BWW Interviews: ONE NIGHT STAND's Producers/Directors Elisabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton!
For those of you who are in Toronto today or tomorrow-or for those of you who are willing to drive to Toronto for a quality film about the exhilaration of the creative process and the making of a musical; I've got a suggestion for you! 'One Night Stand', a film documenting the process of putting together the 2009 edition of New York City's famous "24 Hour Musicals", is currently playing at the Cineplex Odeon Yonge and Dundas Cinemas, February 6th at 7:30pm and February 7th at 10:00pm. For tickets, click here.
This fast-paced and hilarious film follows some of the stage and film's top actors, including Cheyenne Jackson, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Rachel Dratch, Richard Kind, Tracie Thoms, Alicia Witt, Michael Longoria, Roger Bart, Mandy Gonzalez and many more!
This reviewer recently had the opportunity to chat with Elisabeth Sperling and Trish Dalton; the producers/directors of this film, about the universality of the creative process, the simultaneous panic and excitement that go into the making of a 24 hour musical, and why Jesse Tyler Ferguson (now of 'Modern Family' fame) feels the need to "birth" a musical at least once a year!
BWW: Thanks so much for talking to us about your film! I have heard of the "24 Hour Musicals" and always wanted to see it-but I also don't know too much about it. It sounds like your film would solve both of those problems! Can you share with readers what the "24 Hour Musicals" are, and what your film is about?
TRISH: The film follows The 24 Hour Musicals, an annual event in New York City known as "the most impossible theater event of the year!" --in which amazingly talented writers, composers, actors, and directors volunteer to write, rehearse and perform four short musicals in just 24 hours! In the film, you get to see how the talent first meets each other, introducing themselves with a prop and a costume, and the actors sing as a sort of audition. Then everyone goes home except the writers and composers, who stay up all night, in four teams, to write and compose four short original musicals. That morning, the actors and directors return, take the scripts, and have just the day to learn their lines, their songs, their dances and be ready for the show at 8 o'clock that night! --in front of a live New York City audience and press, so there's a lot of pressure!
ELISABETH: So in the film you see the whole process behind the scenes, and then you see the performance, which is a fundraising event produced by The 24 Hour Company to benefit The Exchange, a non-profit theater company that produces new works and also supports other theater companies as they produce new theater works--with the idea that even as we love classics and revivals, we also want to support the creation of the "classics of the future." Live theater is a constantly-evolving art form, and these are artists who keep that evolution going.
TRISH: And the event culiminates with the live audience watching [the shows] the following night--but really what the film is, is that you get to watch the process of what the [writers, composers, and actors] go through--the fun part, and also the terrifying part of trying to finish, and also wondering whether or not they can pull it off! What it really does is sort of celebrate what "The Exchange" is up to in the first place; celebrating theatre, new works, and creativity-and the joy of putting on new shows and new works!
And I'm not even really a musical theatre fan, I've always been a theatre fan...I of course grew up watching "Annie" 5 million times, and musicals are my favourite thing, but I don't know about all of the musicals or respond to all of them but I still found it totally interesting for me [making this film] to watch how they do that-these people are really talented. The best writers, the best composers, the best actors-to watch them have to go through the process is really inspiring, because then you realize that everybody has to go through it! It's the same for everybody. It's not easy! And yet, even just watching it, it makes it look fun! As much as they suffer, it's fun. And that's what the film is about, celebrating the creative process. Whether you like musical theatre or not, you can enjoy it. Everyone's life in one way or another is creative, and the film really celebrates that.
BWW: It sounds amazing, and it really sheds light on the fact that the storytelling process is so universal!
ELISABETH: Everybody has a creative part of their lives, so they all go through that process, and that's universal; the storytelling process [whether on stage or in documentary film], as you said, is also universal, and the third thing that's universal is the 24 hour cycle!
BWW: This is very true! How did you become involved with the 24 Hour Musical? How did you come up with the idea to film this process?
ELISABETH: It started because I was looking for an idea. I wanted to start making documentary films, and I happened to be at a holiday party where people were talking about creating the first ever "24 Hour Musical". Those two people were the host of the party-the Artistic Director of "The Exchange", Ari Edelson, and the other one is my brother. His name is Ted Sperling and he's a Tony-Award-winning musical theater artist--a director, a musical director, and a symphony conductor. He was the musical director of the recent revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center (now on worldwide tour) and also directed The Other Josh Cohen which got rave reviews earlier this year. So they were cooking up the first ever "24 hour Musical" and I was listening in, and I heard that people had to come up with stories overnight, and I thought 'Oh! I would love to be a fly on the wall...because that's exactly what I want to do! [Come up with a story]. And since this was clearly going to happen, and have a beginning, middle, and end-that's a dream for a documentary filmmaker, because often you have an idea for a story and you end up following the story for years and years, waiting for something to happen! This was definitely going to happen, and it was definitely going to be over in 24 hours, and I thought it would make a great film.
They actually needed somebody to make a video for that night, for right before the performance. They needed somebody to stay up for the night and video-tape what the writers were doing and video-tape some of the rehearsals, and make it into a 5 minute piece so that when the audience comes in, they could show them what had transpired in the previous 23 hours to make this process possible. Then [the audience is] caught up in what they are about to see, and how it's all just been created. So [Ari and Ted] asked me to make that video and I asked if I could bring a lot of cameras in so I could film [the documentary], and so that was what happened!
BWW: So did the actors involved know that this was going to be a documentary ahead of time, or was this a happy surprise that came later?
ELISABETH: Well, they were told about it, but you never know what's going to happen when you start making a documentary. So I think they were happily surprised.
They were told that we were going to make a film and they all signed releases but they didn't know if it would actually turn into one. You know, Richard Kind said 'I saw cameras everywhere and they were filming it, but you see cameras everywhere these days!' So they all knew, but it took us three and a half years before we were finished, so when it came out, they were a bit surprised!
BWW: Speaking to that, obviously, there were major time constraints for the people putting these musical productions together-what was the timeline like on your end?
ELISABETH: Well, from the day that the conversation happened and I talked to [the creators of the "24 Hour Musical"]-that was in December of 2007, and the first-ever 24 hour musical was in 2008, and we filmed them, and we edited for a year, and we tried to raise funds or connect with a distributor, and all the sudden the economy collapsed, and in the meantime we heard that they were going to do a second year of the "24 Hour Musical", with a better stage, and better lighting, and better sound. And during the same year, everybody bought high definition televisions, and so standard definition was not going to be nearly as marketable, so even though we loved the 2008 "24 Hour Musical-we loved those characters and those plays, we decided that we couldn't miss the chance to film it again! Also, we were aware that we would get to re-shoot a documentary and learn from all the mistakes made the first time! [Laughs] So that's what we got to do! So this movie is about the 2009 musical. Then it was a long process of raising the money to edit, and then the edit. Then we were in film festivals, and now we're finally out there!