Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Catching Up

It's been a bit longer since my last post than I would've liked, but I've been crazy busy as of late. This past weekend saw the premiere of my newest play, THE BELLES OF WHITECHAPEL: THE VICTIMS OF JACK THE RIPPER SPEAK. I'd say it was a success, maybe even a resounding success. Opening night we had a relatively small crowd, but they were a good crowd, and I'd take a smaller audience that's really into the show than a full house of apathy ANYtime. Saturday night we had an audience both relatively large in number (relative to our venue, which is smaller in size) and totally into what they were seeing. And Sunday we were near capacity with our largest crowd yet, and they were digging the show in a major way. Needless to say I am pleased, and looking forward to this coming weekend and our three remaining performances.

I'd hoped people would like the show, and kinda figured they would, based on reactions I've gotten to previous events done in a similar vein. But I hadn't really expected it to affect folks quite as much as it did. All three shows, we had several people in the audience in tears. One lady told us, "It was so much more touching than I had expected." This was the best of compliments to me, second only to the fact that a couple of folks came back to see the show a second time. If you get repeat customers, that means they liked it, they really liked it.

I'm always looking for gratification as a writer first and as a director second. When I get accolades for both, well, that's Christmas morning for me. It's especially pleasing to me in that I seem to have succeeded at giving the "stars" of the play, the victims of Jack the Ripper, individual voices. The number of women murdered by the killer (or killerS, plural) colloquially called "Jack the Ripper" in the slums of London in the year 1888 is debated by scholars to this day. Of all the characteristics they shared, however many of them there were--all prostitutes, all alcoholics, all poor--they also have in common that few people not intense students of the case (dubbed "Ripperologists") could actually tell you their names or anything about them. They are just "the victims." Supporting players to the star of the stage, Gentleman Jack himself. Nameless, voiceless, important only in that their deaths and subsequent mutilations are what made ol' Saucy Jack so famous, a celebrity.

But they weren't unimportant, though. They were, each one of them, somebody's mother, somebody's daughter, somebody's sister. There were people who loved them. These women deserve to be remembered as more than mere paper doll cutouts with numbers affixed in red ink, the order of their designation, names attached to dates and spots on a map. They should be known for more than just their being murder victims. I tried to make each of them real. I did my research. I believe I've gotten as close as is possible to depicting their real personalities. There were spots missing in their histories, yes, but they were small spots, and these I filled in with guesswork and the type of characterization I would try to lovingly instill in any fictional character I'd created. The fact that I got so many compliments regarding the unexpected poignancy of the case, and elicited so many tears from patrons, tells me that I got it right. And that makes me feel really good.

Of course I realize that I couldn't have done it without my performers. As I told them, all my words were just ink on paper until they brought them to life. I like to think that I, and they, did the ladies, the real Belles of Whitechapel, proper honor. Gena Rawdon, Amber Dickey, Tanja Miller, Sue Hassett, Rebecca England, Marcie Jay, Melissa Braswell, Sandy Federico and Nina Soden--take a bow, ladies. Again. You have my gratitude. Perchance you have the gratitude of the real Belles, too. I'd sure like to think so.

(I'd also be remiss not to give kudos to my able Assistant Director, Jeremy "Sass Master Flash" Woods, who brought his A game to this, his first directorial project. One would find it hard to believe that Jeremy, who possesses a depth and introspective maturity that belies his mere 31 years of age, hadn't been doing it for a long stretch already.)

Final scorecard, then:

Number of performances so far: 3

Number of audience members who cried: Hard to say. I'd estimate at least 20.

Number of people who walked out: 4 (If SOMEbody didn't walk out of one of my shows, I'd start to lose faith in myself. It could be the patrons in question had something come up that required them to leave, rather than them being offended at the subject matter. There's no cussin' or such in the show, but the subject of murder is too much for some delicate sensibilities, I reckon. If any of those 4 did leave for that reason, I wonder if they were expecting something different, a romantic comedy, say. (You'd think the words "Jack the Ripper' in the title would have tipped 'em off, right?)

Number of people who came back for a second performance: 2 (Makes up for half those who left, at least. Nah, it makes up for all 4 of 'em.)

Number of people who thought that some of my actresses were really British: 3 (Good job with the accents, girls!)

Number of performances left: 3

Number of regrets the Director has about doing this show, and the writer has about writing it: 0. And I reckon that's about as good as anybody could ever hope for.

Come check out THE BELLES OF WHITECHAPEL this weekend, if you're in the neighborhood. Unless you're expecting a Rom-Com, I think you'll like it.

But maybe you should bring some Kleenex. These ladies are pulling no punches.