Show and Tell Hawai'i

‘Parenting’ a privilege in MVT play process

May 22nd, 2011

First of Two Parts

Since 1989, Manoa Valley Theatre has engaged “parents” to “adopt” a production, to provide munchies and refreshments for the actors during the rehearsal period. In the process, these volunteers — who are members of the MVT board of directors — get under the skin of a show, observe the cast as they prepare and plug into the roles that the community-at-large gets to see, and clearly get a front-row ticket to experience what makes a show tick.
MVT is believed to be the only theater organization here that makes “parenting” part of the production process, says Dwight Martin, producing director. The decade-old program is called “Adopt-a-Play,” and literally obligates board members to get hands-on experience, like soccer moms and dads, to bring goodies to the show in rehearsal, which results in a pay-off that’s a rare privilege.
You get to see the show from its audition moments, through the rehearsal process, and finally as the finished product. It’s a journey that requires time, effort, commitment and a few bucks, since “parents” pay out of the pocket for the edibles. In the end, you get a chance to bond and observe a show in the making, while providing a valuable service to the business of getting a show launched.
In conjunction with the show now on the boards, “August: Osage Country,” I made my maiden visit as an MVT “parent,” peeking in on the rehearsals and kibitzing with the performers and the director.
I selected this Tracy Letts vehicle to play out my “parenting,” since it was a socko drama I saw in New York in 2007. Very adult, very demanding, very absoring theater — with two intermissions!
Ultimately, I’ve discovered a new respect for those who elect to make time and create magic in the black box that is theater.
Working with “head parent” Guy Merola, himself a sometimes actor, I and other board members made periodic cast visits, to haul in cookies, fruit, trail mix, baked goods and soft drinks to provide edibles and a cool one during practice sessions. First, at an alternate practice site, Iolani School, then at the MVT theater in Manoa.
For me, the process for this show actually started last fall, when initial auditions were held at MVT. I stopped by twice, to see the first go-round of tryouts, when actors known and unknown sought out parts of members of a dysfunctional Southern family in Letts’
award-winning drama. Attorney Jeff Portnoy, MVT president, also serves as a "parent," though not for "August." Thus, he regularly pops in on rehearsals, to get to sample the flavor of each production.
Regular rehearsals were staged the past two months at Iolani School’s dance studio,
because MVT’s space was jammed with folks laughing along to and applauding the outrageously funny “Avenue Q,” the musical with the naughty puppets.
The “August” adult cast enjoyed the nibbles, just like school youngsters at recess. For the “parent,” the task was a treat — because you get to better know and appreciate how the spoken text jumps off the pages of the script, and the inter-action is alive and involving. In the case of “August,” there’s plenty of sparkling, explosive dialogue — since the drama (with some comedic moments) tackles everything from drugs, sex, sexual harassment, alcholism, suicide, racism, incest, pedophilia, infidelity, deat and more.
“Another local theater tried to emulate our (Adopt-a-Play) program but it didn’t survive the first year,” says Martin, who shared the parental-support program eight years ago at a bi-annual Community Theatre Managing Directors Conference hosted by the University of Wisconsin that assembles theater managers from across the nation to tackle common problems and achievements. Since then, a couple of other Mainland groups have tried and adopted the program.
The notion to assemble board members, to check in on the acting projects, evolved when a board member inquired whether it was possible for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at operations. “Anything that helps the governing board understand more fully what they are governing is a good thing in my book,” says Martin.
Barbara Nickerson, who coordinates the “Adopt-a-Play” program, says some directors “adopt” more than one play.
“Generally the process works well,” says Nickerson. “The hardest part for me is getting a head parent. Not everyone wants to put in (or have the time) the bit of extra time set up the visit schedule and keep things on track, so I have to actively recruit someone.”
Food sometimes poses an unexpected program. Some “parents” bring lavish spreads, others don’t, she says. “The lavish spreads tend to take time, so that impacts the rehearsals, but the actors are so appreciative (and hungry).” For some actors, the snacks mean dinner, since they rush from their day jobs straight to practice.
“It’s a real disappointment when there are no-shows,” she said.
Costco food packets are generally the most convenient way to go for snacks; bottled water and chilled fruit drinks are welcome. Nickerson provides a list of suitable munchies; plates and utensils are required if food needs to be served.
Most often, finger food prevaisl. Chocolates are supposedly not-so-good for voices, so when a cast is rehearsing for a musical, chocolate candy or cake are not recommended — though the actors have a sweet tooth.
“We’ve limited participation in the program t board members and their spouses, but notoriety of the program has extended beyond the board and there have been occasional inquiries from ‘outsiders,’” says Martin.
Meaning: If you want to “parent,” asking may get you in. Just make sure you have your snacks ready for the road trip.

Tomorrow: What the actors and crew say about “parenting” and the treats.

‘August: Osage County’

7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through June 5
Manoa Valley Theatre
Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes, including two intermissions
Tickets: $30 general; $25 seniors and military; $15 youths 25 and under (not recommended for youngsters below 14
Reservations: 988-6131,

One Response to “‘Parenting’ a privilege in MVT play process”

  1. Dominick Rabideau:

    You have some good musings! Maybe I should contemplate about attempting this myself.

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