Actors from the Wilson Season
What would happen if you took a random sampling of all of the people you met in each year of your life and invited them to a big party? Would they have anything in common? Would they know what to say to each other? Would the idea of hosting all those people from different parts of your world give you a conniption? Well, the Signature took that chance and threw that party this Sunday. And much to my relief, the first ever Signature Alumni Night was by all reports a huge success.
Let's go back a few months. Jim Houghton, the Signature's Founding Artistic Director, had been talking for a while about wanting to set aside one performance in each of the Signature's runs as a night for former Signature artists and staff to come together and see the show; a homecoming night of sorts, and a chance to make connections between all of the amazing people who've worked here over the past sixteen plus years. As the new Artistic Assistant, Alumni Night was handed over to me as my first project. After setting the date during the run of Iphigenia 2.0, my first big task was gathering email addresses for all of the people who'd ever worked at Signature (which brought me face to face with the fact that in 1991, the only people who had email addresses were working for the Defense Department). After we sent out an email invitation to as many people as I could track down, Marianne, the Company Management Intern, and I sat down with old copies of the contact sheets and started making phone calls. We had some charming conversations with past company members. We also left a lot of messages. I white-knuckled my way through my message on Parker Posey's voice mail. (She is one of my favorite actresses, but have you seen Dazed and Confused? The idea of actually reaching her on her cell phone made me a little nervous.) As we moved further and further into the past, the "disconnected" and "no longer at this number" messages became more and more frequent. All in all we reached out to over 700 people, which is only a fraction of the people who'd worked with Signature over the years but a good start for our first party.
The responses started coming in immediately. There were lots of people who couldn't attend because they were working out of town or in other shows, but they sent their congratulations and love to Jim and Signature. By the Friday before the event we had a full house, and I had to sit down with the seating chart and figure out where to seat everyone. Imagine the most complicated dinner table you've ever had to arrange. Do you seat all of the directors next to each other, or is it better to sit them with the designers they've worked with? Will the stage managers be shy? (Not at all as it turns out.) Should you sprinkle the actors amongst the house or seat them by cast? Who gets to sit next to Chuck? I dropped the seating chart off at the box office on Friday night with my fingers crossed. As it turns out, I shouldn't have worried about any of it. Once we managed to get the chatty crowd into the house and seated, they turned out to be the best, most enthusiastic audience a theatre could ask for. The Iphigenia 2.0 cast, who'd already had a matinee that afternoon and would have been justified in being a little low energy at the end of the week, responded to the liveliness of the crowd and gave a fabulous performance. Even a shower of flour over the first two rows in the final scene didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm.
After the curtain call, Jim got up to welcome everyone to Alumni Night and to introduce Chuck. The audience gave Chuck a rousing ovation that went on for so long that witnesses say Chuck may have blushed a little. Everyone spilled out into the lobby for wine and snacks and more talk. I was working at the bar, so for a little while it was all a blur of handing out wine and champagne. Every time I looked up however, a new cluster of people were in front of me hugging and laughing and gossiping. I heard some great stories about the first production in the Peter Norton space. People who knew each other in different contexts realize that they had the Signature in common. Assistant designers and directors reconnected with their mentors and former interns passed on the word about their current projects.