So now that you have seen all the scurrying going on to ready the kitchen, I guess I can tell you about what's been going on over on the performance end of things. Well - I think I forgot to tell you about our BILLBOARDS!! I love them. Ok - not quite - I've never designed a billboard before and we got three of them at once. I crammed them with a LITTLE (not a lot) but a little too much info, and I've learned that you can't try and sell more than one thing at a time when people are driving past. It's better to sell the 'brand' rather than the season. But that's why THIS one came our really well - featuring Stephanie from our first Christmas who was back in Indiana this summer over doing High School Musical in Indy. COVER GIRL. To flash forward - the shows are now going great. People are saying the Seventies show is even better than the Sixties show (who'd have thunk we'd ever pull THAT off!)... and the Dolly show is one of my favorite shows we've ever done... please don't miss it. Really - it's so much fun and I'm so proud of what we did with the material... Mike Perkins who's been to every show we've ever done said it was one of his favorites - and he's not a country music fan all (neither am I, really, which is what's so neat about this show). Just check this out:
To say it was a bumpy ride getting to opening night might well be the understatement of the century. We started the summer with 103 songs for everybody to learn, which got whittled down eventually to (I think?) 89. Along the way we lost a John Mellencamp medley in the Hoosier show, Bohemian Rhapsody in the 70's, a huge love song medley of Cole Porter stuff and more and more... But the good thing about having to learn 103 songs is, when stuff gets cut, people are relieved rather than upset!
From the very outset this summer was going to involve some expermentation. Learning all three shows at once had it's pros and cons. The pros (and one of the primary reasons we did in the first place) was that the actors, once the shows were open, would be able to actually save their voices for performance, rather than having to rehearse all day for 7 hours and then do a show every night. It was exhausting, and every summer, by about half way through rehearsals for the last show everybody hit a wall and the process just suffered from a lot of frayed nerves. The other main 'pro' was that with the shows running all summer folks who were in town for only a portion of the season (including actors parents etc) could catch multiple shows. We also always had people who would come to the final show of the season (which inevitably was the best seller) and say 'I wish I'd known how much fun this was cuz I would have come to the others too). So that's the pros.
The cons were...well... learning 103 songs. Which frequently created moments like this:
Nathan (our returning stage manager) and I, AND Carl all anticipated it being less stressful than doing things the old way. But we were WRONG. From my point of view I had to have all three scripts ready to go at once, I had to (with the awesome help of the cast) figure out all the choreography and big staging numbers in one clump at the beginning (before I had them all spread out to figure out over the summer). But the real kicker - that I hadn't really taken into consideration - was that the brain can learn 80-some songs spread out 20 at a time over 10 weeks a lot differently than it can learn 80 songs at once... in a crash course period of two weeks of music rehearsal. That's a LOT of harmony...and the seventies show and the dolly show were ALLLLLL harmony and backup. It's a huge amount. And we realized pretty soon in the process that this was going to be really hard for the cast to cope with - no matter how hard they were working, or how quickly they could learn. It's like a sponge - sure it'll hold a lot water - but once it's FULL, it's full. To put things in perspective for you here is the giant rehearsal wipe-off board (which I LOVE) that Rich built me, that contains the "List of Death". Every day this is what Nathan and I would stare at and go "blergggg". But - "Better the Devil You Know", and at least with it staring us in the face we could develop a crazy color-coded system of ticks and crosses to track what we actually gotten done.
We knew all along the first five weeks were going to be really tough going - and it was - but I have to say, now that we are actually open and running, it's certainly has its advantages.
But even figuring that out isn't entirely simple - because the entire beginning of the process was very, very bumpy. Carl wasn't with us for the whole first week (he was finishing up his children's tour obligations) - which meant that we didn't tackle hardly any of the harmony material for that period (which meant it all came tumbling at them like an avalanche in week two). But the real monkey wrench was that, two weeks into rehearsals, we realized that we had no choice but to replace our musical director. We didn't even know if this was possible. Everyone (Nathan, the cast, Rich and I) felt the situation just going to get worse... and the working relationship, no matter how amiable, wasn't going to allow us to get through material at the speed we needed to work. Things were already starting to avalanche in being behind schedule... But the concept of trying to find a musical director who could start IMMEDIATELY and who could handle learning 80 some songs overnight AND write all the harmony and backup AND chart things that we didn't have sheet music for, AND create all the arrangements. 90% of everything I just listed was supposed to have been completed before the actors even arrived for their first day - and now we were two weeks in. It was really the first time Rich and I had been faced with a situation that we had no idea if we were actually going to be able to get the shows OPEN at all. And even though Nathan has a very close personal bond with Cathy Rigby, the bags of official fairy dust (no, really) that he has in his possession, didn't seem to be solving our problems.
We placed an ad in the trades and kept our fingers crossed. We got a variety of responses - largely from people that could only do arrangements on 'per song' fee and would only be able to send the too us - not be here in person to musical direct, or teach the material. But we got really REALLY REALLY lucky. A wonderful guy named Mike Borth, who I had been talking to in NY for a while about writing a show together before we moved to Indiana, saw the ad. I had also worked with his adorable super-talented wife who is Broadway regular now. Mike saw our ad...remembered me...and got in touch. Mike also has done arrangments and keyboard orchestrations for a HEAP of national tours and when we heard some of his stuff it was amazing.
We had this talk on the phone and, bless him, the first thing he said is "I'm so sorry you guys are going through this"... In terms of his schedule, his wife Lindsay was finishing up Everyday Rapture on Broadway - and doing a bunch of workshops and things so she was super busy anyway... he was free up until they were both scheduled to go to California in about a month to do a show called "Wondrettes" which he musical directed off broadway. And, it just so happens, he really likes orchestrating and hasn't had a chance to do much of it lately. Well - he doesn't feel that way any more! But we had this talk on the phone trying to figure out logistics and if there was a chance he could actually come to Huntington and work in situ. Because we figured we were in between such a rock and hard place that Rich might have to end up teaching the cast the music and the orchestrations would be sent to us from who knows where. Mike really wanted to come, and he was incredibly understanding. Considering he and I only really had a passing acquaintance I'm beginning to feel like I don't actually make as bad a first impression as I sometimes think! He knew the situation we were in with the salary, and how much money we were already losing with this complication (travel expenses etc.). And he was very fair. So - the deal was done, and, even AFTER we sent him the list of everything that hadn't been arranged, hadn't been taught, and still had to be tracked... he said "Well it's gonna be the worst two weeks of our life, but then it might be fun." We also sent him all the vocal arrangements the cast had already been taught - and he basically said 'Stop Press". We soon determined that almost every single thing they had learned in terms of harmony or acapella or group stuff wasn't what Mike thought was going to be successful for us. And that all got scraped. So - apart from the actual solo material, after two weeks it was basically starting over from scratch.
Luckily, because Carl wasn't with us for the first week, I had been skipping a great deal of that material anyway - so we had been putting a lot of the solo numbers on their feet. That was really our one saving grace because I was quite a bit ahead in staging than I normally was. But the cast not only had to erase everything they HAD started to memorize, but then pages starting shooting through email of stuff that Mike was desperately trying to get to us before his arrival (in three days time).
Soooo... For three days the Pack Leader became the musical director. I would block and choreograph during
And no, not everyone can rock that color of flourescent yellow.
Considering all of this insanity the cast coped really well. Every night while this debacle was going on Rich and I and Nathan were meeting for like 3 hours every night to try and figure out how to proceed... and that meant none of us could get our ACTUAL work done... and we were micromanaging things we shouldn't normally have had on our radar. It was a catastraffluffle... But when we told the actors that we were making a change they were stressed - but relieved - and knew it was for the best. So we all, until Mike arrived, just tried to do our best to make progress.
Through all of this we were struggling with record, record heat - which made everywhere pretty miserable... but particularly the actor's house, which wasn't air conditioned. It was hot over there. Really... we tried a zillion fans and a dehumidifier (which helped a little). Part of what we hadn't considered is that the actors (with this new schedule) were spending much more time in the house than before. in the past during the summer, they were working in the airconditioned lobby from about 10-10 every day with breaks in between for meals. Now, especially after the third show opened, they were over there all day in the worst of the daytime. So this week, scooting into the house like Santa Claus during a rehearsal, Rich installed airconditioners in all of their rooms. It wasn't an expense that was easy - but the actors were sooooo appreciative and i think it makes a big difference in their ability to rest. The heat was bad enough that Rich and Jordan at various times got dehydrated - we have a new rule that little Jordan has to drink a gatorade half an hour before every show - because there were a couple times during the 70's second act when I saw his eyes crossed and was waiting for Elizabeth to cry "Timberrrrrr".
As if the schedule hadn't been nutzo before... now with Mike here playing over a month of catch-up with NO lead-in time (when he stepped off the plane he hadn't even had enough time to listen to all of the songs even once through)... Eighty songs take a little time to digest, let alone sit down, play and teach. So we started breaking up the days into really specific chunks, and at his request (which we should have done all along) we started working on one show at a time. And basically Mike would sequester himself off in a side room and sit with his laptop creating orchestrations with a little keyboard that was like a foot long...and Nathan and I would try and stage anything that he had just taught. It was like playing tag. Tag in hell :) :) But - the great thing is that everyone knew we were in really great hands. Within in the first five seconds of rehearsal with Mike everyone just suddenly was able to breathe again. He's really fantastic. And even over the next week or so as he ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep a night and became frazzled - he always kept cool and was really smart about stopping things when he was losing it and saying "excuse me... i need five minutes to go die"...and then we'd be right back on track :)
We had also originally planned to tech all three shows back to back. But we quickly realized that this would be way to taxing on the cast vocally. Last summer the sixties show was really the one with all the backup singing on every number - so it was the toughest for the group - but this year (which I hadn't actually factored into my master plan) the Dolly Show AND the Seventies Show were chock full of group singing. Soooo... there was no way we could crash through six 12 hour days of tech lighting and sound and THEN open the next night. ALSO because Mike was having to work so quickly, it made sense to spread out those days so that we could get one show ready to light and then he could have most of the day to work on his own while we were lighting. So that's how we rolled... And frankly, I think we all would have lost our minds if we'd try to do them all at once. Rich has done an incredible job with the lighting - but trying to stay creative with 20 lights over 80 numbers can tax anyone's creativity...so it was good that we had some time to recharge. Plus - that's a lot of time for the actors sitting with their butt on a stool.
We also had all kinds of costume figurin' out to contend with. We went through two different options of 70's costumes for the boys, and Elizabeth started the 70's show with one outfit (that we loved) but after a week the shirt (which looked amazing but was very snug) couldn't handle the dexterity of Proud Mary choreography and started to fray. Which we only realized the night before we were set to perform the show again, so first thing in the morning Elizabeth and I headed to Fort Wayne to find an emergency replacement garment for that night's show. Yup - we were going into the middle of Indiana to find something that was a suitable piece of 70's female dress wear. Greeaaatttt. Keeping in mind that when I said I wanted Erika to wear a "Mrs. Brady" type jumpsuit Rich and Janice were like "good freakin' luck finding that"... and it took me a month online. Actually we got REALLY lucky. Because Kohl's has been doing a whole heap of retro stuff we found a bunch of options to choose from. This - although period appropriate - was not one of them...
But amazingly - we succeeded - and she looked so fabulous that I gave up on trying to get an emergency replacement of the first garment sent to us... (I was going to take the old blouse and the new blouse and see if they could use the fabric from the one to give her a little dance room in the other - but this was a LOT easier).
And there's much more to come... :) xo jojo.