What’s Next for I’LL SAY SHE IS?
Well, that was nice!
I’m writing this just over one week since the last performance of I’ll Say She Is at the Connelly Theater. But the last week has been so busy with our load-out, I’ve been more exhausted than I was when the show was running. Just now, I’m beginning to catch up with other things, answer correspondence, and rest. I’m still sort of stunned by the whirlwind we’ve just experienced with I’ll Say She Is — and if I’m having a hard time emotionally processing that, imagine how far behind I am on all that’s happened in the world while that wonderful thing was happening at the Connelly.
Most of the lovely emails and messages I’ve received in the last few weeks have asked one of three questions about the future:
- Will there be more performances?
- Will there be a video?
- What is it that has four pair of pants, lives in Philadelphia, and it never rains but it pours?
So here are my candid responses to all three.
Will there be more performances?
The short (but unsatisfying) answer is: I hope so, but I don’t know yet.
Here’s the long (also unsatisfying) answer:
After the 2014 New York Fringe Festival production of I’ll Say She Is, the show had completed a gigantic developmental step, and the desire to put it on was even more intense than it had been before we put it on. There were a few interesting conversations about its future, but no real offers. From the feedback I was getting, I realized something: The Fringe production was a great success, and there was high praise for our recreation of the Marx Brothers — but, due to the inherent limitations of a Fringe staging, we hadn’t quite conveyed what the show was. Much of the advice was about how to turn it into a more solid Rodgers and Hammerstein book musical (not bad commercial advice, but wrong for the Marx Brothers) or to increase its appeal by interpolating hit songs of the twenties (not bad commercial advice, but wrong for I’ll Say She Is). I kept saying it’s a revue, it’s a revue! but without scenery, instrumental specialties, or big dance sequences, it didn’t feel like a revue, or it didn’t succeed as one; it felt like a very thin book musical.
A big part of the task was still ahead: to demonstrate what a full production of I’ll Say She Is should be like. So we decided to produce it ourselves, in a nonprofit limited run, with a budget largely crowdfunded by the worldwide community of Marx Brothers fans. The idea was that if it led to a commercial production, great, but if it didn’t, okay; we would be able to walk away and say, “We did it; we presented a fully-staged, fully-designed revival of I’ll Say She Is, and we did it with joy and integrity,” and move on.
It’s not that I wanted it to end. Of course I want the show to go on, and as a performer I would be happy to do it forever. What I don’t want is to get stuck in a cycle of ravenous ambition. I don’t want to have to force it back on the boards, as we just did; it needs an opportunity. A next-step production will require next steps in the areas of management, marketing, and permissions. There’s a lot to do.
Our run at the Connelly was a limited engagement, designed to last five weeks. As it happened, the run ended just as the show seemed to be catching on. The first three weeks, we’d sell out a couple of performances per week, and usually come close the other nights. Then the New York Times published its rave review, and every remaining performance sold out instantly; when Time Out reviewed us, there were no tickets left. There were lines for the waiting list every night; our mailing list expanded; our inbox flooded with requests; and we caught the attention of some impressive showfolk.
It felt like a hit, and it seemed clear that given the option to keep running, we would have kept selling. Some people talked about an “uptown transfer” as a foregone conclusion, and one journalist said, in reference to the difficulty of scoring I’ll Say She Is tickets: “You’ve got a little Hamilton there!” And then we all fainted. But neither the production’s economics, nor its administrative operation, nor its occupancy of the Connelly, was built to sustain a longer run. The show could be profitable (perhaps wildly so) in a larger house, with a higher top ticket price, and an advertising campaign — all things we couldn’t consider as a nonprofit, crowdfunded, self-produced venture.
So now we’re talking to people, asking for advice and support, and exploring whether a commercial transfer is viable; or if not, what. Believe me, if it were just a matter of wanting to, there would be a performance of I’ll Say She Is tonight, and another one tomorrow! And of course, if news breaks, we will not be shy about spreading the word.
More than anything, to everyone who has asked about additional performances, or thought it but not asked — thank you! I’m moved and elated by how warmly I’ll Say She Is has been embraced, and how many people want it to go on. I’m moved and elated by the love and dedication of everyone who worked on I’ll Say She Is, and by how much of what’s good about it is theirs. Everyone — onstage, offstage, backstage, out front, up in the balcony, and up in the clouds — brought to the Connelly an enthusiasm which was a beautiful tribute to the Marx Brothers.
Whatever happens, I’ll Say She Is at the Connelly will always have been I’ll Say She Is at the Connelly — a singular landmark in the production history, like I’ll Say She Is at the Walnut Street or I’ll Say She Is at the Casino. We are so lucky to have been there.
Will there be a video?
The second most frequent question is whether a DVD or streaming video of the full show will be made available.
As a Marx Brothers fan, I completely understand wanting to have I’ll Say She Is on video. If I were not involved with the show and couldn’t get to see it — or even if I did see it — I would definitely want a video. And we did record a few performances for archival purposes. We’ll soon share some short clips or another highlight reel (here’s the one with clips from our first preview, and there’s also a little B-roll of opening night in NY1’s review). But, I’m sorry to say, no, there won’t be a full video of the Connelly performance made publicly available.
For one thing, it wouldn’t be good enough. It was fabulous in the theatre, but to produce a professional, watchable, broadcast-quality video of a theatrical production is an enormous and costly project in its own right. It’s not just a matter of pointing a camera at the stage. We did that, and it’s a valuable record, but it’s not something to release publicly— assuming we could even navigate all of the legal and permission implications of such a project.
Finally, we want the show to have a long theatrical life, and making this production widely available on video now would limit that future. I want you to see I’ll Say She Is in the theatre, because that’s the point— it’s theatre! It’s the one they never made into a movie. For the foreseeable future, let’s honor that, and if this is disappointing to you, thank you for caring about the show that much, and we’ll try hard to make it up to you by giving you as many more chances to see it in the theatre as we possibly can.
Update: In September of 2016, we released this seventeen-minute highlight reel:
What is it that has four pair of pants, lives in Philadelphia, and it never rains but it pours?
At’sa good one, I give you three guesses.