Thanks to the generosity of the Revs program at Stanford, Violet, a travel musical that actually travels, performed on campus earlier this quarter. The show was a unique one that blended the experience of a bus trip with the splendors of live performance.
As a theatrical piece, Violet is a musical that follows a young woman who takes a cross-country bus trip through the 1964 south in search of healing for a wound inflicted in her childhood. Originally produced in 1997, the piece is meant to be staged as though the characters are on a bus. For this production, the characters were actually in that authentic environment, along with the audience, such that the audience can understand Violet’s journey first-hand. Instead of traveling cross-country, the bus stopped at campus locations where certain scenes were performed off the bus.
Some of the challenges from the ‘traveling’ production became great assets. In fact we learned to take the bus and use it to our advantage, including:
1. Learning how to move and dance on a bus. Creating scenes and musical numbers on a moving vehicle has been both an exhilarating and immensely challenging task. We realized at the beginning of the process that there are only so many ways someone can move around on a bus. So, we needed to figure out how to incorporate physical elements that would enhance the story without detracting from the authenticity of the setting. A few examples: a card game played in the center aisle, movie stars making appearances in day-dream sequences and a gospel choir that shows up…This isn’t your typical bus.
2. The first time we rehearsed on a moving bus. At the beginning of the show, the company sings a song called “On My Way,” in which the characters each reflect on embarking on their own personal journeys. I can’t explain the majesty of the feeling we all got when the actors sang “And I….am on my way” and the bus lurched to life and started to move. All of the sudden, we understood what it was like to be on Violet’s journey with her.
3. The opportunity to weave the audience into the fabric of the piece. So often in theater, the audience is ignored and asked to become passive observers. All of us working on this piece, are so looking forward to the chance to reinvent that relationship by giving patrons a role in the performance without forcing them to participate.
Each night of production, eight Violet: The Musical staff members took to the campus streets as our cast members boarded the bus. The staff stationed themselves in pre-determined campus locations so that when the actors finished their numbers and disembarked the bus, there was someone waiting in a bush to help them with their quick-change, for example. In retrospect, the amount of coordination and orchestration that it took to ensure a ‘back-stage’ routine that ran like clockwork was pretty astounding. Just as there is so much you don’t see behind the curtain when you go to a typical theatrical piece, there’s an enormous amount audience members didn’t see during Violet.
In particular, one of the ‘back-stage’ components that took the most orchestrating was working with the Marguerite drivers to ensure that the bus could go on the determined route and at the right time. Because musical numbers were often book-ended with bus-stops, we had to meticulously map out how long it would take the bus to get from one point to the next and make sure the drivers knew when the bus was to move. One of our Assistant Stage Managers, Laura Pietrantoni, was our designated liaison to the drivers. She stood at the front of the bus during each run and worked with the driver to make sure that the route and timing were as planned.
Those eight staff members are really such heroes of the show, without whom the show would have been impossible. It seems that on a bus or off, to create a successful piece of theater, it really does take a village.
To learn more about Violet: The Musical and find departure times, please visit violetthemusical.com.End