All of the original music that we are using for our Greater Tuna run (at Tanssiteatteri Hurjaruuth 2 – 7.12.2014) is composed, performed and produced by my brother Shaun a professional musician (guitarist) back in the USA. The idea first hit me back in May of this year that perhaps Shaun could put together one or two tunes for the show. Budgeting concerns aside, I felt it would just add much more of a "down home family feeling" to the show. The entire production team was ecstatic when Shaun agreed! On a Sunday evening in late May Shaun and I spoke together and I gave him some idea of what type and style of music we were looking. I must mention that Shaun loves many styles of music but his real love in music is Jazz first and foremost. In our discussion he really picked up on the vibe of the show and the importance of the music. Within the next couple of days, we had a couple of samples ready to be heard. During one of our catchup calls Shaun confided in me that he believed he had tapped into his "inner Country music" soul. Well that's not hard to believe as our parents did introduce us to some Country (Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich, Dolly Parton among many others) at a very early age in our lives.
Shaun recruited another musician, Skye Sadowski-Malcolm, to provide fiddle on many songs and vocals on the lovely and soothing song Everything. Before we knew it, Shaun had provided eight songs including his own stirring version of the Old Rugged Cross – a soulful hymn written in 1912.
I just wish that there was a good way to package up this lovely music to share beyond our run. The music Shaun created has many dynamics – from heartfelt ballads to humorous jingles to knee slapping, toe tapping guitar picking tunes. Shaun's music contributes so much to the feeling that is at the heart of Greater Tuna. So y'all come on out and clap, knee slap or toe tap along with the music and enjoy the show!
Over the last couple of months, you will no doubt have seen two 'ladies' promoting Greater Tuna. Whilst Pearl and Vera are an important part of the show, they are also only a fraction of it. As one of the directors, I have been increasing worried that our prospective audience may be forming an opinion that Tuna is a show about two men dressed as two women. This couldn't be further from the truth! Tuna is entirely about twenty very different characters in a small town in Texas. The 'two men dressed as' part is very true. The difference is that they are dressed as all twenty of those characters (men, women and children). With two very important weeks until show week, I wanted to write a blog post dedicated to giving y'all a little peek into what you can expect in the way of characters.
Last Saturday we arranged a small photo session after our rehearsal at 'The Loft' (our informal name for the Lutherinkatu premises of Nordlund Language Services). We wanted a number of characters in pairs, but also a special group shot of five. With all five of those characters played by Daniel and I, some composite photography was called for. The final result can be seen in the form of the Bumiller family. The initial idea was for all photos to be taken in front of a Texas flag. At the post-production stage, I realised this didn't work and had to think of something more creative. So, the photos weren't actually taken on location in Texas!
Things have been quite on the blog for a while. Summer brought various commitments to many of the production team and work on the show naturally slowed. However, come August, we all burst into life again.
Plans had already been made for Daniel and I to present something on the Night of the Arts in Helsinki (21st August). The problem we faced was that of copyright. We couldn't publicly present any part of the show without permission from the rights-holder and/or authors. This would inevitably require a royalty fee. The solution we came up with originated earlier from an idea Daniel had to have two of the characters sitting having coffee at one of the kiosks in Esplandin puisto. The two characters we agreed upon were Aunt Pearl and Vera Carp, two of the most amusing and, certainly, the most promotable. To overcome the copyright issues, we decided to concentrate on their visit to Helsinki to promote the show. This developed into an 'interview' of the characters, which would allow their personalities to shine. This combined with a number of subtle hints about storyline gave our audience a true taste of what's to come in the show in December.
I must not forgot to mention the team of helpers we had on the days we performed the interview. They were invaluable in distributing leaflets, answering questions about the show, as well as out introductions.
Of course, having no copyright issues, we were totally free to record the interview, and did so in video form. A special highlights video will arrive in the very near future. There is a very strong radio show thread in the actual show, and we thought it would be great fun to take the interview (in a much more structured form!) and present it as a radio interview. This we did last week and have subsequently published them in three parts on the Really Small Theatre Company's YouTube Channel. Included in this blog is the full, continuous version.
We have several other promotional events in the pipeline, some confirmed, some still to be arranged. In the meantime, enjoy Pearl and Vera's interview. Oh, and don't forget that tickets are on sale via our website and are selling steadily!
One of the most challenging factors of any stage production can be costuming. Unless you have an extensive theatrical wardrobe to call upon, or the production only requires everyday outfits, meeting the requirements of the script can be extremely difficult at times. If the story is set in a different country, time, etc., new levels of perseverance and ingenuity are called for. When the story has twenty different characters, you start asking yourself why in the hell you picked this play!
Budget is always an issue, so buying a single item for more than 20€ is completely out of the question. After begging and borrowing from as many sources as possible, you move onto trawling the various UFF branches (a Finnish charity-shop chain). After this you move onto smaller independent second-hand shops. If these fail, you need to hit the Internet. Ebay is my top favourites for choice and price. It also tends to be cheaper than the Finnish auction site, Huuto.net. I have so far found three 'expensive' or 'impossible' costume items for a fraction of the cost of buying retail. One such item was a fairly specific design pair of ladies white shoes in size 43! This pair of shoes came from China and were described by Daniel as, "OH MY GOD! Those are to DIE for!!!!!!!". Inevitably, the size 43 was according to dinky Chinese feet and the shoes will need a little persuasion by a cobbler, but still an achievement.
The next costuming nightmare is how to achieve the twenty-five costume-changes between two actors in very short periods of time (ridiculously short in some cases!). I'm not going to spoil the surprises by divulging the techniques, but let's just broadly say they will involve multi-layers, customisation, fierce organisation, and dressers (yes, plural).
So, what else has been going on this past month? Our new publicity team has met twice now and there are some really exciting events and plans in the pipeline. One such publicity event will be Tuna Out-and-About. There will be at least two early-evenings in August when Daniel and myself will be at large in different locations around Helsinki portraying characters from Greater Tuna. The first will be on the Night of the Arts, the evening of Thursday, 21st August. You will find two Tuna characters taking in the sights and discussing the locals in Esplanadi. In conjunction with this, we will be running a competition for people to find them and submit an original photo of them. Photos will be displayed in our website, Facebook and Google Plus. The photos will be judged by our publicity team and the winners of the best will get free tickets to the show! More details of this (including rules, etc.) will follow in time.
It's time for the first of many regular updates about the preparations and plans for Greater Tuna.
I am pleased to tell you that we have now had solid confirmation of permission to perform the show from the rights-holder in the US. There were some initial complications which slowed the process and had us all slightly concerned, but it all came through in the end. We suspect that there may have been a complication due to the show having never been performed in Finland. It's going to be a premiere, folks!
In addition to a premiere, we also have a special discounted ticket price in honour of Independence Day on the 6th December. Plus, all current and past Finnish presidents can have free admission for that performance!! We understand that Sauli Niinistö is seriously considering instead of the normal hand shaking. Wouldn't you?
Rehearsals are well under way now. Daniel, Joan and I met to discuss, agree and set the blocking down on set-plans for each scene. Blocking is a theatre term and means the positioning and movement of the actors. This paper blocking was followed by the physical blocking with Daniel and I mostly going where we planned. We were both very pleased that we managed to complete the full show blocking within a three hour rehearsal.
There are several recorded radio segments throughout the show and it is important that we have these at an early stage for timing purposes. For this reason, next week's rehearsal will be a recording session. This will be an initial recording and will probably be re-recorded later in the year. It is also very beneficial to us so that we can maintain the same voice styles, as these tend to 'wander' as time goes on.
If you attended The Finn-Brit Players' production of The Memory of Water, you will have no doubt seen our show flyer. This image design is probably the final one and will remain for all posters and the programme.
Our tickets will go on sale within the next week or two. We delayed releasing them as a courtesy to The Finn-Brit Players so there was no conflict with ticket sales for The Memory of Water.
Things in the pipeline include an exciting video teaser plan. I can't disclose much about it yet, but it will be funny and will introduce you to the feel of Tuna as well as some of the characters. Of course, this will be done in such a way so as not to infringe copyright, but let you properly see what the show is about.
That's it for now, but stay tuned. DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL!
About five months ago — actually at the after-show party of The Finn-Brit Players' production of I Hate Hamlet — my friend and fellow actor of many productions, Daniel McMullen, mooted a suggestion about he and I doing our own production together. At the time I was interested but quite hesitant. Apparently, this appeared quite negative to Daniel! After a little more thought, and the alcohol had subsided, I actually warmed to the idea and raised it again with Daniel.
The main reasons for wanting to 'go it alone' were all to do with flexibility. We had both been involved heavily in many productions with taxing rehearsal schedules essentially losing one day every weekend. Having a cast of two would mean rehearsals pretty much whenever and wherever we wanted. Instead of spending entire days in a rehearsal venue, we could rehearse at each other's home and still see our families, etc. It was also necessary to produce the show away from The Finn-Brit Players because their production rules won't allow directors to act in the same show, nor to pre-cast a show without auditions. So, if you think there is some sort of 'snob' factor involved, you are very mistaken. We have asked for the assistance and co-operation of The Players in staging the show. My main concerns in doing an independent production were cost-related, but we set this aside initially whilst we discussed ideas further. Over a lovely meal with both of our families, we threw a few ideas about and decided to start looking for two-man comedy plays. If anyone has ever tried this, they will know that it's not as easy as you may think!
At the same time as our play search, we approached Joan Nordlund, a long-standing and very experienced actor/director/producer with The Finn-Brit Players, and holding a wealth of experience from many other theatrical establishments. Initially we wanted Joan to be our producer, but she immediately offered the support and assistance of her own theatre company. This we gratefully accepted.
After a slightly frustrating search, we narrowed the field of potential plays to three: The Simple Process of Alchemy, The Mystery of Irma Vep, and Greater Tuna. Alchemy initially seemed very promising, but was disappointing by the third act and just tailed-off unfulfillingly at the end. Irma Vep is a cracker of a comedy/farce, but the necessary requirements of costume and set made it out of the question (at this time...).
On my first read of Greater Tuna, I was convinced. It was Daniel and my style of comedy coupled with an outrageous number of characters and quick costume changes. The story shows the audience an average day in Texas' third smallest town, Tuna. The characters are the epitome of small-town mentality all wrapped-up in the worst Texan small-mindedness and characteristics. Being from 'the Colonies', the play was already very well known to Daniel. He explained how popular it was, and still is, in the US, and also how it is George Bush's (Snr) favourite play. What better endorsement could there possibly be?
The next hurdle was the search for a theatre to perform in. We originally wanted to perform the show in October. However, in a city full of theatres, the task of finding one at a reasonable cost and size without ridiculous date restrictions proved a thoroughly annoying and frustrating process. Actually getting theatres to reply to emails appears akin to securing an appointment with the Pope! The replies were slightly more forthcoming when we changed tactics and emailed them in Finnish or Swedish (according to theatrical language preference). However, at the end of the day we were left with three possible weeks at the same theatre. Having promised not to conflict productions with our friends at The Finn-Brit Players, these weeks were reduced to two. When you read this blog post, you will know that we chose the first week in December. We are very pleased with the week and with the theatre, Tanssiteatteri Hurjaruuth in Kaapelitehdas (Cable Factory).
So, where are we now? We have been gathering costumes piece by piece. We have had numerous production meetings and read-throughs. Saga Blomster, a talented young comic artist, is creating some illustrations for us to use in show material. Our front-of-house and catering is already sorted. And we have an eager volunteer ready to be trained-up on lighting. Not bad seven months in advance!
Stay tuned and keep following the progress via this blog and Facebook updates!