Friday, April 29, 2005

This one's for Andi

I was already thinking about posting this, Andi; you're quite the catalyst, aren't you? ;)

The director has now asked me twice to come up with a "comic voice" for Pitti-Sing. This is a toughie. A chorister has no spoken lines to worry about, and the few times I've been on stage when I did have lines, the chief concern was being heard in the back row. I've never attempted accents, wouldn't know where to start. I thought about nasal, but that would be physically hard for me to maintain, and probably harder for the audience to listen to. I think of Pitti as being well-meaning, with a Pollyanna streak that occasionally blinds her to reality (that whole decapitation discussion - her "bless you, it all depends" - comes to mind). Lovely, but how should she sound?

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pollen = Poison

Spring is both my favorite time of year and my most-hated season, for the same reason - all those gorgeous flowering trees which are blooming like crazy are also pollinating like crazy. For those of us who are allergic to that stuff, that means at least two miserable weeks of allergies. We start feeling the effects when the pollen count gets to about 100 (or even 50, for the hyper-sensitive). Folks who aren't allergic still find it an irritant when they're trying to breathe pollen-saturated air on days with counts of 200 or 250. The readings the last week or so have been up around 1100 or worse! =:o This is the time of year I wish I could move into a bubble until the trees quit pollinating.

It's rough - I want to be out digging holes in the dirt and planting flowers, trimming the unkempt azaleas, and just enjoying the mild breezes. Instead, I have to stay inside with the doors and windows tightly shut, wishing it were warm enough for the a/c to kick in. That, and being unable to sleep as well as usual, occasionally make me just a bit cranky, and my brain a bit pollen-fogged. As a bonus, the allergies also make me that much more susceptible to migraines. So yes, I love all the color again when I've gotten thoroughly sick of the winter's gray deadness, but I sure do wish the trees would come up with a more efficient way to propagate themselves.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Fancy footwear

Just got the e-mail from the Mikado producer/costumer. The women are going to be wearing geta ( in either red or natural. I hope we get those things SOON so I can start getting used to prancing around the stage in 'em. I've never worn thong-style sandals - couldn't stand having that thing between my toes - so this is definitely going to take some getting used to. And I'll be very interested to see how much difference the tabi socks ( will make in terms of tolerating that thing between the toes.

Looks like these geta have rubber on the bottom. That will help keep the noise down so we can be heard as we're walking or dancing around on stage.

The Perils of Props

As I've mentioned before, the ladies are using parasols (think life-size version of the kind you might get in a fruity drink) for some of our numbers. The ones we've been using in rehearsal so far have a paper covering. Now. Think 8 or 10 women trying to learn blocking while singing words they're trying to memorize to music they're also trying to memorize, rehearsing this not-yet-learned movement in a too-small rehearsal space, and it should come as no surprise that the parasols are becoming battle-scarred veterans. Our producer, who's also a member of the chorus, has a big roll of tape that she leaves in her rehearsal gear to render first aid to the wounded. Most of the tears happened when we first got the parasols and tried to open them for the first time. Being new, they were quite stiff and the paper on a few of them didn't take kindly to being forced to leave a position it may have held for quite a long time before being sold to a theater company.

I'd managed to get through two blocking rehearsals without a casualty, but today I broke that streak, or rather, had it broken for me. Three Little Maids from School ends with the TLMs with our backs together and our parasols out in front of us, turning in a circle. (Something Busby Berkeley might have dreamed up.) As the music ends, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing are supposed to kneel down on either side of Yum-Yum. Well, I hit my music cue, but I don't think Yum was quite ready for that (it was the first time we'd managed to get that circle going) and crashed her parasol into mine. I don't know what hers looked like, but mine ended up with a great big tear from the edge all the way up the rib to the top!

And of course, in addition to the dangers to the parasols, there's the risk to those of us carrying them. When open, they do tend to block your peripheral vision. When you can't always tell where the others are on stage, well, collisions are inevitable. So far, though, we've been lucky; the injuries have been limited to the parasols, not the people.

And Mikado productions are notoriously hard on fans (there seems to be some unwritten, inviolable law that if you're doing The Mikado, you MUST use fans!). The company I did Mikado with before specializes in Gilbert & Sullivan and therefore does Mikado every few years (always using fans). This company has needed new fans for each production because, while they have quite an extensive store of the things, there never seem to be enough matching ones that survive from one production to the next. The usual problem with the plastic-ribbed fans is a broken rib. If it's something like the sandalwood ones you sometimes see at mall kiosks, the thread running through the ribs is what most often breaks. With fans covered with paper or a delicate (or flimsy/cheap) fabric, the cover tears. I have a pretty painted balsawood one, but after spending some time on display on the fireplace mantel, the wood has gotten warped so that it's hard to open and close. And of course, when a group of people are learning to snap their fans open on a music cue, it's inevitable that at least one fan will go flying out of someone's hand and hit the floor with a crack that means the poor prop person has another patient. If you've never done Mikado and find yourself in charge of the props, order at least twice as many fans as the number of cast members required to use them. That way you can cannibalize the seriously damaged fans for parts to repair the lightly damaged ones.

My ego's been having a good day!

The warm-up was when the director told me at rehearsal the other night "I'm so glad you're in this show. You're so knowledgeable." I assumed she meant about things G&S, but in any event it was sweet of her to say so. I've been trying not to be a Little Miss Know-It-All (having done all but one of the extant G&S shows and seen all of them, I'm the only one in the cast who's done more than one or two G&S).

Today we reviewed and started to polish what we've blocked so far and then did more. This is the part I like; for the numbers we ran today, we'd already roughed in the blocking (which is the part I find most tedious) and were "fixing" things, such as which note we shift the parasols on, or whether we do our turns on this measure or that one. And of course once you've run it a few times in a row, you start to remember more and more, so that before you know it, you're actually doing it, not trying to dance with your score in one hand, watching other people to see what comes next, or doing things in the wrong sequence and running into people because you're not where you're supposed to be. I get frustrated when I don't quite understand what I'm supposed to do or when I'm supposed to do it, because I want to get it right and I want to get it right the first time. I like dancing and choreography, and blocking set to music is just more of the same, so the sooner I get it right, the sooner I can relax and enjoy myself.

While the men were working one of their numbers, another woman and I were chatting with the assistant director (AD). She commented that I not only carry myself well, but when we're "on stage", I carry myself more like a Victorian lady than a 21st-century woman. I mentioned that when I had done HMS Pinafore, the director, knowing me for a choreophile and therefore one who paid attention to details of body mechanics, appointed me posture & movement coach for the ladies. This responsibility had prompted me to carry on a correspondence with an expert in the Victorian posture & movement field who was generous enough to answer all my myriad questions. The AD mentioned that she might ask me to do the same for this show. What really surprised me was that when she gave us a few notes before sending us home this afternoon, she announced that they, or at least the women, should watch Pitti-Sing (me!) because "she has all the moves". Well! I'm not used to getting publicly singled out for praise; I'm deciding I like it. :)

As we were walking out, one of the other women in the cast, who had asked me a couple of blocking questions (one of which I couldn't answer) earlier in the rehearsal, thanked me for my help. Thinking only of the question I couldn't answer rather than the ones I could, my thought (which I didn't voice) was "what help?" But how nice of her to say so.

Friday, April 22, 2005

My first-ever "principals only" rehearsal

OK, folks, bear with me, please. I did start this because a friend wanted a diary of my experiences doing my first lead. That means a lot of "my first ___" posts. If it gets tedious, well, you can always skip that entry and hope for better things later.

Last night was a principals-only music rehearsal; chorus members had the night off. I had no idea what to expect, but arrived to find nearly all the leads assembled, along with the director and music director (MD), with 3 of the men gathered around the piano working on their trio. I found that if those of us who were waiting our turn wanted to sing along sotto voce and get silly, the director didn't mind as long as we kept the volume down. In fact, I think she was rather entertained by our antics, as she joined in when she wasn't busy giving someone blocking notes.

I only sang in two of the songs we worked on last night: Three Little Maids from School (the only hard thing about that one is finding my first note; after that, it's very straightforward) and Brightly Dawns our Wedding Day, which is a nice little madrigal. My challenge with that one was getting the timing right on the fa la's - come in in the wrong place on something like that and you can throw everyone off track, so I'm going to have to drill that one. And because it has the usual lengthened notes (and a very long rest passage) at the end, the MD told us that one of us will have to direct so that we end together.

I learned last night that we're going to be miked! I don't know if that's just for the principals or for everyone on stage, but this will be new for me. When I did Secret Garden the kids playing Mary, Colin and Dickon wore body mics, and I've done a few shows where we had floor mics, but I've never had to wear one myself. According to the schedule, we'll get them Monday night before we open, which will give us 4 nights to rehearse with them and get the technical details sorted out (e.g., how do I anchor this in my kimono so that it stays put, doesn't show, and doesn't come unplugged?).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What kind of American do you speak? Don't ask these folks!

Your Linguistic Profile:

45% General American English

20% Yankee

15% Dixie

15% Upper Midwestern

0% Midwestern

I saw this on a few friends' blogs and decided to try it. It seems to me this is truly flawed. It only addresses a very few regionalisms and its few pronunciation questions are very far from representative. It also doesn't allow for the fleeting nature of slang (none of my terms for an easy course were offered; none of the terms offered are ones I'd use).

I've never lived in the South; my use of y'all is strictly a linguistic souvenir from a Texan roommate my freshman year in college. Yet based on a single word, the "test" thinks I speak 15% Dixie. I've never lived in the upper Midwest, but these results disagree. I was raised in the middle Midwest, so how the heck do they come up with 0% midwest?!? Having lived on the East Coast longer than I lived in the Midwest has certainly had its effect; that probably accounts for the 20% Yankee. But I still buy my soda (East Coast veneer) from a pop machine (Midwest), I don't add Rs to the end of words that are spelled with an A at the end (e.g., "sofa"), I stand in line, not on line. Ah well, I suppose this is about as reliable as a lot of other "information" available on the Internet.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

First blocking rehearsal - whew!

Today we got through quite a lot of blocking in 3 hours. We started with the Act II finale and got that roughed in with the people who were there. It's rough, of course, but for a first run-through it went well, especially given that all the women (except Katisha, I think) are carrying parasols and all the men are working with fans for that number. The traffic patterns are the kind that look more complicated than they are - easy to teach to a large group but not simple-minded. All the movement of people and props should present a lovely stage picture to the audience and "leave them with feelings of pleasure" (W.S. Gilbert, The Gondoliers, Act II finale).

While waiting for people to reassemble after the lunch break, we blocked the Three Little Maids (TLMs) in Three Little Maids from School. More parasol work, though blessedly minimal. Our director seems to be going for atmosphere rather than intricate prop "choreography". Since we're using those lovely oriental-style parasols with the designs on them, we won't need to do much with them to create a pretty picture. So the TLMs' parasol work for this number is limited chiefly to shifting the parasol from one shoulder to the other, and bringing them out in front of us as we turn in a small circle.

In both numbers, the chief challenge for me today was hanging on to my parasol while making blocking notes that I'd be able to understand later, scribbling them into my score at what I hope were the correct places. At least I'm off book now for the Act II finale music; only dropped notes or words when I was trying to sing while remembering the instructions we'd just been given.

Once all the men returned from lunch, they started blocking the opening number. That one calls for some fan choreography; based on what they were doing today, that will look impressive once we have all the men.

While the men were learning their fan work, the women were measured 20 ways to Sunday for costumes. Our producer/costumer/chorus member did a tour in Japan (her husband was in the Air Force) and is determined to have us look as authentic as westerners reasonably can. That means authentic tabi socks and zori (see for pictures) for everyone. There was talk of putting the female leads in wooden geta (photos at, but I think they've been dismissed as too noisy, not to mention the risk of one or more of the women breaking an ankle or otherwise doing herself an injury. J's also looking into an affordable rental for real Japanese-style kimonos for all of us, men and women alike, and has mentioned having someone come in and show us the proper way to wear them. Sounds like we're going to look absolutely MAH-velous - I can hardly wait!

Friday, April 15, 2005

A more humane Mikado?

I've done The Mikado once before, in the chorus. The chorus, at least the women's chorus, isn't as much of a character as in other shows, and didn't have much to do in the production I was in. I also find much of Act II a bit slow, and by now have seen so many productions that in general I go because I know someone in the cast. I do admit that at least two productions actually had me wishing I were in the chorus because they had some neat bit of choreography to do, but that's been the exception rather than the rule. So why did I audition for this production?

I had originally had no intention of auditioning because the show runs in June and I'd already promised my theater-widower husband (TWH) that the whole summer, from Memorial Day thru Labor Day, belonged to him, since I'd been in rehearsal or production for one show or another continuously since the middle of last August. However. I got e-mails from two different sources saying that the company's turn-out for the first night of auditions had been light, so please consider trying out. I discussed it with TWH, telling him the only reason I was even raising the issue was that I was hoping that, if the audition pool was small, I might have a chance at my first lead. The deal we struck was that I could do the show only as a lead; if they offered chorus, I'd politely decline. It was a gamble, and I won!

Now I find myself in rehearsal for my very first principal role - this is very exciting! I've pretty much quit bouncing, but at last night's rehearsal, I found myself enjoying almost everything. To put that statement in perspective, you need to know that all we did was work music for the Act I and II finales. Woodshedding parts, especially other people's parts, can be deadly dull. But Pitti-Sing gets to sing all the chorus sections in the finales plus some solo and quintet lines. Singing makes me happy, so more singing makes me happier. And Sullivan's finales are generally very exhilarating to sing; it's amazing how that chugga-chugga alto line can be so invigorating and rewarding once you layer it with the other vocal lines.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Short rehearsal schedule!

In community theater, it's customary to have anywhere from 2-4 months of rehearsal for a musical before the show actually opens, depending on how many nights a week you can get your rehearsal space and whether it shuts down, as schools do, for holidays, breaks, or weather.

For this production of The Mikado, we have a mere six weeks! Instead of the usual progression of read-through, a week or two of music rehearsals, then blocking, our schedule is much tighter. We had our read-through on Saturday and tonight we're blocking the Act II finale already! Thank heaven it's a short one, but I suspect I'll be one of the few who has more than a vague idea of what we're supposed to be singing. (Comes of having done Mikado in the chorus - "Recently?" "No, years and years ago!") I am definitely not off book, but should at least be able to keep up.

This is going to be a new experience for me in that our "orchestra" will consist of two pianos hidden behind a screen all the way upstage. No conductor. I've only run into this sort of thing once before. I was doing "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", and there we had a small combo on stage, hidden behind a scrim up right. There was a conductor in that case, but he was behind the scrim with the instrumentalists. What I learned was that I just had to listen like crazy and hope for the best. I don't remember any train wrecks, and audience reaction was good, so I guess it worked.

This theater is actually a concert hall. That means there are no wings, no fly space, and no orchestra pit. (Why would they need one? In a concert hall, the orchestra performs on stage!) This set-up presents unique challenges not only for a "pit orchestra" but for the set designer. The rules dictate that nothing can be suspended from overhead, nor anchored to walls or floor. I can't wait to see how the set builder works around that!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Now that's customer service!

I can't believe it - I called the Corningware folks about that brand-new casserole that cracked the second time I used it and got incredible customer service! "Judy" asked me for the specific size & shape of the dish, when and where I'd bought it, name/address/phone, and said they'd be sending me a replacement by FedEx, which I should have no later than next week! No "send a copy of your receipt to this address" or any other verification process - took my word for it, and they're sending me a replacement, just like that. I think the conversation took less time than I'd waited on hold, and that was only a couple of minutes.

Quite a contrast to my trip to Sam's Club this afternoon to straighten out a problem with my membership card (renewed it in February, system says it expired last week). That one's still being resolved, after I spent about 20 minutes with 3 different people.

I always liked Corningware; now I love their Customer Service, too. That kind of company deserves to stay in business a long, long time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

OK, now, lay off already!

Man, some days you just can't get a break! Two small things today, just annoyances really, but I'm still so bummed about that plumbing that it's just adding insult to injury. First the pop machine at work ate my money, then the casserole dish I just bought Saturday came out of the microwave tonight with a big crack almost all the way across. And it's Corningware, too, not some knock-off. Needless to say, I'll be having a little chat with their customer service tomorrow asking if they'll pay the shipping for me to return this thing and get one that won't crack during normal use.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Anyone got a winning lottery ticket?

Ayiyi! First it was replacing the windows; not a problem, we'd planned for that. Then last week the plumber, after charging $600+ to take care of several things, especially a cracked stackpipe (the one that carries all the waste out of the house - you definitely want one that's intact!), told us that the pipe that continues out to the sewer lines is in similarly rotten shape - literally. He fed a fiberoptic camera down the pipe and let me watch on the monitor. Let's just say I'm glad it was in black and white. That repair, involving breaking up part of the basement floor and digging up about a 40' stretch of the yard, is gonna have a breathtaking price tag - almost enough for a decent down payment on a house!

Today was the piece de resistance - hubby came home from the dentist with the news he needs over $2000 worth of dental work! Now I understand why my sister refers to her crown as a tiara - that's about how much they charge for those things!

So, as I said - anyone have a winning lottery ticket they're willing to share?

Diva Debut

At the urging of more than one friend, I'm taking the plunge and starting my own blog. The impetus? After 12 years of community-theater musicals and operettas, I finally broke out of the chorus and got a lead! Come June, I'll be playing Pitti-Sing (one of the Three Little Maids from School) in "The Mikado". This will be fun; we had our first read-through yesterday and I could tell that the other two Little Maids and I are well matched vocally. And while Pitti-Sing doesn't have a solo, she does have a lot of solo lines in ensemble numbers, gets lots of stage time, is full of mischief, and generally should be a lot of fun to play.