By Kyle Sinclair
Last year, I wrote a song about Lakewood Playhouse’s upcoming season of shows. We had been in lockdown for several months, but things were looking up and we expected a reopening announcement within the next few days.
But then things got worse, and there was no announcement. The original version of the song (in which I managed to rhyme “mid-July we’ll” with “Murder on the Nile”) had to be trimmed, since mid-July had come and gone with no such performance.
A year later, I decided to write a sequel about the NEW upcoming season. I cheekily called it, “Tempting Fate”.
As I wrote, specific visuals popped into my head to match the various musical vignettes – creepy masks in the audience for Haunting of Hill House, a dramatic diva on the balcony for Head Over Heels – and it quickly coalesced into a music video idea. I texted Chap Wolff this pie-in-the-sky vision as an example of how far my idea had spiraled out of control.
He replied, and I quote, “Let’s do it.”
I’d been experimenting with a camera technique where it spins around a subject and things appear where previously there was nothing. It requires a lot of coordination and practice, but the result is pretty magical. It was a natural fit for this project because it allowed for different scenes to match the musical vignettes while highlighting the brilliance of live theatre.
Yes, once the camera cuts to the Playhouse, the entire scene is a single shot with no cuts. Everything you see was actually done in real time at the theatre – there are no tricks, no hidden cuts.
A group of thespians met in the theatre early one Sunday in August with only a cursory understanding of what they were going to be doing. We assigned them roles and costumes, and prepared to block the video.
I was nervous about this phase of the project. I was asking a lot from the cast, who had to learn the song, blocking, and costume changes in just a few hours. Co-Interim Managing Artistic Director James Venturini and I had discussed whether this should actually be a 2-day project, but based on the Playhouse calendar, either we got it done in one day or it didn’t happen. The actors were expecting to be there from 9-5, but film shoots can be unpredictable and I knew there was a possibility that we wouldn’t be done until closer to 7 or 8.
Film and theatre are two entirely different beasts. In theatre, once the show begins, the script barrels forward and the actors are at its mercy. In film, the actors (usually referred to as “the talent”) spend most of their time sitting around waiting for everyone else to get the shot set up. Then they come in, say their lines, and go back to waiting for the next shot. I was determined to avoid wasting my cast’s time – I had already written a script and had blocked it all out using cut up pieces of paper to make sure my vision was even possible – but now the issue would be clearly communicating the pictures in my head to a cast of 12. I asked them to trust that we were creating something cool.
Right off the bat, costuming took a little longer than I’d hoped. Co-Interim Managing Artistic Director Heather Hinds did a fabulous job sifting through the Playhouse’s vast store to provide each actor with much more comprehensive outfits than I’d envisioned. They looked great, but we were half an hour behind when we finally started blocking.
However, once we started, the cast just clicked into place. Everything felt right; with very little guidance, my cast knew where they were supposed to be and when they were supposed to be there. We only had to walk through it 2 or 3 times before we were ready to practice with costumes and music.
We knew we had been missing the theatre, but I don’t think we realized how badly. If you haven’t had the opportunity to put on a play, know that it can be every bit as emotionally and physically taxing as a big sports match. Theatre is an intense, collaborative adventure, and witnessing my friends creating magic onstage again warmed my heart. We were all invested in this project and the stage was electric with excitement as each vignette was locked into place. I started bouncing with giddiness as I realized that this could actually work.
We took a lunch break and then began filming. After each run, we’d watch the shoot, I’d provide notes, and we’d do it again. Finally, there was a run that I was happy with. “That’s a wrap!” I said, and the cast cheered. It was 4pm. We were an hour early.
The day was literally a best-case scenario for the shoot. It’s a testament to the quality of my team that we were able to pull this off; they immediately understood my vision and were able to execute it. The video turned out almost exactly the way it played out in my head! I am so thankful for Lakewood Playhouse’s community of actors, who could turn an ambitious concept into a finished product in less than a day.
Now I suppose it’s time to start brainstorming next year’s video.