The improvement between each night of rehearsals was so tremendous is was just short of miraculous.
I got the hang of quick changes, and placement of self and puppets. I watched my cast mates do the same, stunned as they arrived on cue closer and closer to their mark with leaps of improvement.
By far the biggest challenge was being the hind end of a mule. This is a puppet that Hannah and Sally spent a huge portion of their summer making, and Jake and I will be performing in for the duration of the run. He is the head, and I am the butt, which means I’m also responsible for pulling our cart.
That cart was heavy but manageable in the studio. Putting it on sand is a whole other beast. The first night, I thought it would be impossible to achieve by myself. I thought I had signed up for a much heavier load than my body could handle.
Jake, likewise, was struggling with the low visibility, and adding expression to an unwieldy head, all while trying to listen me shout what I need for the cart, and getting feedback from the other puppeteers. I had been doing us both a huge dis-service when we practiced sans puppet by keeping track of wagon placement. I hadn’t realized that would be totally impossible once I was wearing the thing.
We cut eye holes for Jake first thing on the second night, and I worked hard to get a handle on the cart while following Jake with blind trust. I mean seriously blind. By the end of the second turn I just trust him when he says we’re facing the audience because I have no idea. The urge to lift the sides of the puppet is something I have to actively fight off.
But eventually, I was hauling that cart, we hit our marks, and I’ve only strained a few muscles!
Each night after Monday, they recorded the rehearsals and then we sat and watched together to receive notes on the performance. While it was exhausting to stay up late and slog through a bunch of material just to receive the few notes directly addressed to me, it was pretty incredible to watch the work we had put together. We cracked a couple beers (“You’re such a Texan.” Tommy insulted me, after I shared my Shiner with him) and dove into the generous snacks that cast mates and loving supporters had lavished upon us. It was an event. The kind of tribulation that builds character.
When we hit goal time on final dress, three nights after that disastrous first attempt, having barely skimmed off any actual material, the cheer was immense. It felt unreal. It felt like we were maybe, possibly, gonna have a real show for opening night.
It is only now, looking back on it, that I realize there is a blessing in being so overwhelmed with a single task. With the writing group, and Jenny’s family, and all these other things that have grown in my life in NC, it was a welcome return to the entire point of this endeavor. For that week, my life was entirely devoted to Paperhand and making the show happen. As soon as I started trying to fold other commitments back in, I felt more overwhelmed than I had all week.
The only thing else I made time for was short, exhaustion-rattled conversations with Dave as I was literally collapsing into bed.
This is why I love this craft. This is what I remember when I think about how much I love putting up a show. The wholeness of it. The fact that there isn’t room for any other noise. In all this chaos, there is clarity.