Ok - I have to admit you should be mad at me. Heck, I'm getting hate mail from chiropractors already. Yes i've been dragging my butt about the next blog because I'm having a terrible time trying to write about it all without it being a whole book...or without feeling like I'm not doing this summer justice. But - enough with the impotence. I'm taking blog viagra - and I'm just gonna start and do my best. Ok? Ok. I'm also getting behind on the current stuff (which frankly has been pretty low-key...but it's gonna gear up soon...so I want to make sure I don't get a year behind. And - it's also tricky because I want to be honest with you... and any rehearsals have ups and downs and this was about the most stressful period of our entire year. So I'm gonna try not to whitewash too much - cuz after all... dirt is fun to read :) But beyond that - you already know everything came out great in the end and we're thrilled and people were thrilled and everything's thrilling.
And so rehearsals started.
The thing I immediately realized is how lucky we were... The best thing is that they were all very good musicians. Not just good singers...but good musicians. They read music incredibly well and were very strong with harmony. The thing on day one which I had anticipated being our biggest nightmare was a twelve page arrangement of "Get Happy" with a lot of difficult harmony (provided by Colleen who, back in school, had been a member of a singing group/cult/fascist-musical-regime :) called 'The Quintessentials". This arrangement was really cool but I figured it would take a couple days to get under their belts. The actors managed to learn it in half an hour. Kinda scary. In fact...
Their speed and preparation actually proved a little bit of an issue the first couple days. See, it was in their contract that they were supposed to know all their solo material before they arrived. Which they did. "Good actors... yay...doggy biscuit" (or not doggy biscuits - after Jordan's original fruit snack dependency, I rapidly determined that the baby of our family would pretty much do anything for a Twizzler. "Jordan - I need a service tunnel dug between here and Nicks Kitchen. Here's a Twizzler covered in Velveeta...go boy, GO!").
Anyway - their preparation (which I expected) came a surprise to Tim, our musical director. His middle name is James so I called him T.J. Hooker. Which is something I don't think he was accustomed to at church practice. Anyway - Tim is not from the world of theatre. He's worked in the church sector for many years. I had been a little nervous about thrusting him into the VERY different world of show rehearsals - but he was incredibly knowledgeable about technical stuff - keyboards and electronic sequencing - and really excited about it. He really wanted the job - and he lived only a half an hour away. And, church musicians are often GREAT musicians, and since they deal with choirs all the time - usually very adept at teaching harmony and group stuff. So there was no real reason to hold the fact that he'd never done "Cats" against him. But he was definitely from a different world - even a different musical world and almost all of the songs we were doing he wasn't familiar with. So - unlike for someone like Rich or I, who probably at least has a passing knowledge of what "I will Always Love You" from the Bodyguard, sounds like... pretty much Tim had to become versed in 72 new songs. Quickly.
When we talked to Tim about doing the job, i kind of really tried to lay it on thick about how different it might be for him. I emphasized how DIFFERENT rehearsals would be (actors are like sailors. Ok, directors are like sailors and then they corrupt the actors...whatever). And we said how prepared they would be and how quickly they would learn.
Tim didn't realize we were QUITE that serious. The first couple days were rough for Timmy. And we were a little more than worried. He didn't realize that theatrical rehearsals aren't rehearsals FOR the musical director. The m.d. has to come in knowing everything down-pat so that he can teach it... it's not like you all sit in a room and kind of feel through it together. Tim didn't know all the songs yet. The poor guy had been bogged down with other projects before we started, and despite my constant warnings, he just hadn't spent enough time getting familiar. PLUS he had to start doing all the orchestrations and arrangements and assigning harmony. It was a HUGE work load. Huge. Plus... The first couple days were kinda rough... But I gotta give it to him... he rapidly started realizing he was in deep crap and drowning fast. Like cement shoes fast.
Now this wasn't helped by the fact that as the days progressed the dude was getting like five minutes of sleep a week because he had so much to get done. And what he was doing was GREAT. So - it just took us some time. And every morning I had to remember to take my Xanax and during the shows we made him nap every night before. When he's had a nap - Tim is killer on the keys :)
The first few days of rehearsal - in fact the whole first show - was kind of unique. First of all - when you're usually doing a show that's this small you normally have a previous relationship with at least some of the cast. You know how they work, you know how to work with them and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Well with this - it was the first time for all of us. And unlike a normal rehearsal situation in New York, where I'd have a stage manager and an assistant (and a musical director who was more accustomed to the way I'm used to working)...this was all kind of very skeletal. We were kind of roughing it all on our ownesome. It was basically just the actors and me and Tim in a room by ourselves. Rich was way too busy to be spending time in rehearsals until the very end. It was also a little wacky because we were kind of inventing the format. First of all it was kind of scary to pick the material in the first place - because I haven't ever really been exposed to a Huntington audience. I mean, I felt like I had a grasp to a certain degree of what they might like and dislkie - but it was really still a crap shoot. In New York audiences kind of like hearing stuff they don't know - it's like an audience challenge to find things they haven't discovered yet - but outside of New York you have to weigh more carefully on the familiar material. At least for the first show so that people would really enjoy themselves and feel confident in the rest of the summer... as things progressed we could get a little more adventurous perhaps. Of course - all the songs were already chosen for the whole summer - but the Island show kind of dictated that some stuff would be less familiar.
Just to be clear - we only rehearsed one show at a time. We began with the Movie show and didn't really begin to work on the War show until after the first performance of the Hollywood Revue. For the Movie show (cuz we were still getting to know each other and our pace etc.) we pretty much spent the first week really nailing down music and harmonies and stuff - and then we staged starting that weekend. There were one or two small decisions still to be made. And there were certain things i didn't want to decided until I got to meet the actors. I had just assumed when interviewing Jordan that he was going to be kind of...well...a confirmed bachelor. I mean really - he's in musical theatre, he's a tenor, he was sarcastic and had very good hair. Case closed. And I thought it would be a bad idea to give him anything too overtly manly to tackle. When he arrived I realized that my estimations were all wrong - and it meant that certain things could be retooled and spread around more. Frankly Jordan was kind of a musical freak. He's only nineteen but I was completely astounded at his ability. He reads music like it's the phone book...has an insane memory for staging and harmony - and hardly ever does anything half-way. He's full-out every rehearsal...to the point where, because he's young, I had to really ride him the whole summer to make sure he didn't over strain his voice during the day. This was a huge work load - especially once we began the second show during the day while performing the movie show at night...so it wasn't gonna be easy for any of them. Anyway - so Jordan turned out to be a huge pleasant surprise - and I needed to find more ways to utilize him. The other were also amazing - but I had already spent enough time with them in auditions to know what to expect and plan for their particular strengths.
Colleen actually had a pretty tough time during the movie show rehearsals at first - and it was kind of hysterical. See, she's classically trained and she's been taught that whatever it says on the page is what you should sing. The music is gospel. So she sings in a very clean, perfect way. Which is not what a lot of the movie songs really need. She said back home she was known as "the rhythm nazi" because she always is a real stickler for getting stuff exactly as written. And we had to break her of it - pop music is messy...it's not clean and it requires a lot of looseness in the delivery. So it was not easy for her at all... It also was like really hard for her to not sound 'pretty' because she's so used to doing recital work. She has this pheonominal instrument and I kept trying to explain that what makes a voice unique and interesting and memorable are it's quirks and flaws. If everything is perfectly presented and clean then it sounds like every other soprano. She's spent her education worrying about the notes - and I wanted her to start forgetting about that and only think about the WORDS. She was gonna kill me :)
Now when we first told people we were bringing actors from New York a bunch of people were very concerned: "Won't they be bored in Huntington?". Well - first of all, they were way to busy to be bored. They had so much crap to learn that it wasn't even funny. These people were singing more in every show than they would as a lead in a normal musical... AND after the first show they were gonna start having no time in the evening to do homework. BUT the first week they were here...lemme tell ya... Huntington pulled out the stops.
See it was Heritage Days. Remember we spoke about that a while ago - Rich was on the Heritage Day planning committee? It's a festival celebrating an undisclosed vague not-really-certain Heritage of Huntington with a vague American Indian affiliation. Heritage Days is not just a parade...oh no. It's a parade and a car show and a carnival and a strawberry shortcake extravaganza. And they name the CHEIF of the Flint Spings Tribe. Now the entire time I was hearing about this - I was envisioning a bunch of wizened elders on a reservation speaking in great reverence of the ancestors etc. etc... Yah. Not so much. This tribe is kind of...only loosely associated with it's Indian namesake. And by loosely, I mean they have adopted a rather colorful mascot for their plaque and that's about it...
It's a little tough to tell but that's a grinning cartoon...um...Injun. And I think that about wraps up the American Indian association. But getting to be a chief is heap 'um big deal...It's awarded to someone who has made a huge contribution to the community... so it's a nice thing. With a scary plaque. :)
After the Chief is announced (launching the Heritage Frenzy into full swing), that afternoon there is a all-you-can-eat Strawberry Shortcake Bonanza sponsored by Jenny Craig... I mean the Huntington Rotary. So - we figured - what better way to introduce our young talent to the community than to get them hyped up on sugar and gluten :)
These people went through a HEAP of shortcake. And, it was in fact, the first time I have eaten anything produced by the Hostess brand in about ten years. It was worth it.
Ok. So - as if that wasn't enough excitement for one weekend... it was only just beginning. The carnival was a coming. On our block. But - it's BIG doings. Big. Like I had no idea how big. When they said a carnival came into town, I was thinking like half a block, a ring toss, a clown and maybe a rickety ferris wheel. This was like the entire street - it was HUGE. Before that there was a Car Show. Which was amazing. Suddenly our entire street was lined with antique cars... it looked like the casting call for "Herbie meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".
Colleen was very taken with one particular vehicle (her last name is Gallagher)...
Yes, apparently Mr. Gallagher no longer needs his watermelon hammering limousine on a daily basis. Go figure. Then we had the Heritage Day parade which the actors and I missed because we were in rehearsal. Janice and Rich, entrepreneurial as ever staked out a place outside and sold soda pop. Unfortunately part of the parade performances (dance groups and stuff) were rained out... and there was one very tragic double dutch concrete wipe-out catastrophe which I luckily didn't witness cuz I'm squeemish.
But, when it was time for our lunch - the actors and I took advantage of our hour of freedom to run and play at the carnival. Isaac may have briefly considered becoming a carny. Actually - being a carny isn't so bad so I hear - apparently the birth rate spikes considerably nine months after the carnival comes through. Hey - I just report the facts, kids.
The carnival was actually sooooo fun. I took lots of pictures and for a while there the actors felt like they were filming the final scene in the movie of Grease.
Now that's a whole lotta fun on our little street kids. I mean when you get a show on Broadway you don't show up to the first day of rehearsal and they say "oh by the way...we've got you a CARNIVAL for lunch." Of course - after this week things pretty much settled back down to comatose :) The whole of heritage days we were hosting an antique market in the lobby (Rich thought it was good opportunity to have people see the lobby... he was right - a couple people asked about rehearsal dinners and other events). So the actors and I were in the larger storefront rehearsing. The antique market wasn't quite what I expected - it was more collectibles and doo-dads rather than furniture. But it did provide another example of the fact that a lot of Hoosiers don't always appreciate the greater art of sarcasm. I said to one of the vendors at the end of the first evening: "So anything you haven't sold by the end of the weekend, we get to keep, right?" And she glared at me and said: "NO!".
As the madcap excitement and fried-carb-dellerium of Heritage Days came to a close on Sunday it was dovetailed with ANOTHER event. (I know - it's like being in Vegas). The last evening of the Heritage Day stuff the Arts Council decided to have a fund raiser called Jeff Fest (named for the fact that it's a FESTival taking place on JEFFerson street.) Although the original posters did look a little bit like it said "F fest" which I think is a different kind of event. Anyhooooo... Two things were happening during the Fest. There was a silent auction for original artwork...people were able to stop by a framing shop and purchase a canvas and then they painted it and dropped it back off and it was auctioned for charity. Now, I was originally very skeptical about this whole idea. I was worried that a bunch of grandparents would have to pick up canvases for their grandkids... pay for the canvas....return the canvas and then have to BUY back their kids artwork. I was SOOOO wrong. They got like over a hundred canvases back and so many of them were awesome. Like really nicely done... there was one of a cute dog I REALLY liked but it was bidding out of my price range (Yay for the arts). So that was a huge hit... Jo Jo way wrong. The other element was an appetizer walk along the street where people had morsels for sale and the Arts Council got a share of the profits. Jean Anne was selling mini tenderloins (which are still larger than my head) and Rich volunteered us to sell cupcakes. Using the recipe from the Magnolia bakery in New York that is kind of awesome. Now, we had never made cupcakes, just regular cakes. And Rich volunteered us to make 300 of them. LUCKILY I was out of the running for this particular task since I was knee-deep in rehearsals. So Rich and Janice cupcaked down at Nick's Kitchen. The first batch were not so good... and eventually Rich tried out the secret "wax paper then into the freezer immediately" trick - and voila. They were GREAT. Now I was not totally off the hook. I was in charge of icing the suckers...and...somehow...I was shanghaied into being the M.C. for this thing. And i suck at things like that...which I kept telling Debbie (the head of the Arts Council) but she refused to believe me. I'm ok if I have like a SCRIPT - but when I have to make stuff up I totally panic.
And Rich usually panics as well because he doesn't know how much trouble I'll get us into. I was so scared that I actually said "It's great to see so many people out here supporting the Arts Council... Debbie is so excited she's schvitzing". Note to self: Yiddish words not so popular in Huntington. That was pretty much my low point - I managed to get through it without looking like TOO much of a goober...particularly since the actors were all across the street kind of peeing themselves watching me. The good news was that the cupcakes were like crack...people loved them.
So much so that somebody ordered 50 of them for a birthday party. Go Pack Leader.
In amongst all this fun-ness (wait...you forgot we're rehearsing a show? Yeah, that too :)... We had a few final events before the final "Pack Leader finally learned to say 'no' even though we need every penny we can earn"... We were actually really delighted to have the local group of Red Hats show up for their chapter's birthday party. Ok - so some of you might not know what a Red Hat is. Short answer: a theatre company's best buddies. More helpful answer: The Red Hat Society (RHS) is a social organization founded in 1998 for women over 50. As of October 2006 there are about 1.5 million registered members in over forty thousand chapters in the United States and thirty other countries. The founder of the society is Fullerton, California artist Sue Ellen Cooper, who in 1998 gave a friend a 55th birthday gift consisting of a red fedora she had bought a year earlier at a thrift store along with a copy of Jenny Joseph's poem, Warning, whose opening lines read "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.” Cooper repeated the gift on request several times, and eventually the group all bought purple outfits and held a tea party. And it started catching on.
Every theatre I've ever worked at pretty much LOVES the Red Hats - so we were excited to have them come visit us - cuz hopefully they'll come as a big fun gaggle to lots of shows in the future. Of course - it was their birthday...so they needed a cake.
I have to say, I actually think it's my favorite cake that I've ever made. It had red-hot polka dots, twizzler trim and pull-n-peel twizzler feathers. I just thought it was really pretty. Of course - it was a cake. With Twizzlers. Which meant Jordan had to be muzzled and tazered. I was bummed that I was in rehearsal and didn't get to help them out (we actually were relegated to rehearsing over at Peckerwood, since there Jean Anne had officially now taken over the storefront:
I think it is safe to say that my Mother will never be able to join the group. The wardrobe would kill her. Apparently the most exciting thing I missed was the Red Hat Queen Mother's scepter. Which is, and I am not making this up, a bedazzled plunger.
Ok. Well - I'm getting somewhere now. I'm gonna keep zooming along...but this can quench your blog thirst for a few hours at least. xoxxoxox Jo Jo.