Chasing Pegasus (a play in ten chords)
by Sally McLean
Arts Hub Australia
Monday, October 02, 2006
“We’re joined by multi-talented playwright, producer, performer Sally McLean, here to tell Arts Hub readers about the trials and triumph of putting on work in a Fringe festival. Sally’s latest work ‘Chasing Pegasus’ is about to hit the stage. But how will she handle an 11th hour sound emergency? Stay tuned for this glimpse into the oft-crazy world of independent production.” – Editor, Vanessa Paech, ArtsHub News
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. And then there’s that other saying “The best laid plans of mice and men, etc, etc”, which I never really understood, as I didn’t think mice planned much further than how to get hold of the next piece of cheese, and that was mostly achieved by instinct and their extraordinary ability to move quickly and not get caught in a trap, but, thinking about it now, maybe it is applicable to putting on a Fringe show …
As a producer working on Fringe, you are constantly on the hunt for the best possible people to work with, as well as the best venue and equipment, that won’t cost you a fortune (the cheese) and it is often done through pure instinct, intuition and sheer determination, and the ability to think on your feet and avoid all the usual traps (with a fair amount of luck and lots of help from family and friends thrown in).
So, really the concept of mice does fit, when put in this context, with a play whose theme centres around a winged horse. (Bear with me, it will all make sense in the end …)
It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m supposed to have gone to the Melbourne Fringe Office to pick up my artists passes, but, once again, there aren’t enough hours in the day. Actually, I was supposed to do this on Monday, but our Sound Operator (who normally works as an AD for film and television) suddenly got a call Monday morning, asking him to report to the set for “Where The Wild Things Are” as an AD for Second Unit, which means he’s off on location for the next eight weeks. Great for him – nightmare for us, as every other sound operator in my little black book is engaged on other productions, which is to be expected considering there’s about 265 shows of one kind or another going on in Melbourne right now. It’s getting to the point where I’m seriously considering asking a friend’s twelve year old daughter if she’s interested in watching the show every night and hitting the “play” button on the CD player three times an evening. According to the guys at the Fringe Office, this now means that I’m part of an illustrious tradition for Melbourne Fringe – losing your sound guy is apparently normal and means that you’re now truly a Fringe show. But I digress …
When it was suggested that I submit my play “Chasing Pegasus (a play in ten chords)” to Gasworks for consideration for their Fringe@Gasworks season, I thought it was a great idea. Set in a bookshop, telling the stories of ten ordinary Australians, the play centres on the theme of finding the extraordinary in ourselves and our fellow man and is a celebration of what makes us different and, yet, ultimately the same. Which is, in the current climate, hopefully an appropriate theme to be putting out into the wider arena.
As a Mornington Peninsula company, we had intended to do a season in Melbourne with a second one on the Peninsula, and Melbourne Fringe is always a great thing to be a part of. So, we rushed in an application, and were accepted, which was fantastic, and duly set about auditioning just about all the actresses in Victoria (168 submissions for 45 audition spots). We had a hard time choosing, but finally assembled a cast – Bridget Neval, Kathleen Ronchi, Tanya McCall, Hannah Fox, Charity Shaw, Sarah Penn, Jennifer Hansen (yes, she used to read the Channel 10 News, but is actually also a damn fine actress, as her audition proved) and our two token males, Peter Flaherty and Michael Clayton.
Another brainwave came soon after – that of asking singer/songwriter, Ross Ryan, whose 1974 No. 1 hit “I Am Pegasus” was already being used for the show on CD, to perform his song live on stage each night as part of the show. Ross actually agreed to do this, which was brilliant, and so the show began to truly take form.
And things have been going well. Truly. We’ve had some lovely press attention, mainly due to Jennifer’s involvement, but Bridget has had a great article written about her and Ross is attracting interest as well.
Ticket sales are doing okay (could be better, but then again, ticket sales for any theatre could always be better), rehearsals have been going well, we actually have a set, costumes are coming together and our lighting designer/director, Paul Hawthorne is doing an amazing job in limiting conditions. Sure, there have been glitches (or “challenges” as I’ve taken to calling them), there always are in any theatre production, but particularly in Fringe when everyone is doing a lot for very little, but we’ve survived them all.
So, why had I been feeling so anxious up to Monday? As I’m also writer/director, this could have been put down to being nervous about the work, but things have been moving smoothly on the artistic front – they were even moving fairly smoothly on the production and technical front, so it’s not the work that was causing this sense of unease. Of course I have no idea if the audience will take to the show, or even if we’ll get an audience, but that’s a worry for later in the week.
No, the reason I was feeling anxious up until the beginning of this week is because there hadn’t been a really major problem to overcome. Now, this is fairly ludicrous. But it’s the strange mentality of theatre – it’s like that adage of “bad rehearsal, good performance”. It’s superstition. That’s the problem. And of course I didn’t want something dreadful to happen – my life is stressful enough right now, but to be honest, the moment that my wonderful sound guy came up to me (at Gasworks, during a production meeting) and said he had to leave immediately to go film in the You Yangs, with only a week to go before we hit the stage, I felt a bizarre mix of panic and relief. This was the crisis I was waiting for, and now it’s happened, I can relax.
After all, it’s this kind of crisis that enhances the beauty and the magic of live performance -creating the sense of achievement and wonder that we actually managed to get the show up for an audience at all. It’s masochistic, but hey, it’s theatre!
I’m sure there’ll be other things to deal with in the lead up to our Preview on October 3 and beyond. There always is. And I’m yet to find a replacement sound operator. But we’ll find a way around it – “it’ll be alright on the night” – to use another theatrical cliché. (And us thespians are usually full of them – in the nicest possible way.)
So, if you happen to come along to see “Chasing Pegasus (a play in ten chords)” at Gasworks and notice a little mouse of a twelve year old girl sitting at the sound controls on the tech desk during the show – smile at her and give her a wave – she will have saved me a few grey hairs and, in all likelihood, will probably do a sterling job that will put all us theatrical veterans to shame.
The Epilogue: Friday, September 29 – 2.30pm
Due to a brilliant brainwave by one of our wonderful cast – Charity Shaw – our sound operator will not be a little mouse of a twelve year old girl, but rather the strapping figure of actor (moonlighting as tech crew for our show), Nathan Strauss, whom I now owe a deep debt of gratitude and a constant supply of caffeine and chocolate biscuits for stepping in and saving my lighting director from having to grow an extra pair of hands by Tuesday.
It’s one of those wonderful moments when you’re glad to be in this crazy industry, when people such as Nathan step up to the plate just because they love being involved in this mad business of ours and want to help. So, a heartfelt and very public thank you to Nathan (and Charity) for guaranteeing me a good night’s sleep tonight and a full compliment of crew!
Now, all I have to do is find some ushers … any takers?
“Well-written … inspirational … Chasing Pegasus deftly holds up a mirror to the audience, reflecting back our foibles and frailties without, thankfully, falling into cliché or over-sentimentality.” – Theatre Talk
“Chasing Pegasus (a play in ten chords)” will be on at Gasworks Main Theatre from Tuesday, October 3
Bookings: – www.melbournefringe.com.au – or by phone on 03 8412 8777.
With a second season @ Mt Martha House, Mt Martha from Wednesday, October 18
For more information, visit www.chasingpegasus.net