Today, a word or two (or 1421, to be more accurate) about the rehearsal process for the first season of Raiders of the Temple of Doom's Last Crusade. As I mentioned earlier, the brilliant Russell Fletcher had agreed to be the show's director, and after we formalised our arrangement with a contract, we both mapped out a rehearsal schedule for the show that took into account our various work and family commitments. I remember we couldn't rehearse on September 4th, 5th or 11th, because I was shooting a small role in the movie Now Add Honey, for example. It was quite tricky, but eventually we got there. This was one of the times that, as the show's producer, I was glad that I was the only person in the cast. It certainly made this scheduling easier than it would have been with more people in the show.
In the end, the rehearsals ended up taking place over the six week period just before the show opened. Here's how it all broke down;
Monday 19/08: 12 PM - 3 PM
Wednesday 21/08: 12 PM - 3 PM
Friday 23/08: 12 PM - 3 PM
Monday 26/08: 1 PM - 3 PM
Tuesday 27/08: 9:30 AM - 3 PM
Wednesday 28/08: 9:30 AM - 3 PM
Thursday 29/08: 9:30 AM - 3 PM
Tuesday 03/09: 9:30 AM – 3 PM
Friday 06/09: 9:30 AM – 3 PM
Monday 09/09: 1 PM – 3 PM
Tuesday 10/09: 9:30 AM – 12 PM
Thursday 12/09: 9:30 AM – 3 PM
Friday 13/09: 9:30 AM – 3 PM
Monday 16/09: 1 PM - 3 PM
Tuesday 17/09: 2 PM – 4 PM
Wednesday 18/09: 10 AM – 1 PM
Thursday 19/09: Tech rehearsal at North Melbourne Town Hall 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM
Friday 20/09: Dress rehearsal – day, FIRST PERFORMANCE 8:00 PM
77 hours of rehearsals in total. They took place mostly at Russell's house, sometimes at my house, and we did manage to get a few in at a great production space called Revolt Productions, which was run by a friend of Russell's.
So, what was the process like?
Well, the earlier rehearsals consisted of Russell and I "getting the script on its feet", working through it, and devising and locking in all the staging and choreography. We'd go through the show, scripts in hand, quite slowly, one scene at a time, repeating it as often as necessary, with me jotting down all of our agreed moves - and sometimes lighting or sound effects - in my hard copy of the script. After each session, I'd take those notes and type them up into the next draft of the script. This gave me a document that I could use to also rehearse at home, in between 'official' rehearsals, marrying the moves to the words, so that eventually the whole thing would become second nature.
As I became more and more familiar with the words and the moves, and they started to sink in to my head, we'd rehearse longer and longer sections of the show, rather than just single scenes. Eventually, we got it to a stage where we could rehearse each of the three sections of the show (Raiders, Temple of Doom and Last Crusade) from start to finish.
I'd always be exhausted and dripping with sweat afterwards, but on we went...
Little by little, my stamina improved to the point where I could finally manage to do all three, one after the other, from start to finish, and keep the required energy levels up. But it wasn't easy. This required more cardio fitness than I'd ever been called on to provide in any other show. But the constant repetition of the show served to train me up physically as well as mentally.
As we ran the show again and again and again, and it got well and truly into my bones, Russell's notes and tweaks could become more and more specific. And they certainly did. Here's an example of his notes after one of our run-throughs;
So, as you can see, he really was polishing this show. I was, and am, so grateful to Russell for all of his incredibly detailed work.
By the end of that laborious, painstaking, fastidious - but still very enjoyable - process, we were finally ready.
Ready, that is, for OPENING NIGHT.....
For the show, I knew I had to recreate the climactic 'Opening of the Ark' scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with terrifying beams of energy, melting Nazi heads and the lid of the Ark spiralling up towards heaven, before returning to earth with an almighty Dolby Digital, THX, bone-shaking thud.
What could be simpler?
You can see in this clip from the show exactly how I tackled it...
I obviously made the lid of the Ark myself, and it occurred to me that if there are any super die-hard Raiders fans out there (and I suspect that you probably are, or you wouldn't be reading this), they might like to know how to make an Ark of the Covenant lid of their very own. And so, here are some step-by-step instructions to ensure that you too can be the proud owner of this magnificent replica movie prop made from SOLID GOLD-coloured cardboard.
ARK LID INSTRUCTIONS
You're going to need:
Now, here's what you do:
3. Cut the four shapes out.
4. Using the tape, stick the 4 angel shapes together, back-to-back. You should now have 2 angel shapes that are gold on both sides.
5. Now we need to invert the 'lip' of the third gold tray, so, at each of the tray's four corners, use the scissors to make a cut inwards to edge of the lip.
6. Fold the four lips out and down from the tray, and stick them in place. The lips of the tray should now be inverted, so that the tray looks more like a low platform.
6. Fold the bottom tabs on the 2 double-sided angel shapes inwards, and tape (and/or staple) them to the centre of the tray.
9. Now take the crowns, and cut off the top bits, so they look like this.
10. Flip them upside down, cut them into four lengths to fit around the edges of the tray, and then tape them around the edges of the tray, like this....
And there you have it! You can spray paint the underside of the lid gold, if you think anyone's going to see it. I did, because of course in the show it had to spin majestically up towards the heavens (with the help of a black stick I'd attached to the underside of it).
NOTE: Of course, you could also make the base and the angel figures out of normal cardboard, and then just spray-paint them gold.... I just happened to be lucky enough to find these golden coloured serving trays in the first place.
Your very own cheap and cheerful Ark of the Covenant lid replica, for less than $15!
If you do feel inclined to make it, I'd love to hear how you get along (and to see a pic of your finished product).
See you next time!
Props, props, props. Unlike Charles Ross's One Man Star Wars - an early inspiration for this show - I knew that I did want to have some. But only a few. The overall idea was to be cheap, cheerful and lo-fi. But resourceful and inventive, too (just like a certain archaeologist we know).
The biggest single item (in terms of its design, its prominence, and the expense) was the custom-made steamer trunk. I'd had the idea for this very early on in the show's development. I knew I wanted a central, multi-purpose piece of stage furniture, big enough to fit me in it, and strong enough to have me stand on it. I reasoned that a classic 1930s-style steamer trunk could do the job, fit in with the period feel of the show... and double as a storage space for the show's props and equipment. At various times in the show, it would need to serve as a truck, an altar, a table, an elephant, a speedboat, a mine car, the Ark of the Covenant, a bed and a mountain... among other things.
I got in touch with the BRILLIANT Art Director David Triscott, who I'd known for many years, through working on various TV shows together. David is the best in the business, and can make anything that's physically required by a production. In particular, I'd often marvelled at all the things he was called upon to create for Talkin' Bout Your Generation - from a flawless replica of a chair from Blade Runner, to a spring loaded meerkat that popped up out of the host's desk.
Luckily, David had the time available to build this for me, so I sent him very specific instructions, measurements, and a few sample pictures... and just two weeks later, he'd worked his magic yet again!
For my micro-budget show, it was the single biggest ticket item on the expenses sheet, but it was so, so, SO worth it!
(And it had already well and truly paid for itself by the end of the first season.)
Here it is;
For the shadow puppet theatre, a refrigerator box was sourced by my mum. She cut it in half to fit it in her car, which necessitated me putting it together again with lots of gaffer tape. We painted it black together. We cut a window int the front "wall", attached some tracing paper, and attached a work-light attached to the left "wall" of the thing, and it was done.
A slightly sad, not terribly solid and quite droopy-looking specimen, but it still did the trick.
For the shadow puppets themselves, I looked up a few silhouettes online for some of the ones I needed... Indy riding a horse, for example, but the rest were slightly cartoonish designs, invented by me (and my daughter Lily helped with some of the cutting out and attaching rods.)
Well, when I say "rods", I actually used drinking straws - big, fat, thickshake-capable ones... and I made sure they were colour coded too.
You see, I had three shadow puppet scenes - one for Raiders, one for Temple of Doom and one for Last Crusade. I made a separate set of puppets for each. The straws on the Raiders ones were blue, the Temple of Doom puppet straws were pink, and the Last Crusade puppet straws were yellow. This made them easy to find in the heat of the moment, and ruled out any unnecessary confusion in all that frantic scrambling in the half dark behind the screen...
To give you an idea of how this part of the show worked, here's the Raiders shadow puppet scene....
The umlauts on the fuel truck were Russell's idea!
In all, we made 21 shadow puppets, and before each show, I would set them on the small patch of floor inside the shadow puppet theatre in batches, from Raiders to Last Crusade, left to right.
The shadow puppets served me well - they broke up the structure of the show, giving the audience something different and interesting to look at, and they were also just a different, fun way of delivering gags. I'm certainly no expert puppeteer, but I think having them in the show added to the whole desperate, frantic one-man-band vibe.
Here's the full prop list for the show.
- World map (laminated)
- Cardboard backing for map
- Shadow puppet theatre
- Shadow puppets
- Custom made steamer trunk
- Handheld laser pen
- Lid of the Ark of the Covenant
- Model plane (+ white board marker)
- Henry's diary (+ brown paper wrapping + stamps)
- Swivelling stool
Early on, too, I'd had the idea of how to recreate the red line map sequences. I headed to eBay for a model of a plane from the era, and managed to find a 1/100 scale Douglas Delta DC-3 model for $30.77. It was also on eBay that I found the world map ($34.95) and the easel I needed to prop it up on ($18.90).
The cardboard backing for the map (to keep it rigid) came from the 4th wall of the refrigerator box, and the whiteboard marker was one we already had.
After I'd had the map laminated at a local office supply store, the only other piece of this puzzle was a bottle of Spray N' Wipe and a cleaning cloth. As the map needed to be pristine at the start of each show, part of my post-show routine each night saw me on my hands and knees on the floor, bent over the map, spraying and scrubbing until all the white board marker lines were gone.
Ah, the glamour of showbiz!
The only ongoing expense in the prop department was buying a new cantaloupe once a week. This served as the boulder at the start of Raiders AND as the head of the decapitated soldier at the end of The Last Crusade. With all that rough treatment, the fruit tended to be a little worse for wear after a few shows...
There were nerdy things I had fun doing before each show, such as wrapping Henry's diary in brown paper, addressing it to Indy, and adding a few Italian stamps from a the 1940s... (I found these online and printed them out).
So there you have it. All the props for the show.
The cardboard shadow puppet theatre didn't survive past the end of the first season. For the second season of the show, I commissioned a sturdier, plywood version from David. It was vastly stronger, neater and superior.
Perhaps the one prop that I'm happiest with, though (apart from the steamer trunk), was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. After looking at lots of pictures of the original online, I was really pleased with the super cheap facsimile I managed to make. And in my next blog entry here, I'll go into detail about exactly how I did make it, and provide detailed instructions, on the off-chance that YOU might like to make one too!
Until then... so long!
So, this thing is going to need a script.
And the script needs to be about an hour long.
Where on earth do I begin?
Well, like I do with any project that's large and daunting at first, I decided to break it down into steps.
I already had a few ideas floating around - I knew how I wanted to portray the red-line-on-the-map sequences, I knew that I wanted to do some of the bigger more difficult action sequences with shadow puppets, and I knew that I wanted to have a multipurpose piece of stage furniture. This was to be a steamer trunk (that I'd have specially made) that could "become" various things throughout the show. There would be no time for costume changes, so I decided that I'd wear the standard Indy costume and create the other characters (all 39 of them!) vocally and physically. There would be a few - a very few - props.
And although it's not an exact science, I knew that I wanted each of the three movies to take 15 - 20 minutes to perform on stage. (The concept was "Three Indiana Jones Movies In An Hour", after all).
This assignment was going to be one part creative invention, one part massive editing job. The first thing I did was to boil the three movies down into a manageable number of scenes, and note which characters and props were required for each of them. That gave me this document;
The next step was to flesh this framework out, but after quite a bit of searching online, I wasn't able to find any shooting scripts of the films. There were some earlier versions, but I obviously needed the dialogue all to be exactly as it was in the finished films. I gave myself deadlines, and reported regularly to the show's director, Russell Fletcher. This framework was essential to keep me disciplined and on track with what was, at times, a slightly overwhelming task.
Here's a progress report email I sent to Russell on 2nd July 2013. (Opening Night was to be 20th September)...
Tue, 2 Jul 2013 12:58 PM
'Raiders' script progress report.
I just wanted to drop you a quick line to let you know where I'm at with the script.
As you know, I've done my scene breakdown, (breaking each movie down to 15 - 20 scenes). I'm now going through Raiders and picking out pivotal lines of dialogue and action moments for each scene that still tell the story. ('Putting the meat on the bones', if you will). I'll then move on to 'Temple of Doom' and then 'Last Crusade'. As such, I'm hoping to get the VERY FIRST ROUGH DRAFT to you in the next week or two.
Hope that's okay by you.
Then, two weeks later, as I slogged on and on....
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 11:05 AM
'Raiders' script progress report.
Just wanted to give you a quick update on where I'm at with the script for the show.
I'm half way through transcribing the movies. That's right - transcribing them. As in word-for-word, as in "press PLAY, press PAUSE, then type, press PLAY, press PAUSE, then type, press PLAY, press PAUSE then type"... So I'm about half way through Temple of Doom, and hoping to get through to the end of Last Crusade by the end of this weekend.
After that, I'll do an edit, paring the dialogue back to the bare minimum we need to tell the story / stories. During that pass, I'll also put in any gags and bits of stage business that I've thought of so far, along with bits that I'll think of along the way.
Then I'll send it to you, to see what you reckon.
Sorry it's taking so long - the time I can spend on it is all a bit fragmented at the moment, due to work and family commitments, but there are blue skies ahead on both of those fronts. That is to say, Judi & Lily are going away for a week at the start of August, which is also when I'll be unemployed again!
Then, after he responded saying "No worries, I understand. But is there no freak out there on he web who's done the transcript?",
I got back to him with this...
Sun, 21 Jul 2013 9:42 PM
'Raiders' script progress report.
Thanks for your understanding.
No, I haven't been able to find transcripts of the movies as they actually ended up being shot. Various drafts of the scripts are online (which are interesting in and of themselves) but for the word-for-word accounts of the movies, I'm finding I need to go directly to the source. (Although the "quotes" sections of the imdb entries on all 3 of them have been helpful - luckily there are freaks who've already transcribed the various bits and pieces that they love....)
And so, on I soldier....
My wife and daughter did indeed go away for a week, and during that time, I worked on the Raiders script day and night, until by August 4th, I'd finally finished the first draft. It was 65 pages long, and contained WAY too much dialogue. There were virtually no stage directions, no shadow puppet scenes, and no mention of how any props or stage furniture would be used. I figured that these details would take shape organically as Russell and I rehearsed the piece. And I knew that, over the next few weeks, as we got it up on its feet, we would be cutting material, cutting material again, and cutting more material, as we streamlined the show, and made it - to quote George Lucas - "faster and more intense".
And that's pretty much what happened. Russell and I were able to schedule 20 days of rehearsal between then and Opening Night. As I ran the show with him again and again, we trimmed, we invented bits of business, and Russell gave me the benefits of his incredible mime skills. The show got faster, tighter, and entire scenes were sometimes dropped. The 8th draft of the script was just 30 pages long. And the ridiculous challenge that I'd set myself (of cramming all that material into an hour) even found its way into some of the dialogue of the show, as in this bit from Last Crusade, as Indy and Henry escape from Castle Brunwald:
INDY: I think I can get these ropes off.
HE DOES. REPO THE STOOL DSC.
INDY: Into the sidecar, Dad.
HENRY: What about the fireplace that rotates?
INDY: No time.
HENRY: Secret staircase?
HENRY: The boats?
INDY: Come on!
INDY COMMANDEERS A MOTORBIKE (LEG OVER). HENRY'S IN THE SIDECAR.
So by the time Opening Night rolled around, I was relatively confident that we had a script that was fast, funny and action-packed. It was a real runaway train of a show, that set a cracking pace and never let up. I had all the lines and moves down (after recording the lines into my phone, and playing them back on headphones ad infinitum), and I knew that this was the show I wanted to do. I was proud of a lot of the gags, of a lot of the stagecraft, and of a lot of the moments we'd created. As Opening Night drew nearer and nearer, I finished sourcing - and often making - all the physical props I needed for the show.
And they'll be the subject of my next post - Steamer Trunks and Shadow Puppets.
So in early April 2013, I started in earnest, by ringing the brilliant director Russell Fletcher, and sounding him out. Russell had directed both seasons of our previous show Bond-A-Rama!, as well as the show that Michael Ward and I wrote for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2001 - I Said I Said. I remember I was on location, shooting for Mad As Hell when I made that fateful phone call. In my lunch break, I rang and pitched the idea for the show to Russell - me, performing the 3 classic Indiana Jones movies all by myself onstage, in about an hour - and asked him if, in principle, he'd be interested in directing it. He liked the idea right away, and said yes.
First step done!
So now that I had the idea, a director (in principle), and a whole lot of enthusiasm, the next question was: When and where would I stage the show? Once I knew the answer to that, I would have a deadline, and I could start the process of writing and rehearsing with a definite time-frame. This show was always going to be a perfect fit for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and my ultimate goal was to put it on there. But the Comedy Festival was 12 months away, and I wanted to get cracking sooner than that.
I scanned Melbourne's cultural landscape and realised/remembered that the Melbourne Fringe Festival happened in September.
My proposed show was pretty mainstream (perhaps not ideal "Fringe" material), but I thought that a run in the Fringe Festival would be good; the time-frame would be workable, and it'd serve as a good "off-Broadway" practice run for the Comedy Festival next April. This was all before I'd started work on the script, of course, but I was feeling positive and confident. If I could sell this to the Melbourne Fringe Festival on the strength of the concept and my - and Russell's - reputation, I'd be off to a very powerful start.
So I went to the Melbourne Fringe Festival website, and downloaded and filled out their 'Expression of Interest' form.
In the "Show Description" section, this is what I wrote:
This is a one-man show, in the tradition of 'One Man Star Wars Trilogy'.
Playing a variety of characters, I will perform a fast-paced, edited version of 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' (1981), followed by 'Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom' (1984) and then 'Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade' (1989) in the space of approximately 55 minutes, live on stage.
I will play all the characters, and do some of the sound effects.
The show will have no video component, nor will it use playback of music from the original films (other than perhaps as house music, as the audience arrives and leaves).
However, I'm envisaging that it will require sound effects and quite a few different lighting states.
There will be very minimal (if any) costume changes - perhaps a hat or a scarf here and there - and I envisage that I'll be on stage for the show's duration.
In terms of props and stage furniture, I'm envisaging a single office chair on castors.
The point of the show is to make use of voice, mime and comic invention to convey all those amazing big budget sequences in this smash hit series of films.
While audiences will be very familiar with the source material, hopefully some of their fun and enjoyment should come from the talent and resourcefulness and low(/no!)-budget, low-fi way that I evoke these multi-million dollar movie blockbusters.
And in the "Show Background And Your Future" section, I wrote:
This show is an extension of the success of the previous show that I co-wrote and performed in: 'Bond-A-Rama! Every James Bond Film Live On Stage in an hour and a bit'.
Over two critically and commercially successful seasons of that show at Chapel Off Chapel in 2011 and 2012, we learned that there is a big appetite for shows like this; "affectionate pisstakes" of much-loved movie franchises.
This got me thinking about an Indiana Jones show - having been a fan since 1981, and knowing many other fans - I think this show would have broad appeal.
The idea of writing and performing it as a one man show is terrifying, to be sure. In all my years of performing, this is my first hour-long one man show. And if it doesn't work, there's no one to blame but myself. If I fail, I fail big.
And while there is a chance of it not working, and ending up as a "bold experiment", if it does work, it'll be the kind of show that's very easy to tour - no large cast, no props, no sets or big stage effects. It's the kind of thing that could have a long life span.
And that's my goal - to be able to tour the show anywhere and everywhere, as a one-man-band, for as long my body holds up...
But the first stop after the Fringe would definitely be the 2014 Melbourne Comedy Festival.
I added my staging requirements and venue preferences, noting that they anticipated receiving over 130 expressions of interest, but had only 40 slots... Once that was all completed, I added my CV, Russell's CV and 3 recent reviews of Bond-A-Rama!, and pressed 'Send'.
Four days later... THIS, from the Independent Arts Manager of the Festival, Felix Preval;
I’m pleased to be able to offer you a place in the Fringe Hub program for the 2013 Melbourne Fringe Festival.
The details of your programming offer are
Time : 8:00pm
Venue : Meeting Room (capacity 65)
Duration : 20 Sept – 27 Sept (no show Monday)
To accept this offer you must email me by 5pm MONDAY 29 APRIL [3 days time]. After that time, this offer will expire and it will be re-assigned to another artist.
NOTE: If you accept this offer, you will still need to register your show in this year’s Festival. Registrations open on 3 May and close on 24 May.
Fantastic! The Melbourne Fringe Festival believed in me, and they believed in the show… Even though it didn't exist yet.
When I contacted Russell to let him know the good news, this was his response:
Can't do much better than that slot and venue.
Talk next week?
We were well and truly on our way! Now... Providing I could write it, lock off the script, learn it and rehearse it sufficiently with Russ, get all the costume, have all the props and stage furniture made, create all the sound cues, lock in and learn all the choreography and shadow puppetry, organise and oversee all the publicity and get the show sufficiently technically rehearsed in its final venue by September 18th... we'd be all set!
I felt really empowered and excited. The Boulder had started rolling.
The next step; writing the thing.
How do I condense six hours of multi-million dollar blockbuster movies into one hour of theatre that can be performed by one man, on a small stage?
Hello. Stephen here.
This is my first post here, in what will be an attempt to document the entire journey of my one man stage show Raiders of the Temple of Doom's Last Crusade from its genesis, right up until... well, right up until today.
And so I suppose I'd better start at the beginning.
The idea for the show first came to me after I saw Charles Ross's brilliant One Man Star Wars show, when it came to Melbourne seven or eight years ago. If you're not familiar with it, that show does exactly what its title promises - Charles Ross performs the entire original Star Wars trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) on stage at breakneck speed, all by himself, with no props or costumes. All the characters, all the events, all the space battles, all the special effects... It's an incredible, energetic, funny, virtuoso performance, and seeing it instantly planted a thought in my mind.
"Could I maybe do the same thing with the Indiana Jones trilogy?"
At that stage, it was little more than an idle thought. Something that I would find really fun... but if I were to do it, would there ever be enough of an audience for it? Is this one of those things that would seem like a good idea to me, but to nobody else?
I let the idea sit, promising myself that I'd get back to it one day. Then, a few years later, my good friend and colleague Michael Ward told me of his idea for a stage show that attempted to cram all the James Bond films into an hour. Again, of course, the trailblazing Charles Ross was something of an inspiration here. Michael invited me to write the show with him, perform in it with him, and produce it with him, and so our Bond-A-Rama odyssey was born.
Oh, a bit of background may be required here... I'd written and performed with Wardy many times over the years. We'd written on various TV comedy shows together, including Full Frontal, Newstopia, TV Burp and Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell, and we wrote and performed in a two man show I Said, I Said for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2001. That show picked up the Comedy Festival's Moosehead Award, so we went into Bond-A-Rama feeling relatively confident that we could probably find a way to do this and make it work. And that we'd have a lot of fun along the way.
Now, I know you're not here to learn about Bond-A-Rama, so I'll cut to the chase.
We did a season of Bond-A-Rama! in 2011 at Chapel Off Chapel in Melbourne, with Michael, me, Lawrence Mooney and Emily Taheny playing all of the roles. The show was directed by the brilliant Russell Fletcher, who had directed Michael and I in I Said I Said, back in 2001. (Which is important for later on - bear with me....)
Due to the success of the first season of Bond-A-Rama, we did a second season in 2012, in a bigger venue, with a slightly updated script, and with the brilliant Ben Anderson replacing Lawrence in the cast, due to Lawrence's unavailability.
As Michael and I had served as writers, performers and producers on the show, I had learned a LOT about how to take a show from its inception to its Opening Night, and beyond.
As 2012 wore on, the idea of that Indiana Jones show popped into my head again. With all that I now knew, perhaps the idea of writing, producing and performing my "One Man Indiana Jones Trilogy" as a fully-fledged show that people would actually pay to see wasn't quite so silly after all.....