Producing a play in Turkey is quite a different thing—at least at the Koc School. Oh, there are scripts, actors, music, choreography, costumes, rehearsals and set, of course, but everything is done quite differently. It’s been a real eye-opener for me. Perhaps it’s because we work with a privileged clientele. Perhaps it’s because our students travel great distances to school. Perhaps it’s because our juniors and seniors are obsessed with preparing for the OSS exam. Whatever the reasons, the Koc (“coach”) production of Leader of the Pack has been quite different from anything I’ve ever experienced.
Director Larry Bent, Musical Director Dan Kapp, Choreographer / Costume Designer Lisa Kapp, and producer Marnie Paulus began the process last spring, recruiting actors, teachers, and staff for the production. Auditions were held in May for the gala 50’s musical based on the life of Ellie Greenwich, who composed many popular rock songs including “Chapel of Love,” and “Leader of the Pack” with husband Jeff Barry.
Typical of high school productions, the girls outnumbered the boys ten to one. After weeks of recruiting, they decided to pare the script down to accommodate the primarily female cast. Good call.
Rehearsals began in September for the March production—a seven-month rehearsal schedule! WOW! (My longest rehearsal schedule for a musical was eight weeks.) In spite of the fact that rehearsals were only held twice a week, attendance was abysmal and some cast members dropped out.
“Our overall attendance was about 75%,” said director Larry Bent. “A few weeks before opening we’d never had the full cast for the group dance numbers.” He’d about had it a few times, but somehow the directors all hung in there.
“I wanted to drop out, but my mom wouldn’t let me, and I’m GLAD!” said Lara Ankan of her experience. Turkish kids don’t often have opportunities to make a commitment like this one; their schedules are too tough, and even extracurricular sports mean a few practices a week. The 25 cast members who stuck out the year were jazzed about the production once they got onstage. The directors started smiling, too, those last few weeks when the show looked like it might pull together. It did, and then some.
Beyond the 7-month rehearsal schedule, though, what was so different? Well…
First off, the custodial staff built the set, a very sturdy affair that looked professional–in fact, it was a set of three record-disc platforms with professionally-screened labels on the records. The art department painted the scrim (obviously purchased) and flats for the backdrop, and students were excused from classes to do the work. At home, set construction happens on evenings and weekends, and it’s volunteer labor all the way.
Dancing shoes were custom-made for each member of the cast, at a whopping cost of $30 each. (I ought to) That really alleviates the last-minute scramble for footwear. Gold lame vests for the musicians were custom made as well, at a whopping $3 each (fabric scrounged from the school’s very minimal costume loft, which is mostly graduation robes).
Long before the performance, Dan Kapp hired a professional piano player to round out his volunteer orchestra, and they sounded GREAT! (My 9th grade musical protégé Ugur Kupeli played the drums.)
During the last month of rehearsals, treats and meals were supplied for cast members. During the performances, a meal was served before the production, then healthy snacks, water, and sandwiches were provided backstage for everyone. Go figure! The school not only provided service bus transportation for the cast, but also for teachers and families who chose to attend the production. Now THERE’S a budget item!
Another phenomenal difference was the volunteer help. More than 100 people were involved in this production, from actors to stage crew to musicians, costumers, stage crew, and supervisors. It was an incredible cooperative effort by many dedicated people.
The Leader of the Pack budget of just under 20,000 New Turkish Lira (about $15,000) paid for scripts, royalties, costumes, and who-knows-what else.
As always in the theater world, the production finally pulled together. Everyone started attending rehearsals (at the same time!), the ever-charming male lead finally learned his lines, and last-minute costume alterations were made. When opening night arrived, excitement was high. Bouffant hairdos and light pink lipstick were added to the mix, and the cast stormed the stage. The show was a smash—the first musical in years to be produced by the Koc School.
I just have one question. How come these kids speak with a Turkish accent, but it disappears when they sing? I just don’ t get it. Maybe that’s why they have English teachers…