Our production of “The Comedy of Errors” at the Venetian Theatre is a hit. Not only did we have record breaking audiences in our first weekend (more than three times the number of people who came to see our first production, “Steel Magnolias” in the first weekend) but the show is also receiving rave reviews from the press and our audiences. I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that this is one of the hardest shows I have ever directed, and one of the hardest performances any of our incredibly talented cast of actors has ever worked on. The ensemble nature of the show, the physical style, the adaptation (which includes new verse, new prose, and an entirely new character) as well as the rehearsal process and the demands of the space…well, let’s just say I’m amazed we have all survived the first week!
There are a number of people who have helped make this show the huge success that it is.
First, Todd Palmer, my brother, who (being a nuclear engineer) helped me on multiple occassions come up with dozens of cartoon references and lines from our favorite Saturday morning shows to add into the script. If you see the show, watch for such classic lines as Daffy Duck’s “Shoot me, I’m a hermit crab! It’s hermit crab season!” and “Dodge, parry, thrust, spin!” Not to mention references to the Flintstones, the Jetsons, Wacky Racers, Snagglepuss, Road Runner, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and dozens more. In fact, one of my favorite memories from this show (and likely in my entire directing career) was the rehersal where I gave the actors a chance to “bid” for references from the classic cartoons. I sat in the rehearsal space with a four page list of lines, movements, gestures and characters from cartoons and simply said, “Who wants this one?” The actors lept at the chance, debating and arguing for who would be the best person to yell “YabbaDabbaDo!” and “Exit, stage left!” It was a remarkable evening, particularly given that it happened only a week or so before we opened. Todd, you have my thanks for being such a geek about cartoons! We couldn’t have done it without you!
Second, Jan Tatom, one of our board members. Just before we started rehearsals on Comedy, we had a board meeting where I threw down the gauntlet for the board to each try and sell an additional 25 – 30 tickets. We desperately needed to increase our average ticket sales by 25-30 tickets per night, and the board (in some cases reluctantly!) took up the challenge. But Jan not only accepted the challenge, but exceeded all expectations! She has, single handedly, sold nearly 140 additional tickets! To school groups from as far afield as Newberg, Canby and McMinnville, as well as group tickets to churches and other social groups. Not only did Jan meet her own target, but she met a couple of our other board member’s targets, too! One of the best things that has ever happened to Bag&Baggage was the day that a yellow school bus pulled up in front of the Venetian and abour 40 students from Newberg High School got off and joined us for a Sunday matinee (including the cast and crew talkback after the show!). Thank you, Jan. You are amazing.
Third, Casey Campbell, our friend and supporter from Corvallis. Casey has always been a huge supporter of mine personally, and of the work of Bag&Baggage, but he really went above and beyond for Comedy. He came to our first dress rehearsal, monstrously large camera in hand, and took about 1800 photos of my cast and crew doing what the do best: being big hammy cartoon characters! Those photos not only give us a permanent archive of amazing, high quality photos of the show, but the quality of those photos was so high that the Corvallis Gazette Times (some two hours drive away from the Venetian) decided to run a story about the show along with Casey’s incredible pictures. Our audiences in Corvallis, who honestly would have never known what we were up to, got a chance to see the work and (I know for a fact) a number of them have already bought tickets to see another crazy Shakespearean adaptation by Bag&Baggage Productions.
Fourth, Fred Gardner. When Drew Foster told me that we had found “an animator” to do our backdrops, I was releived. When I found out that our “animator” was, in fact, a two time Emmy award winner, I did a happy dance! The work that Fred and his team produced…well, those projected backdrops have become an integral part of the show, a character in their own right. They are incredible. In fact, Audra (our Production Manager, who has also been amazing) said she overheard some audience members on the opening night commenting that they were sure we had just “stolen” some cartoon slides from Warner Bros., they looked so iconic. Needless to say, we were delighted to tell them the truth: an amazing animator from the Portland area used his unbelievable skills for the benefit of our show. Thanks, Fred.
Finally, a special nod to Trisha Pancio from Portland Center Stage. Trish has always been a huge supporter of mine, and an amazingly supportive colleague to us and theatre companies throughout the region. Trisha’s work on the Fertile Ground festival, her willingness to include Comedy in the offerings, her tireless promotion of the entire calendar of events. Well, Portland is better for having her, and I know that our show and our company owe her a debt of thanks. Yer neat, Trish, and you know it.
The entire cast, crew, board and all of our volunteers, the staff and management of the Venetian Theatre, the Fertile Ground festival staff and volunteers, and all of our audiences have my thanks for making this a show to remember. With the press we received, the response from the audience, and the inclusion of Comedy in the Fertile Ground festival. Well, I’m pretty sure I can die now…so shoot me, I’m a hermit crab!