The Addams Family Musical
a production partnership
At it's core The Addams Family Musical is really just a ridiculously chaotic love story. A madcap exploration of a dark and twisted Juliet and her varsity jock Romeo. Could the scriptwriters have predicted just how far they could take this new musical when they made the quintessential Addams daughter fall in love with an alarmingly normal boy from Ohio? You better believe they did! This bizarre version of "meet my family" is Wednesday's bid to turn one night into less of a nightmare and more of a fairytale. The results are as hysterical as they are heart wrenching, as authentic as they are outlandish... and that alone is a recipe for musical theatre gold!
When I was asked by James Mitchinson of MTDXB to join this project as the production manager I was the first to admit that it had been a long, long while since I had sat exclusively at a design desk. Having studied production design in Prof McMurtry's class, I have gone on teach design as part of my holistic academic curriculum for Matric, GCSE and A-level, and have written many plays which always have an obvious semiotic connection to the stage, sound, media, costume and prop design.
I suppose The Addams Family Musical provided me with the perfect opportunity for some introspection: could I really do this to a professional musical theatre level? Only time would tell...
Visit the playbill here to discover more about this collaboration
The Addams Family Musical
behind the scenes
The first step was to sort out the costuming of The Ancestors and Dancestors of The Addams Family. Originally a small group of named ancestors, MTDXB opted to expand this group exponentially and ensure that every member of the ensemble had a named role to create a character around. The main pressure point of this element of production design revolved around non-designers making design choices regarding their own costuming, which is an agreement made by cast members early on in the casting process.
As such, the miniest-of-mini crash courses in costume design was required. I focused our collective attention onto how there really were 50 Shades of Grey, and we needed to engage the whitest monochromatic greys within this palette as our base colour scheme. We then added accents, specific to each costumes with slightly darker greys or beige and grey-blue variations. My overall concept involved my core belief that the Ancestors were effectively an extension of the mansion which is an outward representation of the Addams family at large. The right balance of white, grey, beige and blue-grey was therefore very significant to the overall aesthetic. Why? Because the Ancestors are the only group that purposefully absorb and bounce lighting states around the stage space due to the decision to keep their pale colouring as per the original Broadway production. They are also effectively a unit but also a set of individual characters. Is it any wonder I asked everyone to approach this like a massive game of Tetris?!
Download my Ancestor costume design crash course here
The second step was to engage with our sponsored set design team at KPS, a fit-out company in Dubai who were eager to support MTDXB by supplying the set for the show. Enter Stephen Taylor, managing director of KPS in the UAE. Many, many Zoom calls later and we had the Medieval and Gothic architectural style in the shape of a double volume mansion to kickstart our design journey. KPS sent through a series of AI-generated which were carefully annotated by me to ensure the functional requirements of a musical theatre production involving a cast of 60 would be supported within this structure. It was a lot of back and forth to get that right, but I'm sure you'll agree that the results were absolutely stunning. Without a doubt, my favourite feature of the entire design involved my Scooby Walls. These were a very particular easter egg I wanted to place on the stage as a throwback to the Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon era. The era I grew up in. The era in which I first started watching The Addams Family animated series. And, by Morticia, those doors were magnificent!
Download my notes on the set design process here
The third step was to engage with the marketing team at KPS in a way that effectively made me the go-between in an MTDXB/ KPS collab as well as the event manager for the installations in the lobby of Sunmarke School. There was a lot to consider here but my production crew worked with me to ensure everything was geared around the idea of audience interaction. We had some amazing themed snacks on sale, a small merchandise booth for MTDXB gear, a photobooth crafted by Balloon Bling complete with Cyril the Giant Spider, a few character-focused Ancestors meeting the children and deigning to pose for photos with the audience who were more alive than them, and - my personal favourite - The Addams Family Apothecary! This was my way of ensuring that audiences knew of my involvement in almost every facet of production design on the stage. To one side of the potions table at centre stage, children could collaborate with our Antigone Retold ensemble to create their own version of Grandma Addams' potions and even experience some of the potions up close that would play a role in the show later. To the other side of the potions table our resident Collab Company mixologist, Brighton of Fizz 'n Breeze had curated a set of five delicious mocktails in the style of Grandma's potions.
Download my notes on the production progress here
The final step was to ensure the Production Team were firing on all cylinders, ready to take our audiences on a journey into this bizarre family drama. There was a lot to complete in the lead up (cue 3am mornings at Sunmarke School!) and just as much to sort out as the Pink Wing stage manager. Let's break it down, shall we? Supervising the sourcing, adapting and creating of props (with my crew who painted, sewed, glued, stamped, glittered, googly-eyed and adapted almost every prop used in the production to get them stage-ready). Grandma Addams' trolley, designed with multiple self-referential potions which audiences could learn about by either making their own versions with Collab Company or by drinking a brew from Fizz 'n Breeze's apothecary station in the lobby. Consolidating the art installations, food and beverage stations, and audience engagement activities in the lobby before the show and at interval (with tangible support from my team who doubled up as backstage crew and front of house staff - not an easy feat!) Supervising the set dressing with final decisions on placement as well as working with my two backstage crew members on specific stage trickery moments that required functional walk-throughs with the actors impacted. Cast and crew headshots (except mine, which saw Hass step into his Cecil Beaton era). Managing the proofreading and editing of all copy, tracking deadlines from multiple sources, and the programme concept direction alongside the amazingly versatile Brian "Uncle Fester" Fletcher. This allowed KPS to design the programme in a way that accentuated their brand as well as the brand established by Brian in the marketing already done for the show and for MTDXB. Working directly with every Ancestor and Dancestor to ensure that we engaged our 50 Shades of Grey colour palette which linked the characters inexorably to the set and scenery of the mansion, accentuating the lighting states that Claire and Jonathon (Jonny) Shaw had worked so hard on, and creating a sense of individuality in costuming that also explored their look as a unit - I UNASHAMEDLY LOVE HOW THIS TURNED OUT! Working within Collab Company's inclusive model (aiming to make the arts and arts education accessible to all) I personally worked with James on his theatre design and backstage skills. Our last inclusive partnership with him was at Mawaheb on the You Will Be Found project. Stage managing the entirety of the run with my two stagehands, Hass and Kiki, and my assistant stage manager who is now affectionately known as Skuttlebutt! Wow.
The Addams Family Musical
ode to production management
My whole life I have been what I now realise is a highly exacting personality type. That label has been applied to me in a variety of formats over the years, but they all say much the same thing. Overachiever. Perfectionist. Obsessive. Conscientious. Pedantic. Diligent. Fixated. I have channelled this series of tendencies into so many avenues throughout my life, but all of them are underpinned by a vulnerable truth (which is exactly why Encanto makes me cry, but that's a different story!) I am wiser now, but must still stop myself from believing that to be valued I must always be of service to others. Cue Surface Pressure by Luisa. I am stronger now but must still remind myself to locate the boundary of each new experience. This is to ensure I am in service of myself, too.
Musical Theatre Dubai's The Addams Family Musical opened on 31 May 2023... on a Wednesday... ironic, we know! It was the culmination of four months of my highly exacting personality type finding it's solace, once more, in the theatre. And often in very similar company. The devil is in the details, of course, so it is often that the details themselves become the most complicated aspect within a process. And, by the powers of Pugsley, they were not wrong!
So. Many. Details. But then...
I see the photos in our performance gallery and I am reminded. I am reminded of what it felt like to experience this production, hidden from the outside world and securely placed inside the calming chaos of The Pink Wing. I am reminded of what it felt like to see the set I helped design with KPS come to life on a stage and what it did to my heart to see my Scooby Walls become a significant feature on such a significant set. I am reminded of the feeling of standing back to marvel at the collective detailing of our Production Team and my Production Crew who did the dang most to bring the Addamses to Dubai! I am reminded of the surge of awe I felt listening to experts in the zone over comms, a gateway into our own multiverse of madness and inclusive of:
Claire's uproarious laughter interspersed with moments of sheer panic (these happened in equal measure every show, though the heightened stress most nights was due to epic mic fails for both Gomez and Fester)
Mitch's cool, calm and collected showcalling (like he was born for the role, honestly!)
Adam's conducting of the band whilst simultaneously noting issues to solve in an instant whilst simultaneously laughing at the Cuckoo (every night!) whilst simultaneously asking what's for lunch whilst simultaneously singing so loudly into my ear that cast could hear him from a seat opposite my props table!
My own panicked queries as to whether any one could hear me over comms. Copy? Over! Roger! (who is Roger?!) Anyone? Hello? Oh godfather, have I become an ancestor too?!
I am reminded too of the intense camaraderie I felt with those who understand and value the arts as a space for expression and passion and life-giving energy over a quest for self in a space purposefully crafted for us to not be ourselves at all. I am reminded of how seen I felt to receive messages from ancestors which included photos of them in a group sequence, reminding me that our 50 Shades of Grey took us this far!
When I signed on as Production Manager for this project, I knew it would teach me a lot about what I had forgotten I know. But it was also a space within which I needed to grow, and evolve, and change, and adapt, and learn... Not only professionally, as a director who has always tackled self-crafted work over scripted theatre or a writer who has two semi-conceptualised ideas for musical theatre productions in my famous little black book. I learned things as a performer who used to be in every musical and choir show I could get my hands on until something in my own brain told me that I couldn't. And what about as an audience member who wants to be blown away by theatrical offerings in this region more and more. Finally, of course, my ability to learn on the job as a stage manager who has now helped manage two live performance beasts for MTDXB and Emirates LitFest 2023.
And personally? Well...
Lauren the Artist lives in her own world a lot. She is working out how to do better. She is on comms and overwhelmed at how much the voices in her creative psyche are being drowned out by the voices in her earpiece. She is often so exacting that she forgets to allow herself the same grace she applies to others when they mess up. But she is also dancing the choreography of the fabulous Beth n the wings... with Hass and Kiki, of course! She is making sure her people feel supported as much backstage as they do on stage. She is living for the zany minute-by-minute chaos of things going wrong which results in an ensemble coming together to problem-solve in literal seconds. She is unexpectedly cry-laughing at random jokes every show (even having heard them 20 times!)
The Addams Family experience was like nothing I've worked on in theatre before. My own work always has a measure of self-actualisation because in the end it's always me writing roles for others, creating my own environment for collaboration which involves everybody equally. This wasn't quite the same. It was adapting to other ways of working. It was celebrating others for their unrelenting drive towards excellence. It was engaging others in expertise that differed from my own. It was working under others and reiterating that hierarchy without apology. So... same-same but very different!
I can never thank you Addamses enough for the unguarded moments, the honesty, the vulnerability, the fun, the friendship. It was a total faith, trust and pixie dust production... and just look at what we achieved. A fully professional production, leagues ahead of many of the shows I have personally experienced here in Dubai by touring companies. Yeah, I said what I said! Collab Company aims to advance the arts through intentional, innovative and imaginative collaborations... and what a collab this was!