For those of you considering a production of Soldier, Come Home, I offer the following notes about my concept of the original production of the play and suggestions for a production:
The play was conceived as a “concert.” The image of Pavarotti and Tebaldi walking onto the New York Philharmonic stage comes to mind; he in a tux, she in an evening gown. They carry a score bound in a black binder. It’s a concert version of “La Boheme.” Music. Singing begins. Little by little, they transcend the confines of the concert, establish relationships and become the characters; we see only Mimi and Rodolfo and are caught up emotionally by the music and the singing.
This is the goal I have set for Soldier, Come Home.
Music. Five actors walk onto the stage – men in tuxes and the woman in an evening gown – carrying black binders. They take their places. Music fades, lights up on first actor. Reading begins. Little by little, the actors transcend the confines of the “concert” reading, become the characters and establish relationships. The letters become the dialogue and the conflicts, humor and emotions take over.
The set, backdrop, lights, costumes, furniture and sound, along with the letters, are an integral part of the concept of the play. They work together as a unit.
The set: Black risers or platforms at two or three different levels,
from 10 inches to 3 feet high. Each actor has his or her platform or level. Five dark colored, plain wooden chairs are placed on platforms. A black curtain hangs behind the set.
Minimum lighting: Five front of house lekos – one focused on each actor and each light is on a separate dimmer. Overhead is blue backlight (fresnels) to shape actors but used mainly to give actors enough light by which to read the letters.
Costumes: Tuxes for the men. Evening gown for the woman: simple, fairly dark color, floor length.
Sound: Pre-show music. This is the place for a nod to the
Civil War era. Your choice of period music. As lights dim and play starts, segue to lively Civil War music as cast enters the stage. Fade sound as lights come up on first actor.
However: That said, it is totally up to the director to produce the play in any way he or she envisions it. For example, I just saw an extremely effective production in Kenosha, Wisconsin done simply – in an open room – small platform, no lights, actors in white shirts and black slacks/long black dress with music fading in and out throughout.
Directing the play:
Here are some general notes I find important for performing a play based on letters and creating an exciting, riveting production:
1. Pick up cues. As one letter finishes, the next should start immediately without a second’s pause. Think of it as dialogue, a conversation between characters.
2. Find new thoughts within each letter. Even the shortest letters contain many different thoughts.
3. Create a general sense of urgency throughout the play, even in quiet moments.
4. For the most part, letters are read directly to the audience. It is important that the actors make good eye contact with the audience. Knowing the letters well – even learning them – will help with this.
5. “Build” scenes from letter to letter – the idea is that each letter is more important than the last.
6. The play contains humor – I hope. Look for the humor and try to play it.
“On Friday evening, a couple hundred people gathered in the Sanctuary (of the historic First Parish Church) for the dramatic performance of Soldier, Come Home. The male players were dressed in tuxedoes, as opposed to period costumes, which kept the focus on the letters, and the emotions exuded in them. I very much enjoyed this theater project.”…..Bobby Grenier of the North Lake County Florida Civil War Round Table.
Floor plan for platforms – Soldier, Come Home
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