Several years ago, when I was working as a ticket seller in the American Folklore Theatre office, I sold tickets to a woman who offered a robust, if unrealistic argument that we should move our production of Fish and Whistle (then playing in the Ephraim Village Hall) out into the Peninsula State Park amphitheater for the night. Although there was a cold rain falling that day (only one of the many logistical difficulties with the idea of an outdoor show in late October), I sympathized with the woman's cause. The AFT amphitheater is a pretty incredible place for live musical theater.
So when AFT announced that it would produce Victory Farm (the show I co-wrote with Emilie Coulson and James Valcq) indoors at Door Community Auditorium this fall, I knew what we'd be losing: the wind blowing through the cedar trees, the stage lights shining in the misty forest, the clear view of the stars. What I didn't think about until I saw the show a few weeks ago was how much we'd be gaining.
For one thing, for Emilie, James, and me, the Auditorium holds a special place in our hearts. I think of a ten-year-old Emilie, a huge AFT fan who regularly attended Gibraltar school events in the Auditorium, and how excited she would be if she knew a show she wrote would one day find its way to that stage. James, who co-wrote the show The Spitfire Grill with Fred Alley, got his first-ever chance to direct that show on the Auditorium stage two years ago. As for me, I have seen some of the musicians I most admire perform on that stage and am so honored for my work as a writer to inhabit a space that they have seasoned so well with their own art.
Then there's the production itself. Take the new and improved set, reworked by scenic designer Andrea Heilman, director Jon Hegge, and builder Stewart Dawson, for the indoor stage. It's beautiful (something I can say without modesty because I had nothing to do with it). Faced with the opportunities and limitations of a different space, they had to make changes, and the opportunities they found for change led to new little pockets of beauty throughout the set design.
Lighting designer David Alley, equipped with the different lighting options of an indoor space (not to mention a completely dark auditorium), has worked wonders. Without the natural light that is always present outdoors, David can more actively decide what the audience does and does not see, taking advantage of the sleights of hand and illusions that live theater thrives on.
When you're recording an album, sound experts say you should listen to it in all sorts of different ways-in the car, on a battered old boom box, through your headphones. Even if you've listened to your record hundreds of times in the high-tech studio, different elements of the music come out in all these different settings, and you can learn a lot in the comparison. Headphones are often the most enlightening tool for me in that process. In shutting out other distractions, the smallest details of the music are free to shine.
I know Victory Farm as intimately as I might know my own recordings, or even my own child if I had one. From 2006 until 2012, I watched the show grow from the tiniest seed of an idea into a big, vibrant, fully-fledged musical theater production. And yet, watching the show in the clear, enclosed dark of the Auditorium a few weeks ago, I felt like I was watching the play with headphones on. I was able to watch closer than before, to notice things I'd never noticed before-the way one lyric plays off another, the look of quiet joy on an actor's face.
There's nothing that can replace the wonder of a show in the magical AFT amphitheater. But there is a whole different-and, for me, equally powerful-beauty to Victory Farm at Door Community Auditorium. I hope you'll take the chance this fall to experience that for yourself.