Thoughts from Kristine Thatcher, Director of THE SMELL OF THE KILL
During the course of THE SMELL OF THE KILL, by Michelle Lowe, we discover Nicky’s husband Jay has surprised her by buying an 8,000 dollar meat locker, and installing it in their basement. It houses the deer, the rabbit, the squirrel, and anything else Jay hunts, kills, and retrieves on the weekend. I have a brother in the UP who regularly travels out west to shoot everything from prairie dogs to grizzlies. He is my big brother, the Republican, with whom I can never discuss politics, but who is also the protector of his sister. He has a heart of gold. He is a marksman, who owns every gun from the 1880’s to 1930’s machine guns. I’ve never actually asked him if owns an UZY (sp?) I always get a little nervous around him because, as a former conservation officer, he has a license to carry a concealed weapon, and I know it’s always on him, although I can never tell exactly where it is when I check him out at Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the summer family reunions. I imagine it’s laced around his leg somewhere, since he never bulges.
It’s funny, I have never had a problem with my older brother. It’s the guys I’ve dated or married, who wouldn’t dream of carrying a concealed weapon, who have always killed me. And oddly enough, that’s what has been the most fun about directing Emily, Teri, and Laura, in THE SMELL OF THE KILL. They also have their killer ways, and they have also known killer men.
Also privy to rehearsal were Erin S.(stage manager) , Erin C (production assistant to the stage manager), and Matt K (the other production assistant to the stage manager, and the only male who was regularly required on site. I began to think of him as Poor Matt.) We women all had our stories, because we all had exes, in one form or another. Matt is a student at MSU.
We spent weeks reading, recording, talking, discovering, staging, restaging, rereading, talking again, as you do when you put a play on the stage. To my mind, all a good director does is lead a conversation. And as the director, you are the only one who leads a conversation with everybody – administration, designers, actors, staff, crew. You are the only person who gets to have a conversation with everybody, and it’s a pretty good gig. You ask a lot of questions, and because you have a whole bunch of people surrounding you, who are wiser than you, you get a lot of intelligent answers that warm your heart, inspire you, and ultimately make you look a whole lot smarter than you actually are.
But something happened during these rehearsals that I never expected. And it mainly happened with the three actresses with whom I was working. This play is about marriage, keeping up appearances; experiencing slights, wounds, anger, hurt, revenge. So, we’d be examining a piece of text, and I would ask a question. It would go something like this: “Okay, so, Teri, in this moment, when Molly is answering Danny at the door, and then she turns to the other women and tries to explain why she has put off having children, what do you think she would –?” . . . Forget about it! Three actresses would suddenly jump up, talking from their own experience, not at once, but in a kind gorgeous trio of integral voices that would dig down into my personal, failed marital secrets and suddenly set me free. I would try to hear them out as reasonably as a director should, culling their answers, weighing my own responses, and the next moment, I would find myself jumping up, and shouting, “I know. I know! Listen to what my ex did! You won’t believe it! That son-of-a-bitch actually . . .”
These rehearsals probably do not reflect my finest hours as a director, but they sure were fun. And every time the three actresses and I would weigh in and get it all out, I would turn to the two Erins and Poor Matt, and ask, “What page are we on?” And they would gently guide me back to, not only the page, but also some sense of professional propriety, with sympathetic looks, and a little tiny bit of eye-rolling, and I would resume my seat, and I would glance at the two young Erins, and Poor Matt, and think: “Wait. Just you wait, my friends!” And we would move along in the text until we got to the character of Debra, and her divorce settlement, and I’d be jumping up and down again, with the three actresses. And we would all be shouting, and stamping, and high-fiving!
One day, I came in, just before rehearsal began – we hadn’t even warmed up – I think we were finishing our coffee – and I started naming names. Meat-locker names. John Edward, Mark Sanford, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Charlie Crist, Ivana Trump, Dave from 11th Grade, Peewee Herman – I didn’t care! It was just an attempt, I tell you, at building the company spirit!
And everyone was looking at me – silently . . . mouths agape . . . which I sensed was a renewed respect for the sudden scope I had brought to the rehearsal process. I had finally conveyed to each woman, the quiet, delicate idea, the acute realization that . . . some men . . . suck! It was a profound moment in the rehearsal process, and each woman turned away in what I can only call an individual and private reassessment of the human experience. It made me very happy.
At the end of the day, my stage manager Erin dismissed the actresses, and came up to me, she and her assistants having taken care of every problem that had occurred or ever would occur again during the entire rehearsal process or the entire run, and she asked, “Is there anything else you want?"
"Men!" It just slipped out.
"Is there anything you need?”
And I said, “No, thank you. I’m fine.”
And she said, “Are you sure? Do you need a ride home?”
“No, thanks, Sweetie,” I said.
“Maybe a beer?”
“I hate beer.”
“Perhaps a sedative?” she asked.
“Maybe tomorrow, during tech.” I said.
“We’ve got a glue gun. Bag to go?” the second Erin chimed in.
“Leftovers? I don’t think so,” I replied. I noticed the second Erin’s concern as she peered just over the first Erin’s shoulder, and Poor Matt peering over hers. What a crew! What a great crew!
“Perhaps a lobotomy?” Poor Matt asked.
“How sweet of you, but I prefer wine. It’s just this play,” I said, wrapping my coat tightly around me. “It’s just this freaking play!”
And the two Erins and Poor Matt nodded their heads, looked at each other, and altogether, they gave me an unforgettable, enthusiastic nudge, and I tumbled out into the brisk, starlit night.
What a crew! What a cast! There’s nothing like the theatre!