Caledonia’s longtime performing arts program co-director folded up her director’s chair after 23 shows in 30 years.
Robin Macleod will continue to teach at the school and co-director Geoff Parr will work with students on musicals from now on alone.
It started way back in 1984 with the show Snoopy that she and her husband Don decided to direct and produce at Cal after seeing the show in London.
A small show it was with a cast of seven, an “orchestra” of one pianist and a student crew of nine, says Macleod.
“It was a pleasure to have my family involved. One of my daughters was a stage manager for a show; the other was in the cast twice and choreographed twice. My husband helped with many tasks, especially lighting, set, and special props,” she says. Many people participated in shows over the years.
“The two people I worked with every year were my husband Don and Geoff Parr. Geoff and Don (who was teaching Theatre and Stagecraft) did You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1993.
“I produced, but was keen to direct and took on Oklahoma the next year. My major was English; had a minor in Drama, but no directing courses so learned by doing,” she says, referring to her second and third shows.
Assets for the job included being organized, enjoying working with people, and being conscious of maintaining morale.
“I was ‘on’ five days a week after school for two hours plus Sunday afternoons for four hours. When we were on a four-day school week, we could also have four-hour Friday afternoon rehearsals,” she says.
Each show was different, but there was a “template” for the production process and she thinks the system improved over the years.
Her English teacher background/skills helped her interpret the story/lines and her visual learning style helped with blocking and stage pictures, she says.
“I always liked to get my own ideas/vision before considering what other productions have done or looking at movies. I liked to figure out how to accommodate the set/scene requirements,” says Macleod, adding she learned a lot.
“One thing I think people who haven’t worked on shows may not realize is that the book typically provides very little instruction of what stuff is to look like, which leaves (what at first could be a terrifying gap or) room for ideas, vision, creativity.”
When writing reference letters for musical veterans, she’s often commented on their stamina in enduring a 10-week production schedule, with the last two weeks consisting of six-hour rehearsals after the regular school day and their ability to work with 100 diverse individuals, she says.
“The students who have come out as performers have always seemed brave–for the audition, never mind the rest of the process. [I have] tried to ensure that the students knew what commitment meant and that they had adequate rehearsal so they had the confidence that comes from being prepared,” she says.
“It was neat to have students get involved and mention their having been inspired by the shows they saw when they were younger/little.”
“It’s cool that two of the cast members from the very first Cal musical went on to become very successful professionals in theatre,” she says, referring to Alan Brodie and Ian Arnold, whose professional work is on the technical side of performing arts.
Cal musicals have been well supported by the community, says Macleod.
And there were several on-stage nightmares along the way: illness (to the point of contingency plans for if-she-faints-during-the-scene and having a chorus member take on a lead role for the last half of a show with only a few minutes’ notice); the gun in West Side Story not firing when it was time to shoot Tony on Saturday night; and leaving three cast members on stage instead of calling the lights down to end the scene because of being on headset solving an emergency to name a few
What kept her coming back for another show each year?
“The sense of satisfaction when the production has been achieved from the channelling of all that energy. Tradition. The joys that colour over the labor pains. There’s a special bond that forms–if only from people having spent so many hours together!” she says.
She left with some parting words from a speech given to the casts, crews and orchestras before closing night shows.
“We decided to do a show. We chose a show to do. We recruited cast, crew, and orchestra–veterans and novices.
“We braced ourselves for the long haul of dealing with publicity, tickets, and front-of-house; instruments and music; set, props, lights, sound, costumes, hair, and make-up; dancing, singing, acting.
“We rehearsed. We faced frustrations. We employed teamwork and commitment. We overcame obstacles. We’ve arrived at the end; here comes our last show. We’ve lived an intense experience so post-play will seem strange. Thank you for your contributions. Best wishes.”