Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Big" Things

I don't have a finished painting to post this week (although there are a few in progress)...all because of "Big". (The musical, that is...based on the 1988 Tom Hanks movie.)
The backstory: Two years ago, my son was encouraged by his music teacher to try out for a local community theater production of "Oliver". While at the audition, another parent talked me into participating as well. So I swallowed my fear, and the knowledge that I cannot sing, and belted out "It's a Fine Life" for my son's music teacher and a few strangers. I figured that if I was going to be driving him back and forth from rehearsals, I may as well take part too. And here's the thing...I love musical theater. I'm one of those people that will sing along with Broadway soundtracks...in my car, or in my studio, away from other folks' ears. At least I can sing in tune, most of the time. And after listening to other auditions, I didn't think I would completely embarrass myself. Now I have "Oliver" and "Sweeney Todd" behind me, and this year's production is "Big" the Musical.
Now a new challenge--new theater directors, new music director...people I didn't know, who didn't know me--who didn't know that I can't sing! I didn't want to audition in front of strangers. But I screwed up my courage, picked an easy song, "My Favorite Things", and at least I knew three out of the four other people in my audition group. Now there was a new wrinkle...this one would involve dancing, as well. So here we were, mid May, a cast of people who don't have any experience with the dancing part, and a show that is chock full of unfamiliar music. The dance choreographer, who is young enough to be my daughter, is so unbelievably patient. I am cast in the adult ensemble, (which is all the part I really need or want), and we all show up for the first cast meeting where we are given a book with the libretto, and a folder full of complicated charts listing our parts and the scenes we are in. I am a parent, a detective, a junior executive and a partygoer. Later, I am added in as a beanbag toss lady at the carnival. I have a total of three speaking lines, and four songs to learn.
Three weeks into rehearsals, some adults have dropped out, and the dance numbers have to be rearranged to accommodate this. The show is so full of set pieces and props, the scene changes are each taking ten minutes. We have rehearsed music and dance separately, and now we try combining them. Okay, singing and dancing looks easy, but you get out of breath! But I love the dancing part--this is what musical theater is supposed to be!
I ordered my first pair of character shoes for dancing, and went shopping at the Salvation Army for costume items. Some things are provided, some things you have to find for yourself. I spent a grand total of 19 dollars which included three new (okay-gently used) pairs of capri pants that were not for the show. "Ka-ching!"
Finally we hit Tech Week, when we rehearse with an orchestra, and all the microphones are assigned and tested. (I have yet to be assigned a mic for a show, thank-goodness!) The scenery was still being built and painted, and the lighting was worked out. The day before the final dress rehearsal, we finally ran the whole show beginning to end, and it was three hours long. Songs are cut, the scene changes are tightened up, and they get the show into about 2.5 hours. We have it all down. We know the lyrics, the dance steps and the lines. Someone misses a line, and someone covers for them.
For the ensemble actors, much of our time onstage is spent in pantomime. We junior executives have earnest silent discussions in the background about the stress of coming up with a new Christmas toy. In my detective scene, I am scribbling notes on a pad and silently questioning a distraught mom. Between scenes, we are rushing through costume changes, and getting to know everyone backstage. A tight-knit family is formed. The first weekend of shows is behind us. After next weekend, it will all be over for another year. Some of the cast will audition for the next show in the schedule. I will be absent until next spring. One show a year is all the time I can commit to this, and the end will be bittersweet. I need to get my evenings back. I need to clean my studio. I need to create some new artwork. But I will miss my once-a-year theater family. The hours spent at the theater is an escape from the day to day grind of housework and errands, and somehow things still get done. I feel so lucky to be able to take part in something like this, and work alongside so many really talented people. It has given me a new appreciation for what goes into a theater production. And a whole new set of songs to be stuck in my head.