The Producer’s Thanks

Our show opened and an awful lot has happened since.

Creating this show has been difficult, from the first note all the way through to the opening night. I’m gonna go so far as to say all the way through to the third show. We started with a scrap of an idea I called “Quitter” which was about an actor who gave up his pathetic life and blew all his money calling a press conference to announce his retirement from off-off Broadway. It bears no similarity whatsoever to our current play except for the rough idea of a talented but bitterly unrecognized young man dealing with his career.

We changed the main character to a musician, better for a musical, and then sort of had the world of Air Guitar foisted upon us. We discovered the competitions several years ago and thought they were amazing and absurd and, most of all, theatrical, so we had the title lingering in with several other concepts, (including a mexican wrestling musical) when an industry friend of ours pushed us to write Air Guitar *this year*. Because there was a book and a movie and all the rest of it coming out this fall, it would be nice to be on the crest of the wave.

From the very beginning, we were working from an outside perspective, from an inorganic concept. We had wanted to write a show about Air Guitar, but the story hadn’t presented itself to us. Jordana and Mac started to create the basic structure, the guitarist was married and they lived with his med school best friend, and when they finally made it to Oulu, the best friend would be failing out of school and the main guy would be on the verge of cheating on his wife… it was very loose. Very, very loose.

And I started generating music. I had some ideas that I liked, some that I didn’t, and plenty that I liked but wasn’t a good enough guitarist to implement. So I started building structures and I figured we would get a music director that was a phenomenal guitar player and pianist to play the score and teach the parts.

It took some months for Mac and Jordana to finally have the meeting where Mac said he didn’t like the script, didn’t like what was happening and was afraid to push through the script he wanted, which was much darker and richer. It was difficult for him to say, and difficult to hear, since both Jordana and I wanted a Mac Rogers Script ™ and always had. But since our last show had been downright silly, Mac thought that’s more where we were leaning. And it didn’t help that I had written a song about a monkey that didn’t further the plot.

Once we started firing on all cylinders, once we realized that Drew, the main guy, would be haunted by this spectre, that his wife was accidentally pregnant, that their marriage was essentially over at the *beginning* of the play and that the competitions helped rebuild it, we realized we had a wonderful story. And we also realized that we were about two weeks away from the beginning of rehearsals.

Seriously. That’s how it’s been. Once Jordana and I got pregnant, we realized we were on a hell of a time crunch, but more than that, we got a little buzz last year, it was important that we stay on the radar. It was important that we make a new play, and the Fringe Festival is the best place to try that.

We had found our story, and I had found the music director of my dreams. The band called “Gods Of Fire” is beyond incredible. (I saw their show the other night, their show that had nothing to do with Air Guitar, and they were so fucking smart, so fun, so amazing. They were exactly what I had hoped for in our band for the show. Unfortunately, they can’t be those guys in the show, but that’s for later…) I had written enough material that I could start yanking pieces out that didn’t work. We had a cast that were incredible, so I had to re-cast some of the songs in places that would work, and throw out or re-write some tunes to feature the best of the talent we had.

And it just kept getting harder. I can’t go into the specifics, and it doesn’t do any good to point fingers or to take blame because, ultimately, the entire blame and entire credit goes to the producers. It’s that simple. When a show wins a Tony, the producers get to accept it because they’re the ones who hired the right people, they’re the ones that secured the rights to the perfect show, they’re the ones who get credit. When a show doesn’t work, the same logic applies, the wrong people, the wrong show, the blame.

Tech week, we simply had no idea what we were gonna get. We were playing down to the weakest points in every single person involved while we were in rehearsal. The band was pushing for cuts, the director was pushing for re-writes, the cast was making up lines and making up blocking right up to our tech. rehearsal. Large set pieces were cut, costume changes weren’t gonna work, the mics were terrible and the band was too loud. Our tech. ended and, separately and without knowing the other was doing it, Mac and I despaired.

Jordana didn’t. She said it was all gonna be fine. Mac and I figured it was some sort of prego-positivity.

We shuffled closer to opening, and every day the show got 300% better. Each of the next three rehearsals felt like a week’s worth of work had gone in. People had started memorizing their lines, the show was taking on a cohesive look. It was moving forward.

Opening night was a technical disaster. The band overwhelmed the cast, even though they thought they were playing at half volume, nobody’s mics worked and it was a state of general panic. But, strangely, the show was there. The second show we were so panicked about the sound issues and the balance issues that nobody had fun. The band screwed up some numbers, the cast screwed up some, lines were dropped, it was just a mess.

But then came last night.

What we saw last night was the show that lit us up eight months ago. Moment to moment, the best of what we had thought of was being re-created by the cast, and for some of them it was light years better than we could have ever dreamed. The Celeste we saw on stage was fully human, fully smart and sexy and more rock-n-roll than we could have imagined. The temptress, Danielle, was wrestling her own story out, completing the holes we left for her. This character, originally designed as a bump in the road for Drew and Celeste’s wedding, got thunderous applause at one of her entrances.

It was all there. A character named Jammin’ Bread? We thought it was a joke, and it turns out, it is! The audience laughed! We ended up cutting the monkey song I wrote, but that didn’t stop the doctor from having a star turn. It is Mac’s writing, he doesn’t create second bananas, but this Steve was fully human, and his story was as compelling and exciting as the relationship story.

And on top of it all, Ulrich. The spectre. I don’t know that Jeff Hiller needs a whole new crowd of fans, and I honestly don’t know if this show will deliver them to him, but he is a master. His slightest gesture, his every move. Our Drew centers the show and gives everyone something to play off of, and Ulrich takes full advantage of every second.

Last night, the show finally happened. We had a gracious and amazing review from, the kind of review that made it hard for me to breathe because it seemed that the reviewer had seen the show we dreamed would happen but feared wasn’t going up on stage. If the reviewer saw it, it must have been there. Last night, I saw it too. I was dancing in the sound booth, the stage manager and I were applauding everyone.

Last night, the show happened. I feel proud, certainly… relieved, definitely. But mostly, I’m just so thankful.