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Finishing the Show

On September 25, 2003, four weeks after the last day of shooting, director Vince Spoelker showed Liz Bussey Fentress the first three minutes of the television version of Liz’s Circus Story. “I guess it shouldn’t be such big news to me, but the person on the videotape looks like me, sounds like me, and she is saying the words I wrote,” she remembers thinking. “Can’t ask for more than that.”

Liz liked the way Vince had shot the “dialogue” scenes from more than one angle. “In the theater, in the second scene, which takes place in Wayne’s dairy barn, the audience sees the actor changing from the role of Liz to the role of Wayne. On television, Vince shot the scene isolating the characters of Liz and Wayne. He cut it so that first we see Wayne speaking, and then there is a cut and we see Liz speaking. Then he cuts back to Wayne speaking, etc. We never see the actor making the transition from character to character. It’s great.”

For Vince and the KET team, months of work still remained; they would be putting finishing touches on the program until the week before its initial airing in early January 2004.

control roomFirst, Vince edited a “rough cut” of the program. “Editing is where, as a director, you can have a little control,” he explains. “You can take those parts of a performance that are best and create a whole performance out of that. You take those seven or eight ‘takes’ that were shot, decide, ‘This line is best in that take; that line best in another take.’ That’s what editing is: making decisions about what you like. That’s where a director can really affect a performance and the show.”

blocking on the setBecause it was a one-person show, Liz’s Circus Story presented special editing challenges. “In a one-person show, there are not a lot of ways to manipulate the scenes, because you can’t cut away from the actor,” Vince says. “When you combine parts of two takes, the actions have to match. Stage actors are used to moving the way it hits them at the moment, which is fine onstage. But what happens when, say, an actor picks up a glass of water in one take and their hand is not near the glass in the next take? The first part of the scene might be better in the first take and the second part better in the second take, but there’s no way to marry those movements smoothly.”

As the editing process progressed, Vince decided that graphics and sound effects would enrich the program. Set designer Robert Pickering and KET graphic artist Mary Ann Carpenter created a graphics template in which real photos from Liz’s circus experiences would be used as interstitials to introduce scenes and help give the audience a sense of time and place.

The stage version of Liz’s Circus Story had used some sound effects. For the television version, Vince imagined a rich audio bed. Working from a submaster tape of the performance, the audio engineers who had worked in the studio, Charlie Bissell and Brent Abshear, began poring over KET’s sound effects library. They quickly realized that Liz’s Circus Story would require some distinctive sounds that would need to be created.

“A small circus was performing in the area, so I took a DAT [digital audio tape recorder] out and recorded some sounds of the tent being raised,” Charlie says. “I left a note on a Volkswagen bus I saw in a parking lot for the owner to call me to try to get the sound of the engine.” And he pushed various carts around the halls of KET, recording the squeaking sound of the wheels to re-create the sound of the circus tent being rolled up. “And, of course, our library didn’t have the sound of an elephant purring,” he laughs. “For that one, I’m combining two sounds.” (Our sound effects page has some audio samples of what Charlie and Brent created, plus video clips demonstrating the difference sound effects can make.)

As the air date approached, all the elements—the edited performance, graphic interstitials, audio bed, program opening, and closing credits—were combined.

In the meantime, the playwright had already begun another rewrite. “I’ve decided to do one more version of Liz’s Circus Story,” Liz explains. “I want to do an 80-minute version for the theater that can be published, so the play can go on living in the theater.”

Wherever audiences watch Liz’s Circus Story, its author and star hopes they take away from it what Wayne Franzen gave her. “The message of the play is, ‘Believe in yourself,’” she says. “What is it you want to do? Do whatever it takes to achieve it, overcome all the obstacles, and get as much out of your life as you can. Have faith in life’s possibilities.”

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