T minus 2 months: I e-mailed the organizers of the conference and offered my assistance in writing the skit. They said I could write it with one of them or I could write it myself. Deciding that this would be the year of my creative renaissance, I said I would do it all on my own, and they sent me past scripts (one based on My Fair Lady and one based on Oklahoma!) so I could get an idea of what they were like. I considered doing Sweeney Todd since it was timely, but I thought the music might be a little difficult to pick up immediately. So I settled on G&S, which had been done in the past. They had done The Mikado years ago, so it was ripe for a revival.
T minus 2 weeks: Oh, so I better actually WRITE THE THING, huh? I'd had a lot of trouble getting started, not least of all because I was consumed with my first short story in five years (hence the creative renaissance). All I knew was that it would be called The Wrik*do. Got to have a punny title, of course. But I had no idea what it would be about. I needed a plot, a theme, anything. A reason for the songs.
Then one day, out of nowhere, I came up with "An Oxford comma I, a mark of punctuation"...and suddenly, I had a show. This is how my creative process always works, really. I come up with one thing I like and build everything else around it to justify its existence. The characters are punctuation marks! Ta da! (But first, I had to finish the quatrain. What rhymed with "punctuation"? Um, "demonstration"? A perfect demonstration! Of...clarity and style! (One of the AMWA workshops is called "Punctuation for Clarity and Style."))
So I started hammering out a script, filking on the fly. I knew that since Comma-Poo was an Oxford comma and the plot hinged on the Lord High Medical Writer needing to edit him, the climax would involve the Wrik*do calling for the AMA Manual of Style, but I didn't really know how to get there and fill the time in between. I felt myself slavishly following the original plot, using it as a crutch.
Until I turned Katisha into a walking LOLcat. Sometimes when you throw a wrench into the works, it ends up reinvigorating the narrative. All bets were off, and I could do whatever I wanted!
(Sadly, I couldn't work Pooh-Bah into the show, as much as I wanted to. And I didn't want to put him in half-assed for the one scene I really wanted him for, the old "Let's move over here where the so-and-so can't hear us" scene. I just wasn't clever enough to make it work. So I gave his lines to Pish-Dash and let it be.)
By the time I finished, it was really only a first draft, but that was all I had time for. My song parodies had mostly all been done right then and there without much thought, whatever came to mind when I was writing them. They weren't very refined. The plot, such as it was, was ludicrous, and the dialogue was merely there to move the story along. It wasn't funny enough. But this incoherent mess was what I had to work with, so I sent it off to be blessed. Thankfully, I was told that it was funny and would be a hit.
T minus 1 week: I had to prepare! I needed to do what I could before I got down there. I could bring my own AMA Manual of Style, of course. I took a small paperback book and converted it into an abridged OED by taping paper to the covers and spine. I also needed a list for Dodo, whom I expected to play because he had the most difficult song, so it was better not to make someone unfamiliar with the show attempt to learn and sing it. Also, why wouldn't I want to be the Lord High Medical Writer? It was either that or the Wrik*do. Or Comma-Poo.
Anyway, I needed a list. Perhaps a comically long list. See, everything I did regarding this skit was informed by the Rice Light Opera Society production of The Mikado, which I was in. It was how I knew the show, how I knew the characters, how I knew it all. That first impression and experience imprinted on me. ANYWAY. I realized that, well, I had a perfectly good list in the pagesize AMWA reference cards I was making reference to! I could even point to the part where they say that commas are used to separate, set off, and clarify.
I tried to pre-direct the show in my mind, visualize how I wanted the scenes to look. I was pretty sure I had already put more time and effort into this skit than anyone else had in the past, given that I was told it was traditionally written while drunk the night before and slapped together over one or two rehearsals. The scripts I read were pretty good and amusing, though incoherent plotwise. I wasn't sure how true the traditional story was. In any case, I was probably taking it all far too seriously. It was all "for a lark," after all. But it was my lark, dammit, and I was going to put on the best lark I could, because I have to.
T minus 51 hours: I drove down to Asilomar and checked in. Dan (let's just use his name; there are lots of Dans) had put out my sign-up sheet for me so that interested people would be made aware when they arrived. I must share it with you:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a medical writer in possession of a sense of humor, must be in
The medical writing musical comedy skit is a time-honored Asilomar tradition, and I, Sunil Patel, want you to be in this off-off-off-off-off-Broadway production! The following things are not required: any familiarity with The Mikado, the ability to sing, or a time-traveling car*. If you like having fun and can appreciate grammar jokes and bad puns, you’ll be fine! Interested parties should meet in the lobby on Monday at 1 PM for our first rehearsal. The second rehearsal will be Tuesday, time to be determined, and we will dazzle the audience and become a part of AMWA NorCal history that evening. Sign up, you'll be glad you did!
________________ (x a lot)
*If you do have a time-traveling car, please see me. I have some business to take care of in 1743.
There was a good number of names on the list. Except there was one man and eight women. Er. Well, I was going to be Dodo, and by default, the one man had to be Comma-Poo, the romantic lead in the heteronormative world of G&S. Pish-Dash could easily be a woman, and the Wrik*do could be a woman if needed. The people at the registration desk reminded me that back in the day, men played women's parts, so it could surely go the other way around!
I took the list so that I could find the people and talk to them at dinner or the Welcome Reception. We all had nametags, after all; we wore them around our necks. As I fiddled with my nametag, I had the brilliant idea of simply drawing our punctuation marks on the other side. Instant identification!!
T minus 50 hours: I didn't find any of my cast at dinner, and I was still a little shy and new and not really knowing anyone (except for the conference organizers, whom I'd met at the annual conference).
T minus 48 hours: At the Welcome Reception, however, I was checking my list and scanning nametags constantly. I met my Comma-Poo, who helped me recruit the Wrik*do, a man who'd been in the skit last year. He was game for anything, and I assured him he didn't have to sing but one line. So that took care of one problem. Now to figure out who the rest of my cast was.
The first woman I found who both A) could sing and B) knew The Mikado was my Period-Yum, I determined. It was a hasty decision and one I questioned as soon as I met another woman on my list who could sing but didn't know The Mikado. She was very excited about being in the show, however, and she was very cute, and she was also very young, which I really appreciated. She was the first person I'd met who looked even remotely close to my own age; it seemed that the majority of people there were over 40. And I have nothing against people over 40, but when you're 26 in a sea of people a decade older than you, you feel weird. You feel like you don't belong, like you walked into the wrong conference. So I liked this woman for many reasons, including her glee at my mention of anime. Also, she looked a lot like the Yum-Yum from our Rice production, down to the glasses. Since she could sing, I knew she'd have to be in the trio, at least. Since she'd end up being Period-Sing, we'll call her that.
I also encountered a lovely older woman with really nice white hair; it turned out she lived in my general area. I told her I sometimes went walking down Piedmont Avenue, and she said she'd keep an eye out for me. I forget how I broached the subject, but I was actively recruiting by this point. She said she'd been in one of the skits based on Fiddler; she liked playing the strange bit characters. So I said she could be Dash-isha.
Then I asked her if she knew about LOLcats, and she didn't, and that was the first sign we were in trouble.
I pulled out the script and went through an approximation of what I thought they should sound like. I wasn't sure whether I wanted them to sound like an actual cat or just a very high, annoying voice. We had some time, though, although I suspected she wasn't really getting it since she wasn't familiar with LOLcats at all. I hoped some people in the audience were; I feared it was a joke that would go completely over everyone's heads. I'd even made sure to point it out in one of the songs to make sure they got it. Also, why would you pass up a chance to rhyme "LOLcat"?
I had some semblance of a cast put together, which would save some time at the first rehearsal. I had instructed people to meet in the lobby on the sign-up sheet, but I was going to get a key to the room we were in to use as a rehearsal space. I made sure to tell everyone over and over when to meet and where; we would walk over here after everyone had gathered.
T minus 45 hours: I went to sleep after reading some Fables, hoping things would go smoothly.
T minus 36 hours: At breakfast, I was more comfortable with people since I had talked to many of them the night before. I hadn't yet met everyone on the list, though. I hoped everyone showed up in the lobby at 1.
T minus 31 hours: Everyone did not show up in the lobby at 1. A handful, including Comma-Poo, Wrik*do, and Period-Yum, did, thankfully, but I waited ten minutes or so for more people to trickle in, and then I went back to the cafeteria (this place was like camp, basically) to find two of my cast, including Dash-isha, still at the table. What part of lobby at 1 PM was unclear?! Le sigh. Once they arrived, I marched us all to Sanderling, the conference room we had reserved. I knocked on Period-Sing's door, as it was right across from the conference room, and I suspected that she had attempted to meet me at Sanderling and found it locked. Sure enough, she was in her room; she came out and joined us. I had put a boombox in Sanderling earlier with a CD of the needed Mikado tracks. I had also put the overture in for kicks, so I played it while people filtered in and put chairs in a circle.
Once everyone was seated, I...didn't really know what to do. I had never done anything like this before. As odd as it seemed, I didn't think I'd ever directed before, and even though this was just a skit, I was treating it like a short play, basically. I couldn't not. I had written it, and I was going to bring it to life as best I could, and you can't do that if you don't think of it as something worthy. Even though we were putting on my Shitty First Draft.
So I introduced myself and thanked everyone for coming. And then, since we were short on time, I went straight into a readthrough, playing the original song when appropriate to give people a sense of the melodies and rhythms. Most of the principals had been cast; I asked for a volunteer to be Pish-Dash, and a woman volunteered. I had met one more woman on my list who said she could sing, so I said that the three women could duke it out for the role of Period-Yum, but the first woman I'd talked to held me to my word, and she did know the show, after all. So Period-Yum she remained.
The readthrough went fairly well; I sang along with my lyrics to the music. The question arose of whether we were going to use the CD during the show. I hadn't counted on it, but the cast agreed that the music added so much that we really should use it. I said I'd give it some consideration. At the very least, we could play the introductory music.
I think they gave me some sort of "Author, author!" applause at the end. Please note that it is a running theme that I will never feel that I deserve any praise for the script since I considered it subpar. There were certainly parts I loved, but as a whole, it was nothing to crow about. Everyone must just be easily pleased.
Ah, there was something during "Behold the Lord High Medical Writer." Understandably, people were attemping to say "medical writer" normally, but that doesn't scan right. I pointed out that it was a replacement for "executioner," so you had to say it like that: "med-i-CAL wri-TER." With the stresses on all the wrong syllables. It's fun! Period-Yum shook her head and claimed that didn't scan right, but I tried to tell her she was completely wrong as politely as possible. Then, she pointed out the lack of the rest of the chorus in my original script. I hadn't intended on using the music before, so I hadn't wanted to give the chorus more than they could handle. Period-Yum said we should add in the rest and sang, "Refer, refer, to the Lo-ord High, to the Lo-ord High, to the Lord High Medical Writer!" I agreed that we should add in the rest and sang, "Refer, refer, to the noble lord, to the noble lord, to the Lord High Medical Writer." She acknolwedged that, yeah, that sounded better. Gilbert knew what he was doing, I said. She made a comment that sounded something like "But you're Gilbert in this case," as if I had just made up the line on the fly. Period-Yum and I had frequent clashes, as she was a strong Type A personality and I was a perfectionist control freak.
Ah, and there was also a bit during "Three Little Dots." Because Period-Yum disappointedly and accusatorily remarked that I'd only included the first few lines and left out the best part. I told her to turn the page. She did and still didn't get it. I said it was right there. Then she got it. My script was subpar for many reasons, but leaving out the best part of "Three Little Maids" was not one of them, thank you very much!
We discussed costuming. I put forth my idea of using our nametags, but Period-Yum said the audience might not be able to see it. She suggested headbands, much like the Japanese wore. I said that was a great idea. Then Period-Sing thought it would be funny if Dash-isha actually held up signs featuring the LOLcats. It was an idea I'd had myself, but I hadn't pursued it since I didn't want to print out giant cat photos even if I did find a LOLcat generator online. As it turned out, however, Period-Sing could do sketches! She as an artist as well as a singer, and if we got some board to draw on, she could whip us up some LOLcats!
"I like...you guys," I said. Period-Sing would have made a very good Dash-isha (she even did a pretty good LOLcat voice), but I had to make use of her ability to sing. So many trade-offs! Casting is hard! Directing is hard! How does anyone put on a REAL play? I suppose they also have actual talent and not just a ragtag group of fun-loving medical writers. Also, more than 48 hours.
I used the remaining time to work on the songs with the Noblemarks. I apologized for the first song, which I knew was bad. No! they assured me, it was great. No, no, I rebutted; it was totally bad. I had cheated on the second line and stuck in an extra syllable at the beginning, and the third line required a very awkward pronunciation of "medical writers." I talked them through how to go about attempting to sing my crappy lyrics.
Thankfully, the cast cared enough about the skit to want to rehearse more, so they agreed to meet up again that night at 7, after dinner, in addition to the 1 o'clock rehearsal the next day and the probable dress rehearsal before dinner.
As we were packing up to leave, Comma-Poo came up to me and said, quite sincerely, "This is very good, very clever. It requires a little knowledge of the source material, but it's very good." That was the first compliment that really humbled me, as he was an old-timer, a longtime member of AMWA and a participant in many of these sketches: his name had been at the top of my sign-up sheet. So the fact that he seemed impressed was nice. He had even suggested a "They're grrrrreat!" after the Frosted Flakes line, which I thought was a nice bit of silliness.
T minus 28.75 hours: During a break in the genetics session, I finally got to ask Period-Sing about her reaction to my mention of anime. She had never heard of Princess Tutu, so I said she should borrow my DVDs. It turned out she hadn't seen much beyond what her friends pushed on her; the only full series we'd both seen was Eva, which she hadn't liked because it was a little too weird. She'd seen scattered episodes of Cowboy Bebop, but she hadn't heard of any of the others I named. Which was sad.
T minus 27 hours: Unfortunately, Period-Sing had to deal with some personal matters, so she couldn't accompany Period-Yum and me on our quest to buy material for props and costuming. We hit the Rite-Aid, where we found some board for the LOLcat signs, markers, and scissors. We couldn't find anything good for the headbands, though; Period-Yum was looking for undershirts to cut up. The checkout lady directed us to Longs, where we found undershirts. Dan had mentioned safety pins, so I got some of those, too.
T minus 26 hours: By dinner, it seemed my skit had become the talk of the conference. People were asking me how I got roped into it, and I said I'd volunteered. When people asked me why I volunteered, I said that once I heard it existed, I asked to be a part of it. Already, I had an audience eagerly anticipating my debut effort.
We were still short on Noblemarks. Several people on the list hadn't shown up at one, and I couldn't use any of the principals but Pish-Dash in the chorus. I did realize I could totally use Period-Sing and Period-Bo in the chorus as long as they were different punctuation marks, so that helped. But I found a few people on the list who hadn't shown up and told them to show up at 7. And Period-Bo recruited a woman I later discovered was her roommate (at the conference), which explained their friendly relationship. Her name was LJ, and I couldn't help thinking it stood for "LiveJournal." You know what, it's entirely possible this happened at lunch. Because I think I talked to LJ after the first rehearsal, and she seemed happy to have been thrown into the mix. Or maybe that comes later.
T minus 25 hours: I set up the chairs in Sanderling to approximate the "stage," as it were. We needed to work on blocking, which was going to happen completely on the fly.
Comma-Poo arrived first, which gave me time to go over his songs with him, as well as some issues with a couple lines. I felt weird giving most of my actors instructions on anything since they were all older than I was. I felt like some upstart, a young pup who didn't know his place.
We would have our scripts in hand, so I didn't have to worry about people forgetting their lines. Just their entrances and exits! I played the Noblemarks' first song and had them enter, getting a feel for how much music they had to fill. Period-Yum noted that in the original show, they entered with little short steps like the Japanese, so I had them do that.
From my perspective, watching the stage, it seemed to me natural to have Comma-Poo enter from stage right. It may have been completely arbitrary, but I felt like since we tend to read things from left to right, we expect important things to happen on the left. We want left-to-right motion. It was interesting to be on the other side, actually choosing what blocking to use and why.
Blocking the beginning of "Behold the Lord High Medical Writer" was a small problem, of course. Because in the original show, that music is used for the entrance of the Noblemen. Except in my show, they're already on the stage! So what the hell was I supposed to have them do? I told them to sort of look around everywhere, anticipating my arrival. Period-Sing very amusingly did the robot, which made no sense at all but was a very good imitation/mockery of what the other Noblemarks looked like in their searches. Someone who had been to Asilomar before gave me an idea of what our performance area would be like, most importantly the fact that it was possible to enter from the back. Which was perfect for the Three Little Dots. And me. Because now that I had formed a line of Noblemarks, what better way for Dodo to enter than to break right through them? I have a strong sense that this is exactly how Jonathan blocked The Mikado, so never let it be said that I have any original thoughts at all.
So I did my song, and the Noblemarks exited, and Pish-Dash came to me with the message. I decided to use the Asilomar map for the message, which allowed me to have trouble opening it since it was folded a couple times. Pish-Dash was really great, honestly; I hardly had to tell her to do anything but pronounce "Wrik*do" properly. She gave me really good reactions all on her own. On my big line where I go through all my ranks, I totally improvised the blocking, raising my hand each time I announced a new rank. As I moved higher and higher, I realized I was running out of arm, which gave me the perfect opportunity to do a little jump on "Ninja." I'm absurdly proud of that blocking because I had zippity zero idea I was going to do that when I entered the scene. It just happened. The beauty of acting!
It was during the Three Little Dots' song that I finally convinced everyone that, no, we couldn't play the CD while we were singing. The CD forced a tempo on us, and most people had just learned the songs a few hours ago; there was no way we could expect them to follow that tempo. And it would sound worse when we didn't match up with the CD. The Three Little Dots were a little rough, and Period-Bo and Period-Sing had trouble with their solo lines. But they all had great, powerful voices, and I was certain they would be the showstopper.
I came back on as Dodo for our little banter and told Period-Yum how I wanted the "-312-dot-22-dot-everything" pronounced, as she was putting a pause before the final dramatic flourish as if she were a whiny teenager, which is what she was going for. But that wasn't what I was going for. I also asked her to say the numbers fully because I wanted the complicated, polysyllabic jumble of "three hundred and twelve dot twenty-two dot everything." Then came my nonsensically stupid sexual innuendo about dotting i's and crossing t's, and Period-Yum had an opinion about this too. She didn't think Period-Yum (the character) would say her line to Dodo but rather to her fellow periods, since she was going to be marrying him. But...it's not like she wanted to marry him. The other periods agreed, though, so I went along with it, my assertiveness having been used up. Having her not deliver the line to me, of course, completely fucked up the scripted exit, which wasn't working at all anyway, really. Especially since I just made it up because I needed to get everyone off the stage. I TOLD YOU THE SCRIPT WAS BAD. What I came up with to replace it was that I would go off with Pish-Dash to discuss the message, and then when Comma-Poo arrived, Period-Yum would shoo her mates off, asking for privacy. That seemed much more natural.
Then, eventually, came Dash-isha. Who still wasn't getting how to say her lines or act like a LOLcat, very brash and irritating such that Comma-Poo's lines about her made sense. But she was trying her best.
It's only when performing a script do you realize that lines on paper don't always work well in speech. For instance, I had a devil of a time saying the phrase "haven't edited." And the word "conundrum."
The Wrik*do couldn't sing his one line properly; I would have to work with him on that. I had to rein in Period-Yum once again; she was delivering "invisible equal sign" in a sort of robotic imitation of Dash-isha, which, I will admit, is a perfectly amusing reading. But it wasn't what I had intended when I wrote the line: the joke, to me, was that she delivers it straight, very sweet and naive. Much like she had suggested to me that "I like the word 'defenestrate'" was funnier if delivered straight when I had asked her whether Period-Sing should do it straight or sort of confused, like she didn't know what else to say. This is G&S! It's all about the dry humor! Except when it's about the broad, silly humor!
I had no ability to rein in Comma-Poo's Super Ninja Oxford Comma maneuver, which was...so far from what I had imagined that it was perhaps in another star system. Much like his entire performance, for the most part. Notably, my Comma-Poo was a real-live actor, but he would have made a better Pooh-Bah, if I had fit him into the show. Or a Wrik*do, but I needed him to sing. Or even a Dodo, but that was me, and I liked my list song, dammit. To me, Comma-Poo was a very proper and respectable character (like Pish-Dash says!), and he was playing him very broad and silly, going for all the jokes at all the times. But he was very into it, and I just couldn't bring myself to ask him to tone it all down. People found it funny, so whatevs. It was all about being funny, after all. (His reverting to a thumbsucking baby when the Wrik*do declared him his son was pretty hilarious. You take the sour with the sweet.)
To be honest, it felt as if we'd made remarkable progress in a matter of hours. Our first runthrough already felt like a show; we just had to work out some kinks here and there with the songs.
People thought we should end with a song, and I agreed, but my Shitty First Draft was shitty for many reasons, one of which was that I hadn't filked the Act II finale. I hadn't brought the song with me, either, so we couldn't even play the music. I thought the punchline was a decent end, but I did want to bring the cast out with some music, so I was glad I had brought the overture.
Maybe we ran through it again and worked on specific songs, but then we spent the rest of rehearsal making our costumes. Period-Yum cut out circles for badges to affix to our headbands and cut up shirts to make said headbands. I assigned puncutation marks to people to fill out the spectrum.
T minus 24 hours: We continued working into the social time, but we put up the materials when more people started coming in. We didn't want to give anything away. Someone had asked me if the topic of the show was supposed to be secret, and I said sure! Might as well add an air of mystery to it. My cast had been talking up the show to everyone, which was nice. My caaaaaaaaaast. I just like saying that. I had a cast!
Period-Sing drew the LOLcats. They were so neat! She could sketch a cat like that. I think it was also she who had the brilliant idea to do quotation marks by having the open marks and close marks as two badges on one headband.
Dash-isha found me and told me that she'd discovered who she was. A big eagle! No...a big evil. Aaah, someone had filled her in on who Katisha was, so now she had a better grasp on her character. I told her that she was very nice and friendly, and Dash-isha was the opposite of her.
I had a headache that night. I chalked it up to directorial stress and cut out early to read more Fables.
T minus 8 hours: LJ had noticed me reading Fables before the morning session, so she asked me if that helped me with my dialogue.
"No, I just...like comics," I said. I hoped I hadn't sounded too dismissive; she obviously admired my dialogue for some unknown reason. And she looked a little crestfallen at my answer, since she was obviously hoping for something more like, er, "Yes."
On my way into lunch, actually, Period-Yum stopped me and said, "Look what I have," and opened up her laptop. "Lyrics!"
She had filked the Act II finale.
I read the lyrics and sang along to them, and, our past squabbles aside, they were pretty good. I was uneasy about including them in the show since we didn't have the music, but she said she could download MIDIs. Or we could do it completely a cappella. Regardless, I didn't think we could teach everyone a new song. She said that maybe the few of familiar with the show already could do it. In my head was also the issue of authorship; I personally didn't like the idea of using someone else's song because then it felt weird to take credit for the whole show, and it felt weird to continually have to qualify that I wrote the whole show except for the last song. My own ego aside, even Period-Yum agreed that it was probably best for us to spend our time refining the songs we did have rather than learn a new one. She knew she tended to take over, so she said she wouldn't bring it up unless I did first, which was very respectful of her.
I finally found the last two people on my list who hadn't shown up at rehearsals. We were pretty good on Noblemarks now, but I wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to be part of the skit was part of it in some way. I did tell them that we were probably all right without them; they didn't really seem to be able to make the last two rehearsals. I didn't really want to add two new people to the mix a few hours before we went up anyway, but I had told them they were welcome, and that's all I could do.
Word was spreading rapidly. More and more people were commenting on the upcoming skit.
T minus 7 hours: Some people couldn't attend the post-lunch rehearsal on Tuesday since there was a ranger walk scheduled, but I said that anyone who was free could come to Sanderling, and I would be there. I asked the Noblemarks if they minded learning a couple more lines; I realized that since I had the damn chorus behind me after the list song, I might as well use them. All they had to do was repeat what I had just said, anyway. I played the CD to show them what it sounded like.
Period-Yum had brought MIDIs, which didn't sound as good as the CD but were better than singing along to nothing. I noted that we would still have the same tempo issue. Period-Sing said that it wasn't a good idea to change horses in the middle of the race, and I agreed. We should stick to how we'd been doing it.
"Three Little Dots" was coming together, but I finally had to call shenanigans on Period-Yum's pronounciation of "eclipses," which she was inexplicably pronouncing to rhyme with "ellipses." The entire reason I had to make the joke with "ellipsis" instead is because there are no words that rhyme with "ellipses" and at least one I could think of that rhymed with "ellipsis" and was somewhat relevant if you squinted. I told her that it was "eclipse-is," not "eclipse-ees."
She said that's how she learned it in Latin.
"This is English!" I cried.
Someone else added, "Like a solar eclipse," in case she hadn't understood what the word was.
"This isn't like radii or something," I said. One eclipse, two eclipses! It was that simple! There was nothing Latin about it!
"Authorial intent!" declared Comma-Poo, and the matter was settled. I think she was conflating "eclipses" and "ellipses" somehow because she thought (rightly) that it should be "ellipses" at the end, but it wasn't, so...roll with the punches.
I wanted to have the intros for the music play so that, as someone had noted, the people in the audience who knew the show would recognize the music and anticipating the upcoming song ("Oh yes, all three of them," quipped Comma-Poo), but I needed someone to work the CD player. In saying all that, however, it suddenly occurred to me that the Wrik*do is offstage the entire show!! How motherfucking perfect is that?? So he could work the music for all the songs but his own, for which I recruited a Noblemark to take over for the end. I helped him learn the music cues, when to hit pause right before the singing started, and I taught the Noblemarks as well: "Sullivan is really, really obvious when he wants you to start singing."
The Wrik*do continued to screw up my favorite line in the show: "Yes, Dash-isha, you can haz whatever you want." He kept putting the emphasis on haz, when can haz is a construction in and of itself, and the only way to emphasize that is to place the emphasis on can. That's how I read LOLcats, anyway, and I think it's funnier that way, so I wanted him to do it that way, because that's why it's my favorite line: it's a straight line except for the LOLcat-ese in the middle. And no matter how many times I got him to repeat it properly after I said it, he always reverted back to the wrong way when it came time to say it in-character. But I couldn't get mad at him because he was a great guy, like most of the cast.
Period-Sing played Dash-isha since the actual Dash-isha was off on the ranger walk. I was going to have her hold up the signs behind Dash-isha, but she thought Dash-isha could just hold up her own signs. In any case, it was fun to throw a dictionary at her. The second time we ran through the show, she cowered in fear, so I lightly tapped her with it and dropped it.
I had to finally let Comma-Poo know that he was pronouncing his own added line wrong: it was "They're grrrrrreat!" not "They'rrrrre great!"
T minus 4.75 hours: During the break in the patient education workshop, Edie@ (so named because she wanted to be an @ sign) warned me that she would be using some G&S in the second half, and I was free to shout out "Wrong show!" (At the first rehearsal, she hadn't realized that the Major-General's song was not, in fact, in The Mikado.) Also during the break, I tried for the umptieth time to get the Wrik*do to deliver my favorite line correctly. I also told him about the visual gag I had concocted regarding our headbands (I had a very large, very ornate "#1" on my head, and he had a small, humble "#1" on his own). I wanted him to point to his headband and then to mine and glare. I wasn't sure that it would come off, but I thought it should be fairly obvious. Even though I had written the damn script, I felt weird about scripting new lines anywhere.
T minus 3 hours: Finally, we were going to rehearse in our actual performance space. We had the staff move some tables to make some room for us, and I sent one of my Noblemarks to inform any rogue cast members that we were going to be rehearsing in the cafeteria and not Sanderling. The actual space had some quirks of its own, but changing blocking was a bad idea this late in the game. We'd work with it.
I wasn't sure how to deal with Comma-Poo's entrance since it was supposed to be a surprise to the Noblemarks, and there was really no "offstage"—we had a floor. But then I saw that he could easily hide behind a curtain! "Tonight the part of Comma-Poo will be played by Polonius," he said. I pretended to stab him through the curtain. He thought it would be funny to write "COMMA-POO" on his nametag, and it is a funny name, but I didn't really want him to do it because then, for consistency's sake, I'd have to make everyone else wear nametags with their characters' names on them too. But then I discovered a textual reason he couldn't! I pointed out the part where the Wrik*do doesn't know he's Comma-Poo until someone says it because...he apparently only knows his son by name and, I don't know, thinks he looks kind of like an apostrophe. No nametag!
I decided to go off-book because I had found that having a script in my hand was terribly distracting when I knew the whole fucking show backwards and forwards anyway; I kept looking at it even though I knew my lines. Not carrying the script around also allowed me to better act out the list song. I had told the Noblemarks to be mocking me and mouthing the words in the background; since I was always singing, I never had any idea what they were doing, but I trusted that they were being funny.
Dash-isha wasn't used to holding up her signs, and despite realizing that she was a big evil, she wasn't acting like one. That affected Sunil-as-director, which in turn screwed up Sunil-the-actor, who, having bravely gone off-book, ended up skipping over one of his lines, which fucked him up for the rest of the scene as he missed all his cues. The perils of playing two roles!
We spent the rest of the time finishing up costumes. Period-Yum taped Dash-isha's script to the signs so she wouldn't have to carry around both the script and the signs. I fretted about the fact that Dash-isha had no dash. I tried to cook up a way to Pish-Dash to get her dash to Dash-isha. Period-Yum offered a suggestion that she knew would meet with some resistance: she had thought that Dash-isha should wear the @ sign because she was from the computer, but...she was Dash-isha! She needed to be a dash! Maybe Pish-Dash could toss her headband over the bar.
T minus 2 hours: People were arriving for the banquet. I paced back and forth, walking all around, trying to come up with solutions to problems and identifying problems before they became problems.
"Nervous?" asked LJ.
"Yes," I said.
"Really??" she said, surprised. Oh, she had clearly just met me and did not know the depth of my neuroses. It was sweet of her to think that I thought everything was going swimmingly and it would all go off without a hitch.
One of my cast asked my permission to have a drink. Hee. I said she could go ahead.
I suddenly realized that Pish-Dash could just walk back to the bar and hand her headband to Dash-isha, who could skulk behind everyone as she made her way to stage right. I informed the actors of the new arrangement.
T minus 1 hour: Dinner. The guy next to me was the son of the one of the guitarists for Iggy Pop and the Stooges. So, one of the Stooges. Crazy!!
T minus 30 minutes: After dessert, Dan went through a bunch of traditional Asilomar stuff. He introduced the R.M. Award, which was given in honor of the person who brought the most cheer and enjoyment to the conference. Back in the day, R.M. had gotten very drunk and disappeared, and they'd called the Coast Guard, and there were helicopters or something, and they eventually found him passed out on the beach. But he was a lot of fun, I guess! And over the years, the award had become a little bowdlerized, since originally, the recipient took a swig of R.M.'s favorite liquor, but now the bottle was filled with star-shaped glitter. There were some past recipients of the award with us; one of them was, in fact, my Wrik*do! Also the woman who had offered to film the skit with my digital camera. After a whole lot of build-up, Dan finally announced the winner of this year's R.M. Award:
I hadn't even thought I was eligible for the award since I didn't drink! And I was new! What had I done?? I wasn't all that cheerful and enjoyable! It must have been skit-related. (The next day, Dan said they'd had a lot of trouble picking someone out, but then he remembered that I had done such "heroic" work on the skit.) I signed the paper of immortality, which had the unofficial official name of the award, which was like the Asilomar Award for Social Facilitation, but there was another S and another F so that it was the AASSFF. I got glitter poured over my head. It was so weird to be so...lauded. I felt undeserving, as I always do.
T minus 5 minutes: I ran to the bathroom. I made sure everything was set up, including the three chairs that been suggested for Dash-isha to lie on so people could see her when she lay on the "ground." I went "backstage" and thanked everyone for being in my show and told them to take off their nametags so they would be in character.
T minus 0!!! Everyone started laughing as soon as the chorus entered because, well, they had punctuation marks on their heads and they were walking in short steps. They decided to circle around the three chairs, which was a well-received bit of improv blocking that reminded me of the time during The Mikado when, while entering for "Behold the Lord High Executioner," I randomly stopped and made everyone bump into each other, and we all sort of played off the chaos, and it worked even though we'd never practiced it.
The Noblemarks never did learn the proper notes for the last three lines, but I'm not a music director, alas. I can pretty much only describe notes as higher or lower, and even then, I'm sometimes wrong.
Someone earlier had said that I had cast myself as star of the show, but I said, no, Comma-Poo was the star of the show! I cast myself as the Lord High Medical Writer. But when I broke through the Noblemarks and pompously displayed my awesomeness...to a grand round of applause, I felt like the star of the show. And I think they even thought my list song was funny! Even the line I was trying to fix the entire time because I thought the joke wasn't clear enough ("Unnecessary adverbs that always end in L-Y") seemed to get a laugh.
The Three Little Dots' song wasn't perfect, but it worked, and Period-Sing actually got "I like the word 'defenestrate'" out! She fucked it up in rehearsal every time, but she pulled it off onstage, which is where it counted. And, just as I predicted, they brought down the house and even ended up taking a bow, there was so much applause.
It was only when the show was running did I realize that my plan to have Pish-Dash leave to give Dash-isha her dash had a fatal flaw: I forgot she was supposed to come back onstage with me for my scene with Period-Yum. Funnily enough, Period-Yum ended up delivering the "I'll cross your t" line to me, as written.
Dash-isha...had some problems with her signs. Comma-Poo had a nice ad-lib suggesting she try "Plaque 5." And then, after we'd painstakingly set up the chairs, she lay down on the actual floor anyway.
The Wrik*do didn't do the headband gag right, and I'm not sure anyone really got it. Le sigh. And lest you think I am of critical of everyone but myself, note that Mr. Off-Book ended up stumbling over his own line and blurting out, "To tell you the truth, sometimes he thought I looked like an apostrophe!" (Oh, by the way, I was very pleased that the original "disguised as an apostrophe" line met with a lot of laughter because I think that was one of my more fiendishly clever ideas. And on that note, I'm also glad people seemed to get the semicolon joke.)
Perhaps most sadly of all, my favorite line in the show ended up being spectacularly mangled in performance. I had told the Wrik*do that Dash-isha would be using the "can haz" construction, so all he had to do was repeat it. Dash-isha was all confuddled and delivered her final line incorrectly, saying, "I CAN HAZ MEDIKUL WRITER NAO?" Which led the Wrik*do to answer, "Yes, Dash-isha, you can haz medical writer now whatever you want." Which...makes very little sense, but I guess it was still funny in some way. Bygones. Favorite line in the show, I mourn for thee!
Thankfully, the punchline of the show was a clear enough ending for people to start clapping, and the overture music signaled the rest of the cast to come out. I moved further and further to the left, letting them take center stage. We took a cast bow.
Then Period-Sing led the cry of "Author, author!" and the cast clapped for me, and the audience clapped for me, and I felt entirely sheepish and didn't know what to do (apparently, I was supposed to bow, but that felt self-indulgent). I kept waiting for the applause to stop so I could leave. I'm not that awesome! Stop making me think I am!
T plus 15 minutes: Many, many compliments on the show. I got a couple comments on the use of "my parents, Ayn Rand and God," which is, of course, the classic example of why the serial comma is necessary; they loved that I brought that in.
Dash-isha apologized for not getting it right and having trouble with the signs, but I told her it was okay. There was no sense in being mad; she was a very nice woman.
The post-show relief was extraordinary. I was so glad it was finally over.
T plus 1 hour: At the creative readings, I read "Killed the Cat." Which seemed to freak everyone the hell out. Hee. They were all, "Where did that come from?" One woman said it was creepy, but in a good way, which is basically what most of you said. Dan liked the image of Karen leaning against the wall, breathing in and out. LJ said it had a very film noir feel to it.
As the creative readings ended, LJ thanked me for letting her be a part of the show. "It really enhanced my stay here," she said. And I couldn't help smiling all the way back to my room at that. Because that is what I must do to feel like my existence is worth a damn: enhance your stay here, for broad and multifarious definitions of "here."
T plus 12 hours: Edie@ said that when she filled out the evaluation form for the conference, for the question about what she enjoyed most, she had answered, "The skit!" She said it would be a great memory to take with her. She didn't know if she would get to "work with me again," but she had had a very good experience. She said I'd done a good job directing; I was also able to let people do their own things. I explained that it was more of a "pick your battles" kind of thing, and she agreed.
T plus 16 hours: As LJ left after lunch, she said, "You were very inspiring. You're brilliant!"
About a minute after she was gone, I said, "I feel weird being inspiring."
To which Period-Bo replied: "Get used to it."
Now, I present to you The Wrik*do in all its glory. Did you read the script? Did you read this post? Do you want to hear me sing? The video is fifteen minutes long, so make some popcorn and pull up a chair. Wait for the stream to download so you can watch it one go; it won't take too long.
If you would like to keep a copy of this gem for yourself, download it here (and, er, ignore the weird Sex TV link). If you want to share it with other G&S fans, please feel free to pass the streaming link around.
As much as I complained about the things that didn't turn out right, I think it's an impressive feat that it even turned out that good in so little time with so little preparation. We medical writers can do anything when we set our minds to it!