Centre Stage: Insight into March Madness

Tragedy mask sitting abandoned on a bench

Elizabeth Munz talks about March Madness and her experiences as a March Madness director.

Hello everyone! March is fast approaching and you know what that means: SPRING!

Okay, okay not quite that. But there is something wonderful that happens every year in March at KWLT: MARCH MADNESS!!

That’s right! March Madness is back for its SEVENTH YEAR! How crazy is that!? If you are a verteran of the community, you may have known about it since its inception, but for all you new folks out there, I wanted to write a little piece about it, telling you what to expect from this insane week-long ride.

March Madness is a week long event that starts on a Friday night and ends the next Saturday night. It starts with an idea. A simple, vague and short 10 minute long script written by someone in our community. The March Madness committee selects a script out of the dozens summited and then a call is made to find directors willing to make sense out of the chosen script.

Directors are asked to assemble a crew (or at the very least a stage manager) and with that team they create a game plan for their show. The directors and their crew receive the script and other important information, like the set design and layout, the night before auditions.

That’s right folks! They have less than 14 hours to read the script and try to put their own spin on it.

The next day all the directors and their SMs sit in the theatre and watch various actors come in and audition with random monologues. Based on the idea that the directors have for their shows, they ask the actors questions to help determine if they are the right fit for their visions.

Once the auditions are done the teams confer to select actors for their shows. After that, the directors choose their actors and proceed to call them. From there, the teams meet up with their actors and plan a rehearsal schedule for the rest of the week. The actors are responsible for learning their lines and blocking in one week! Everything about the show (ie props, costumes, lighting, sound, even finding rehearsal space) is the team’s responsibility. The theatre provides a generic set layout and lighting design. If you need any additional effects (coloured lights, gobos, spot lights etc) those can be asked for prior to the Friday call.

On Friday night, everyone involved goes to the theatre and has ONE HOUR to go through everything they need before a dress rehearsal in front of the other teams. After all the teams are done, everyone goes home to rest for the big day! The next day there are two shows: a matinee that acts as a second dress rehearsal, and then an evening show where a guest adjudicator evaluates the shows. At the end of the night, the audience picks a favourite (including the votes from the matinee), and then the adjudicator picks one, and also hands out awards!

Woman wearing green hat and staring sassily at camera.

One of my favourite costume pieces from my first show “I Did It!”

Creating a show in one week is not as easy as it may seem; it does have its challenges. I faced a few of these challenges when I directed.

I have been fortunate enough to have been involved with March Madness for the past two years as a director. I wanted to direct March Madness as a way to see what it was like to be a director. I knew I wanted to try my hand at directing a main stage show one day – and this year I am getting my wish – and I wanted to do a few practise runs beforehand.

I will not lie to you; it was a struggle. The first year I did March Madness was after I joined the KWLT community. I had been in two shows but I was still a newbie. I didn’t know who to ask to be my stage manager, and even though you are supposed to have a SM, you don’t need one in order to sign up. You can even sign up to be a stage manager or crew hand in case someone needs help.

Before the deadline came, I was not able to find a stage manager. I had a wonderful friend offer to help but he couldn’t commit to all of the days that were mandatory days (ie both Fridays and both Saturdays). I received an email that there was another person who was interested in directing but didn’t have a stage manager, so we both agreed to team up and work together. He offered me the role of director and he took the spot of the stage manager. My friend then became my assistant stage manager

We met up before auditions to discuss strategy and went into the auditions confident in what we had. There were four teams that year, and the script had four characters, which meant in order for everyone to have enough people, there had to be at least 16 people auditioning or more. We were short one person at auditions, meaning one team had to only get 3 people, and had to find a way to get a fourth.

One of the teams volunteered to go without a fourth – they had a little trick up their sleeves it seemed. The rest got four. We drew lots to see who selected first, second and third. After all the teams got their actors, it was time to call our actors, and get things moving!

Guys, it’s a LOT of work to do a show in one week! Even with the help of my crew and cast, there was still a lot of work to be done. Due to circumstances that year, I was fortunate to have a lot of time on my hands to work on the props and sound design. My cast handled their costumes and my brilliant ASM was also my fight choreographer.Yep, I had a fight scene in my show! Oh, and a bomb (non-active, don’t worry).

My whole team was great! We worked really well together and we created a great show! Our show was actually the only one that season with a happy ending. I still remember that Friday night before we opened. My show was the last of the four to have our time in the theatre. All the other shows had heartbreak in their endings, and by then, everyone wondered how mine would end. As my actor said his last lines, “My way is this way….”, there was a pause. Everyone held their breath. My actor started to walk away from his costar (they played boyfriend and girlfriend), but then he stopped, turned around and finished his line, “… and your way is this way” reaching out a hand to her. The crowd went nuts! It was all worth it. That moment, with all the other teams watching, all the blood, sweat and tears from the week was all worth it!

I got a lot of complaintments on my show and I was so proud of everyone. My actors won a few awards, including best couple! I survived that week with a great show! Little did I know what was ahead for me the following year.

Red buckets filled with something unidentifiable.

Were you Team Hero in Basket Case?

My second show had a lot more curve balls. I’m not saying any of this to discourage you from joining; I just want you to be aware of the challenges you might face.

Once again, I signed up without a stage manager. I was hopeful that I could find one by the deadline, or have what happened the previous year happen again. It was getting close to the deadline, and according to the committee, I was the only solo entry. I put out a call on social media to see if anyone would be interested in being my stage manager and I got a hit!

A lovely friend of mine agreed to help, but there was a catch. She was ASMing for the upcoming show at the time and would not be available to go to three of the rehearsals. I told her it was fine and that I would run the rehearsals. My problems didn’t end there though.

Once again, we had four teams and a script with four characters. That year only 13 people auditioned, meaning three teams would have to outsource a fourth actor. The team who got the additional actor was chosen at random, and unfortunately, it was not mine.

I had to look for another actor, but I had no such luck. The other two teams were fortunate and were able to find their fourth: one found a friend, and the other used a member of the crew, which is what I ended up having to do.

My circumstances from the previous year had changed and I no longer was able to work on the show during the day. I was also in a show at the time (Bat Boy: The Musical!) but had gotten the week off to do March Madness. I ran each rehearsal with my three actors, who were amazing, and with the help of my stage manager, we managed to get most of our props before the read-through. My actors got their own costumes, I worked on the sound and I also made a video! (Check out the commercial I made: https://youtu.be/BbDdjoCBIT0).

The last day before our tech run, I finally had all my actors and we ran through the show together. I was very proud of what we had created and was eager to show everyone.

Now, let me tell you about the importance of sleeping and eating. It was a LONG week for me and I pretty much worked myself to the bone getting everything ready. Now, I know what you are thinking, “why not ask for help?” I did ask for help and I got it; however, I’m a stubborn Aries that wants to do things independently, so I put more strain on myself than I should have.  My team was fabulous, especially my SM who managed to learn her lines in a week, learn her blocking in one night, help me out with extra things, and still perform her ASM duties for the main stage show. She was absolutely wonderful! So wonderful in fact, that when I almost collapsed (twice) from exhaustion, she forced me to go home before the end of the night to get some rest.

I got the best view in the house that year! With my stage manager on stage as one of the characters, I sat up in the booth and called the show! It was my first time calling a show at KWLT and it was the perfect ending to a crazy-as-hell week! I was so happy to have the team that I had, especially my amazing SM and dear friend K.S.! Thanks for everything girl!

Blue buckets filled with something unidentifiable.

Or Team Rival?

Again, I don’t want this blog to discourage anyone from participating in this exciting event. I had an absolute blast both years, and I plan on contributing in the future. Regrettably, I will not be participating this year because, as I mentioned above, I am directing my own main stage show this year. Auditions for my show The Last Resort are March 23rd, 24th and 25th. Information will be on the KWLT website and our social media platforms, so stay tuned. (And yes, I did just do a shameless plug in my own blog for my own show).

The lesson I Iearned from directing these shows is to expect the unexpected. I can’t tell you how the other directors in the past handled their shows and I can’t tell you how to handle your own, but I can encourage you to challenge yourself; honestly, it’s well worth it!

March Madness is unpredictable, stressful, crazy and insane – that’s why it’s called March Madness. But it is also a lot of fun and gives you great insight into the world of theatre.

Whether you want to direct, stage manage or act; all are welcome to participate in this amazing and fun event. I highly recommend taking part in this memorable experience.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to vp@kwlt.org . Applications for directors and teams are due Monday February 24th.

Auditions for March Madness happen on February 29th and the performances are the following week on March 7th.

Hope to see you there!

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