Picture a quiet, calm meadow

Dreading the Sitzprobe

Daniel Fishman’s head was ready to explode. Being in the theatre, he was used to hyperbole and drama but this was not an attempt at attention; his head was literally ready to explode. The weeks of caffeine, zero sleep, constant interruptions of thought, volatile personalities and literally a deadline countdown to Sitzprobe had raised his internal cranial pressures to dangerous levels and Daniel “Fish” Fishman did what any human being would do in this situation: he passed out.

When he awoke to the screams of young, inexperienced theatre wonks, the Sitzprobe was a few minutes nearer to reality. As a cup of water was placed within arm’s reach and a clipboard was returned to his hand, Fish quickly inhaled all the contributing pressures back into his being and the countdown to the next unconscious event cruelly began again. He settled back into his chair; this time using his hips to secure him deeper into the chair’s saddle to mitigate any future spells but a few more minutes dealing with the details forced Fish up and out of his chair in search of some fresh air balanced by the edginess of the morning.

A sign of a healthy lifestyle is to enjoy first times all throughout one's life. As Cindy slowly worked her way into the still-warm room and found a spot up front, to the right of the eventual instructor's speaking position. She always like that position, as she had determined that instead of determining the left/right orientation of an instructor, it was easy to lay claim on the predominantly right side and things went well. She had estimated that a small minority of her instructors were left-handed so it was a fairly good strategy to lay claim to the right-hand side, eye-level spots and deal with the occasional southpaw when eye contact seemed appropriate.

“Fish, I got a few critical issues before Sitzprobe!”

“Get in line,” said Fish, “We meet at lunch to talk about those things. Telling me know only makes you feel better and makes me feel worse.”

Originated in opera, the word Sitzprobe means the first run-through of a performance in which both the singers and the orchestra performed together but without costumes, props or scenery so numerous leaps of faith do occur at this merging of imagery with hopes that once everything is blended together, magic appears versus an expensive, confusing theatrical cake of shit. The play was great but at times; too great. Sometimes you can have too much goodness which then diminishes the tension that moves the story along to its final resolution so Sitzprobe allows one to make surgical edits to keep the story moving without taking away any critical richness. It was a lot like cooking; too many good things can dull a taste and removing components, even tiny amounts, had the same potential ability to strip out its soul from the other side. Fucking Sitzprobe.

The musical had too many scenes that worked but Fish knew it very likely had to remove any of the key numbers that failed to move the story along; some of the songs were extremely strong but served no real purpose except to add some toe-tapping energy to a story that really was already engaging enough to stand on its own. Using the cooking metaphor yet again, Fish said, “You don’t need to add ice cream and sugar on top of a sweet cake: enough is enough.” Since the show was running long, that criteria served to be useful for further cuts in the production and eventually, the troupe would be ready. Those other songs would be conscripted down the road for another show; slightly modified to be added without a visible shoehorn and the ticket-buying public would be none the wiser and still able to tap their toes.

The problem with removing components of the production is that the birth-giver of that particular part suffers from a post-partum depression rendering them basically useless for the foreseeable future. When a single songwriter collaborates with a single producer, these invasive decisions are mitigated with the survival of many other of his or her musical brood but when a producer cobbles together a show with a variety of music sources, the chance for drama and tears grows exponentially. Luckily for Fish, the songs were written by a long-time partner and they both knew the work could easily be reused down the road but no surgery, even elective surgery, is risk free. Fish and Katie O. (she refused to ever give her last name) kept a running tally of time, story importance and made the tough decisions as soon as they could. They could save one particularly energetic song by removing some superfluous dialogue early in the first art and it was obvious with their non-verbal tells they were thinking the same thing.

“You know,” said Fish. “If we could…”

“speed up the street scene,” said Katie O.. “we could”

“keep the bouncy song right…”

“where it is.”

Katie O. smiled and made a note to remove about 90 seconds of the first scene in which the lengthy street scene was placed to establish exposition but they both knew it was not needed. It delayed the story and with a small dialogue drop in, the city could be clearly stated without chewing up the extra time.

Fish smiled and said, “That drop in could…”

“change when we take this on the road,” echoed Katie O. “Let’s steal a bit from Huey Lewis.”

Fish knew the reference; in the early successful years of Huey Lewis and the News, the post-production team dropped a number of American cities into the existing track which caused an-already successful pop song to gain additional legs when new cities were actually called out by the singer between the hooky bridge and the next official stanza. People have such a connection with their geographic allegiances that the mere mention of “Cleveland” or “Minneapolis” made that local listener get one more step towards self-actualization.

“Done,” said Fish. “My clock shows we are five minutes plus/minus on the script.”

“Close enough,” said Katie O. “Let’s become cruel bastards during Sitzprobe but we are definitely in the neighborhood.”

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