Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Houston Gets Some Hed, Part 5: Time Collapses and Space Warps

I was on a metaphorical ledge, about to jump with the whole Hedwig project in my arms. Jef was patiently trying to talk me off that ledge. For over an hour, he kindly debated with me that I couldn't just dump the show at this stage in the game. The show, he argued, was no longer just mine, but now belonged to all the folks who were working so hard to make it happen. Once again, my frustration at various problems was being vented in Jef's direction. Eventually, I cooled down, and Jef's more rational ideas started to seep into my thick skull. Very few people who were involved in the production knew how close it was to being scrapped. Jef is owed a huge thanks for preventing me from letting that happen.
Now that I had my head on straight, we had to address the issues before us, not the least of which was the fact that we had no guitarist or bass player. The show was a little over two months away from opening, and we were nowhere near ready to roll. Jef lucked into a guitarist after discussing the show with a co-worker, Eric Allen. Eric came to a rehearsal and played some of the music from the show that he had learned on his own. He was truly amazing, and blew us all away. Jenny returned, initially as a fill-in for rehearsal, but her job circumstances later changed again...this time for the better! She would now be able to do the show, which elated us. She had been the perfect fit for this show from the beginning, so we were quite happy to have her back. That first rehearsal, with all the assembled members, was pure magic. Everything just clicked, and the chemistry between the band members was something to behold. Tiny's drumming had improved dramatically in only one week’s time. He had practiced every night for several hours on his own, and his chops were up like he'd never left the drum kit. Everyone, myself included, was stunned by how much progress he had made in such a short time.
Our rehearsals were conducted at a small space next to a convenience store. Many local bands rented the space, and we often had visits from members of such local acts as Bozo Porno Circus and Asmodeus X. The space's owner, a fantastic guy by the name of Al, often sat in on our practice sessions as well. He provided constructive feedback, and became a member of our close-knit, extended family. Along for most of the rehearsals was Jenny's then-boyfriend, Jordan. Jordan is an amazing photographer, and he started chronicling our adventures in the practice space. He was always non-intrusive, and he managed to capture many great shots when we didn't even know he was there. In addition to the rehearsals in the practice space, Jef, Lynda and I regularly met at my apartment to work out blocking, and to have Jef direct the dialogue and interaction between us. Jef and I also had regular meetings to discuss the business end of things. We now were in a stage where we needed to start advertising the show, and to this end Jef enlisted a friend by the name of Rob, who was a district manager for the Landmark Theater chain. Rob provided contacts, and helped us get our press release out to the local media. He also planned a cross-promotion with one of his theaters for when the show opened.
On top of all of this, we spent what little free time we had left slapping up flyers in local businesses around town. Everyone involved was working their asses off, but progress was being made. Word was starting to get out about the show, and soon we were being contacted by The Houston Press, as well as The Houston Chronicle. The biggest response came, not surprisingly, from the local Gay media. Houston's gay and lesbian publications took an active interest in our production, and really helped spread the word. The show was coming together, but another snag was on the horizon. Maddy-Cat was going to have to sit out the majority of the shows, since a close friend of hers had a relapse of her cancer. Fortunately, she found us a replacement in the form of a young college girl by the name of Towhee, who was quite talented with the make-up herself. With everything running full-steam ahead, the creativity started to flow. One night, I expressed to Jef that I wanted to break from the tradition of having the same actor play Hedwig and Tommy Gnosis. I had the idea of having another actor actually appear in pictures or video as Tommy, further cementing the concept of Hedwig reclaiming that persona at the end of the show. Jef not only loved the idea, he ran with it and made it happen in a way I couldn't have imagined. He enlisted the members of Asmodeus X to actually record a stunning new version of the Tommy Gnosis version of "Wicked Little Town". We then had my brother, an Emmy award winning photojournalist, to come down from Dallas to film "concert" footage of a Tommy Gnosis show to play during key scenes.
Jef secured Houston's legendary Number's nightclub for the shoot, and recruited a cast of extras. Jef himself played Tommy, while the boys of Asmodeus X played his band. During the shoot, a massive rainstorm swept into town, and the ceiling started to leak. My brother kept the film rolling, and the effect of the water cascading down on Jef was quite dramatatic. This footage was a huge hit, especially with those who had seen multiple productions of Hedwig before. It made our show stand out from the pack, and I'm quite proud of the work everyone did on it. With the show looming close, we looked forward to getting into the venue to actually rehearse on the stage. The only problem was that we couldn't get the spot until two weeks before the show opened. Once we were actually there, we discovered that we would be rehearsing upstairs, but performing on the stage downstairs. The staff at Fitzgerald's, not understanding the needs of a play, had put bands in the downstairs area every night until our press-preview night! We would be unable to adjust our blocking or stage setup until the first night we performed with a live audience. This would prove to have disastrous consequences.
To Be Continued...

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