of “Jersey Boys”) are giving us realistic levels of sound that there have been times I’ve been jolted out of my chair. They have speakers strategically placed everywhere that even the audience will feel as immersed in our world as the actors.

Tech can be a process that will try one’s patience. By the day’s end, we can get cranky and tired. However, once everything is working like one machine comprised of many parts, the result will be exquisite and breathtaking.

We have only a week to go. I cannot wait to show this to our audiences!

Clive Owen’s stunning performance

Last Wednesday night, one of my best friends, Victor Lirio, and I took in the final preview performance of “M. Butterfly” (book by David Henry Hwang and directed by Julie Taymor), currently in performances at the Cort Theater on West 48th Street.

Led by Clive Owen, who gives a stunning tour-de-force performance, it tells the story of espionage, race relations, assumptions of culture and deception. Jin Ha turns in a great performance as Song Liling (the role that brought BD Wong a Tony Award), and the rest of the company is excellent.

This is just one in a spate of revivals currently running or about to arrive on Broadway (Boublil and Schönberg’s “Miss Saigon” is still running at the Broadway Theater, and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” is coming soon).

The great thing about this one is that the playwright gets to reexamine his work and dig deeper into the narrative. There are changes in this current version of the script, and in the hands of the crystal-clear Clive Owen, there is no confusion in the action and the drama.

It’s such an opportunity when a production is remounted while the original creative forces are still around. Bernstein, Rodgers and Hammerstein are no longer around to take another look at one of their shows and make it fit a more contemporary audience.

It makes me appreciate these amazing playwrights, composers and songwriters, that they still keep striving for perfection even if the previous versions of their work were certified box-office hits.


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