by Jake Lipman · November 13, 2015
A year ago, I was just getting started planning how I would turn the book The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman (no relation!) into a play, with the goal of eventually producing and starring in it during the fall of 2015.
Now that I’ve successfully completed turning the book into a play, and starred in its 16-performance world premiere run, I would like to share my top five takeaways from the production run:
1. Take care of your health.
Every single member of our cast and our stage manager caught a cold during the run.
One cast member told us that greasy potato chips cure a sore throat. Her voice teacher had explained that the oil and salt worked together to draw out phlegm. Later, another actor’s doctor debunked this potato chip cure, but I stand by it. We all needed some kettle chips, psychologically, if not physiologically, to get better.
Practically speaking, I greatly benefitted from taking off some days from my day job. A day here and there definitely helped me get some sleep and relax. And if you cannot take days, try potato chips. The greasier, the better.
2. Take care of each other.
The afternoon of our first preview, I was shaken up by a nasty interaction. Tired and anxious, I burst into tears in the dressing room. Our costume designer, Lisa Renee Jordan, walked up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me how beautiful the show was. Her kindness came at exactly the moment I needed it.
Meanwhile, my right hand in this entire production, Molly Ballerstein, was performing other acts of kindness on a nightly basis. She steamed garments, brought me chai, liaised with difficult patrons, and handled the last-minute box office requests of the company.
Equally fortunately, the cast of 15 actors was uniformly thoughtful and talented. Actress Maria Maloney curled another actress’ hair every night. We all assisted each other with quick changes, flubbed lines, moving furniture. People regularly distributed snacks: muffins, fudge, candy, cheese. And even more important: compliments. Every time a friend or family or audience member shared their praise of the show, we would relay it to the company, and people would light up, excited for the next performance.
All these seemingly small things went a long way towards building our company’s chemistry. Audiences noticed it, too.
3. Take Make back up plans.
At the end of our final paper dress, an actress in the show approached me, the director, and assistant director, to tell us she was on hold to shoot a TV pilot during the performance run.
We all gulped a bit, but then a plan came together.
As playwright, I had written in two roles, MAN and WOMAN, to cover some of the other characters in the show, should understudying be necessary.
We spoke with the actress playing WOMAN, Jessica Giannone, and she agreed to take on understudying this additional role.
My director, stage manager and I called a two-hour understudying rehearsal the first Sunday of the run, which consisted of the actress walking through her scenes with the understudy, demonstrating her entrances, blocking, and exits. The understudy and stage manager took notes, and then the understudy would step in and repeat what she just saw.
Luckily for us, Jessica is a very quick study. If she was nervous, she never let on.
The production team decided not to announce the understudying until we were absolutely sure it would be happening. Thursday of our second week rolled around, and we got the news: Jessica would understudy the Friday night performance. The cast was informed and cheerfully offered to do whatever they could to make the show go well.
Friday early evening, Jessica walked through the space, marking every entrance, exit, costume, and character (she was still playing four other characters, too).
We were all abuzz when the show started, but from the moment I stepped out opposite Jessica, I knew it was going to be great.
Having someone new in the role was a great reminder to all of us to pay attention, listen, and look out for our fellow actor. Jessica delivered a stellar performance, in all five of her characters, and when we took our bows, we gave her an extra bow all to herself. The audience seemed equally delighted with her feat.
While it is important to make back up plans, it was just as important to trust the entire team to execute the plan.
4. Take expert advice.
A couple of times, throughout the run, a question would arise about protocol, union rules, contracts.
As producer, I have to make a lot of decisions for the good of the production. When faced with a question or a problem, my stomach would invariably do a few nauseous-making cartwheels. But then I would call or e-mail the appropriate expert: my stage manager, our union showcase contact at Actors Equity (thank you, Toni Stanton!), my lawyer (aka my dad), the novelist. Their expertise allowed me to find solutions and communicate them clearly.
5. Give thanks.
Now the show is over, I have been chipping away at my thank you list to everyone involved.
I am so thankful for and grateful to novelist Elinor Lipman for entrusting me with her story, and thrilled to collaborate with my husband Philip Rothman (he wrote and arranged all the music and sound for the show).
My right hand throughout the entire process, Molly Ballerstein, has been a true collaborator and champion, from reading early drafts to directing the staged reading, to wearing so many hats on the final production that I can’t even enumerate them all here.
The production team, our designers, and actors all contributed so beautifully to the world of the show.
Our donors, supporters, and audiences, whose generosity, laughter, and applause made this story come to life every night.
And last but not least, to nytheater now, for giving me this space for five installments, in which to pull back the curtain a bit on my process, and reflect on the undertaking.
To the readers of these articles: I hope you’ll be inspired to tackle your dream project.
It was never easy, and at times quite daunting, but it has been the most fulfilling creative endeavor of my life so far. I set out to adapt a book into a play, and I ended up learning a great deal about how to adapt as a creative person.