Today, I took a ride out to Cutting Hall in Palatine ( a quaint little community theater) where I was witness to a workshop production of a new musical “The Second Oldest Profession” ( I am pretty sure that
Many people, people who attend theater on a regular basis, are not aware of what it took for that play to be a full scale production, as they see it. I think to many, they think a writer just writes a script, a director finds the actors and then, Voila, a play appears on a stage. Whoa, theater-goers. This is far from the actual birth of a play or musical.
most of you know what THE oldest is). This is a new musical where David Reiser write the music and lyrics for 17 songs with the theme relating to some high school teachers who are worried that due to the economy, they might lose their positions. Some of the songs are lovely and cute, a few romantic and a few with very important messages. Flash forward! Reiser has songs but in order to have a musical, you need a complete story with a full story-telling script. Enter David Alex, a retired High School teacher who writes plays. They meet and work on getting this show to completion.
Understand that the task asked of Alex is not an easy one. To write a book using the songs that have already been written causes the writer to hold back on ideas of his own, but thanks to TesserAct Theatre Ensemble , a young community theater group, a workshop begins and as they work they along with the director, Madeline Franklin, they along with the actors in the show will tweak and tweak until they find the perfect formula. Alex will do rewrite after rewrite and another ensemble will try their hand at the show as well. A Musical is like a baby- it needs nourishment and love and a sit learns it goes from a crawl to a walk to a run and I am certain that this is the hope and dream of all those concerned with this workshop production.
One doesn’t expect a great deal from viewing a workshop and I did not enter the theater with a critical mind. It was a Sunday afternoon and I always enjoy seeing new works. I do see some potential in this particular concept- I am sure that with today’s environment, nontenured teachers do fear for the worst. Schools are cutting programs and if you are a teacher involved in a program that is being cut or dropped, I expect that the fear that emanates from these characters would be meaningful to you. The action take place in what appears to be one day, a day where by 3 p.m. they will know their fates; who will go and who will stay? Is it the math teacher, the English teacher, the Coach, the shop instructor? In about two hours, we find out.
There may be to many musical numbers as well as a bit to much dialogue. In fact , perhaps this should be a 90 minute musical with no intermission. A little snip here and a little snip there, could make the difference. As to the characters, and I am not sure if this is a directors problem or how it was written, it seems that two of the teachers are married to each other, yet in many of the numbers, they appear to be dancing or even flirting with another. There is of course the sexy little teacher with the very short skirt and the wiggle in her walk- what does she teach? and to who? The set, designed by Ms Franklin is simple ( after all this is only a workshop), but to be honest made it difficult to “block” ( a theater term for telling actors where to be at certain times) and in almost every case, she had each song sung directly to the audience, almost as if the character walked out of the show to sing to us- not a great idea. In fact, often, as they walked towards the audience, the curtain closed on the other characters who were being sung to- What was that? The ending caught us a little off-guard as well- a few did lose their jobs, and a few stories were left unanswered and why , oh why, would ALL the teachers sing “Goodbye, to Central High”? Why not only those who were let go?
This being a workshop, one cannot expect a great deal of choreography or set design, but the lighting was effective and the props worked well. The sound was workable and it was nice to see the actors “miked” but I wasn’t sure if they were all- There are always going to be hills and valleys in the start of bringing a new life to the stage and so I do not want to take the air out of anybody;s sails. I think as they develop this little show, Alex and Reiser will find the right combination and make the adjustments needed. Meanwhile I for one, felt that this Ensemble did have some quality talent and many might just hang around for the rest of the ride.