Friday, May 27, 2005

Timing is everything

Here we go, into Tech Week. The set gets loaded into the theater (well, technically it's a concert hall) on Sunday, and Monday starts the "merry round" of nightly marathon rehearsals (6:30 until they kick us out) until we open on Friday. The rented costumes just came in yesterday; maybe we'll get to see them at tomorrow's rehearsal. Our make-up designer has been taking digital photos of us at the past couple of rehearsals and doing half-make-up on some of us, presumably as her rehearsals for Opening Night.

Just one little problem. Monday night, as I said, starts the marathon rehearsals. That was supposed to be our first tech rehearsal - lights, body mics, and so on. However, the concert hall is in a county facility, not a private one, and Monday is the Memorial Day holiday, which means the facility is closed. We won't be able to rehearse on the set after all, nor practice with the body mics. (We'll still rehearse Monday night, but at our usual pre-Tech site.) Instead of 4 rehearsals with all these "little" things, we now only get 3. Losing a tech rehearsal is never a good thing, and I was really looking forward to learning to work with a body mic. Oh well, here's hoping 3 tech rehearsals will be enough to get the lights hung & adjusted, the sound levels checked, and the leads (at least this lead) used to the mics.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Sing-in, sing-thru, QWERTY, whatever

I've just read about another sing-in, this one in Connecticut, at which a flock of G&S fans and not-yet-fans got together to sing through a few G&S shows. I keep seeing notices of these on Savoynet (, a G&S listserve, and seeing the write-ups after the fact. I've been to two so far, one in England and one in the States, and had a grand time at both. Judging from the write-ups I keep seeing, that's definitely the rule, not the exception. Makes me jealous; I wanna play too! Scheduling's tricky, though - hubby isn't a singer, so he wouldn't enjoy being dragged to one of these. He wouldn't mind if I were to go, but I'd feel bad about running out on my poor theater widower very often.

Last year I broke down and bought myself an electronic keyboard (no, I don't play a note), mostly so I can attempt to plunk out parts when trying to learn new music, but also against the day I get around to hosting one of these events myself. Not only would I be able to attend one of these without "abandoning" my husband, but there's another benefit: one sure way to get a chance to sing roles I've had my eye on is to do my own casting! :D

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Counting down...

Just 10 days until opening night! I had a voice lesson this afternoon, to go over some of Pitti-Sing's biggest musical bits - we did some cleaning up, refreshed technique, and generally solidified things. The rainy weather was giving me some problems, but on the whole I felt good and my voice teacher declared me ready to open.

I'm vocally ready (please God I manage to stay healthy!) and know my blocking, aside from the scene leading into the madrigal, which the director wants to tweak a bit because she's not really satisfied with how it's working. So why am I starting to feel nervous? I'm not particularly stressed about my costume, not even the wig. I'm curious to learn what it's like to work with a body mike, if a little nervous that it'll mean the audience hears every proper singing breath I take, not to mention every cough, throat clearing, or suppressed sneeze. I've done this show once before ("Ah, but recently?" "No, years and years ago.") and seen several other productions of it, so it's hardly unfamiliar material. I suppose it's just "first lead" nerves. When we rehearse things, I don't really have any problems, so I'll probably be fine as soon as the music starts and we all make our entrances.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Where shall I find another?

Our director has at least twice commented on how knowledgeable I am about the show.(I'm the only one in the cast who's done it before, and who's also see several different productions of it. I've found I know it better than I thought I did, and that I have most of the women's songs and perhaps half the men's songs memorized.) Well, at Saturday's rehearsal she announced that, effective immediately, anyone who couldn't remember their line was to call "line" and that no one from the cast was to help; only the director or AD was to provide the line. "Except for Pitti-Sing: she can feed me my [lyrics] lines." Well! Quite a vote of confidence for the director cum Katisha to give me express permission to feed her her lyrics! (A bit scary, too, as I don't know that I have them all memorized as well as she seems to think.)

Given how so many directors are so control-oriented (it is their job to run the show, after all, both figuratively and literally), where shall I find another director with this one's willingness to take maximum advantage of her people's abilities? She's also impressed me with her composure; a few weeks ago we got kicked out of our rehearsal space an hour early (we'd paid for the extra hour) because of a problem with the staff. Rather than pitch a fit or yell at the woman who came to lock up because her relief never showed up, our director accepted it with a good grace and urged us to pack up asap. Her temper is only just beginning to show as opening night approaches, but so far it's mostly been limited to a show of impatience when someone forgets a line or bit of blocking - nothing close to the temper tantrums I've sometimes seen. The acid test will come next week - Tech Week, sometimes known as Hell Week.

Ah, Tech Week, when you get to find out just how much your costume is going to change your movements, how much the set will affect your blocking (having the actual steps always slows you down, at least initially), whether you'll have time to get from this side of the stage to that for your next entrance, how well (or poorly) you can hear the music in the actual set-up, and other adventures. Maybe I'm deranged, but I rather enjoy it; as I said before, that's when the magic starts working for me.

Last night I ordered a pair of small hand mirrors for Ko-Ko to use (a primary and a spare, but mostly to justify the shipping, which was more than the cost of just one mirror) instead of the full-size hand mirror he's been rehearsing with. The little one should fit into his obi (I can rig a pocket if necessary), and he and Yum-Yum won't have to worry about "Who's got the mirror?" and "Where did you leave it? I need it for the next scene!" And today I picked up a basket to replace the stand-in, a rather beat-up cardboard box. I figure I'll use them again in some future show, and the sooner we can all work with all our actual props, the better. (To her eternal credit, our producer saw to it that we all had our parasols, fans, etc., from Day 1. Geta mistake notwithstanding, she's a gem!)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Geta, get thee gone! and other miscellaneous notes

This should be my last geta post - after putting the women through our paces at rehearsal yesterday, our director decided the geta are out. They make too much noise, they slow us down too much, and we aren't even on the wooden stage or dealing with stairs yet. Our costumer, herself a chorus member, was out of town over the weekend and therefore may not yet know that she now has to figure out what we're going to wear on our feet. We were suggesting ballet slippers or those canvas Chinese shoes; preferably something cheap or already in our possession, given that we've already spent $22 for the tabi and geta.

We're getting down to the wire - just 3 more rehearsals before load-in. One week from tomorrow I'll get my first chance to work with a body mic. I'm wondering whether I'll need to do anything differently to accommodate the fact that I'll be mic'ed and the other altos won't. If nothing else, I'd better be note- and word-perfect on everything; I imagine that mic won't let me get away with anything!

One thing that seems to be no different whether I'm chorus or a lead - now that we're getting close to opening, I'm getting antsy to start working with the potentially problematic costume bits, eager to see what my costume will look like (one of the things I love about theater is "playing dress-up"), and impatient to get on the set to see how we'll have to adjust spacing or timing. That's when it starts feeling "real" - when we have our costumes and get to wear them on the set. That's when the magic starts to work - going from jeans and sneakers to a wig and kimono will make all kinds of difference in our performances, and having an audience to play to will be that last, most critical ingredient that completes the spell. Even in shows I was glad to see close or when I've been blocked at the back of the stage, getting out on that stage with a live audience made magic.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Doing G&S with a non-G&S company, pt. II

This is not going to be a Mikado like any non-concept Mikados (i.e., not a Hot Mikado, Not Mikado, McAdo, etc.) I've ever seen. Looks like our director is going to play Katisha more broadly than I'm used to seeing in a non-concept production. Our AD has some good insights into how Katisha should be played, but the director seems to want to play her closer to caricature than character. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out, and how the audience reacts.

One fillip that will be a nice twist is the fact that our Ko-Ko is something of a hunk; our director has remarked more than once that it will take some work to make the audience believe that Yum-Yum couldn't possibly be interested in marrying him. Because the actor is good-looking, our director has him playing Ko-Ko as a bit narcissistic, which has added some novel touches here and there.

We ran Act II for the first time last night; I think we were all a bit ragged, even our MD/accompanist. It had me thinking about characterizations of our various leads and wondering if we all "match" - are some of us more over-the-top than others? Never worried about this before; it's probably just "first lead" nerves, combined with the awareness that we open 2 weeks from tonight. Now I'm getting nervous about my characterization - is it enough, is it too much, does it blend with the others or stick out like a sore thumb? Yet I don't want to be a prima donna and keep asking the director and AD "how am I?" "am I doing this right?" "could I improve this?" (When I get like this, I have to sit myself down and remind myself that this is only community theater; lives are not at stake here.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Change partners and dance.

Last night we spent about an hour on the Act II finale because our director decided to reblock most of it. (Good decision; the new choreography is livelier. More dancing - I'm all for that!) One of the results is that now I end up with Pish-Tush at the end of the show and Peep-Bo is the one who ends up with Pooh-Bah. I haven't decided how this will affect Pitti's characterization. Probably not all that much, but I'll have to give it a bit of thought.

I feel bad for our Peep-Bo. It's a small role - she essentially disappears shortly after the beginning of Act II - yet our director on more than one occasion has had her come to a rehearsal to work a single number or had her stay with the rest of the principals after the chorus has been dismissed, then not work anything she's in. Ah well, we start running acts straight through at our next rehearsal (we open 3 weeks from Friday!), so we'll all be spending a fair amount of time cooling our heels and waiting for our next turn on stage.

More firsts - in her latest e-mail, our producer announced that we'll be taking publicity shots this week, warning that "the principals (that includes me!) should make sure they look okay." As opposed to our usual "something the cat drug in" selves? :D

Saturday, May 14, 2005

She shivered and shook...

Our Mikado just finished his other show and made it to his first rehearsal Thursday night, already off book (i.e., doesn't need to look at the score for lyrics, notes, or lines). This is gonna be good - he has a very solid stage presence, and his "laugh" is quite maniacal! His timing is wonderful - he's milking his lines, and drawing out some of the pauses to build a lovely dramatic tension. Think of the finest villainous performances from the old horror films and you'll have an idea of the kind of evil that lurks in the heart... Oops, wrong character.

When we do "The Criminal Cried", as Pitti is singing her version of the fabricated execution, the Mikado is alternately relishing the bloody scene he's hearing about and giving Pitti the eye. The latter business is still developing, but it's starting to grow from a "hmm, cute little thing" to something with a touch of the predatory lech about it. At the moment, I'm playing Pitti as enjoying the attention (she's only a teenager, after all) and terrified by the Mikado, given that he can order her execution on a whim. As we ran that number at today's rehearsal, I saw the assistant director enjoying the Pitti-Mikado byplay, so I guess that business is working. :)

Rain, blessed rain!

Hallelujah! It is currently pouring hard - just the thing to wash some of that vicious pollen off the trees, shrubs, cars, sidewalks... My asthma's been bothering me the past few days - today my speaking voice was at least a fourth lower than usual, and I won't vouch for how my singing voice sounded at rehearsal. This rain should provide some VERY welcome relief!

Friday, May 13, 2005

"Oh lordy, not another geta post!"

Yep, sorry, another geta post. I finally sewed elastic ankle straps on my geta the other night and tried them out at last night's rehearsal. Much better! While I still want to run one more bit of elastic for insurance, just having the bit across the back of the heel made it much easier to kneel down and get up again without losing a sandal. Which was a good thing, as I spent much of last night's rehearsal on my knees.

Our director keeps telling us to get knee pads. I've done "kneeling shows" without 'em before, but I may have to bite the bullet and get some, given that I do have that one scene where I almost literally throw myself onto my knees.

Last night's rehearsal was a bit of a challenge in that I was not at all vocally healthy. My allergies and asthma were kicking, and I seem to be getting a chest cold, which was tightening my lungs and giving me a scratchy throat. I mostly managed to get through it, but I did drop a few solo notes here and there when I just had to cough or clear my throat or whatever. Fortunately for me and the audience, by the time we open in June, the worst of the pollen season will be long over and I should be able to sing properly again.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More costume concerns

One of the reasons I enjoy theater is the costumes - who says you have to quit playing dress-up when you grow up? I've worn skirts on paniers, bustle dresses, a Marie Antoinette-style wig, various ruffles and flourishes, assorted vegetation, even a tear-away nun's habit.

For Mikado, of course, I'll be wearing a kimono and wig in addition to the geta and tabi you're probably sick of hearing about by now. Last night I learned of a little twist to the costume. We were blocking a scene which involves 3 of us throwing ourselves at the feet of the Mikado and begging for mercy. As I was trying to get down on my knees in a hurry without losing my geta, the costumer piped up, "Those of you on that side of the stage will have to be careful not to step on her train." Up pops my head as I say, "Train?!?" I was already worrying about dropping to my knees without sending my wig flying or losing my geta (the other 2 folks get to wear their own hair, and they don't have to cope with wooden sandals); I gotta worry about a train too? =:o

I've worn dresses with trains (de rigueur for 19th-century operettas), but for those shows all I had to do was climb stairs and dance, and I was wearing character shoes which, while not very comfortable, at least stayed on my feet with no effort required on my part. I didn't have to throw myself on the floor and hope I didn't send any costume bits and pieces flying!

Silly me - I thought all I'd have to worry about with my first lead was learning my lines and music. I never expected I'd also have to learn how to walk and fling myself about without clobbering someone in the front row with a wooden sandal!

Saturday, May 07, 2005

No pressure!

This afternoon we roughed in the blocking for Braid the Raven Hair (chorus, Pitti-Sing solo, chorus again). Our director gave me a series of gestures and movements to do during my solo bit; I was scribbling furiously in my score as she dictated them. Then she said "OK, chorus, you'll do this too. Just copy Pitti-Sing." Someone said something about "Maureen never makes a mistake"! Hah! My response was a hasty "Never say never!" Looks like I'll be giving that bit of blocking more than the usual amount of study...

Character development

This being my first lead, this is also the first time I've had to worry much about character development. I've nearly always done a bit of it in the chorus ("I'm friends with this one, sweet on that one, don't like so-and-so because he mistreats my sister"), but not much, lest I commit the capital offense of "pulling focus". As Emelia in Comedy of Errors I had a bit to do, but most of it was dictated by the director's concept of the show. This time it's different.

I've taken the bare bones of what the director has given me, added my own impression of Pitti-Sing taken from the many times I've seen Mikado, and am starting to play with the mix. I see her as the fearless one of the Three Little Maids, since she's the one who dares to approach Pooh-Bah when he first appears after their arrival and is the one who stands up to Katisha in the Act I finale. She's a little bit awed by Pooh-Bah's obvious importance, but also curious about him. Our director has Pitti end up with Pooh-Bah at the end, so I have her starting to be interested by this "tremendous swell", perhaps a little - hmm, "star-struck" isn't quite the word; perhaps a little too ready to believe Pooh-Bah's lofty opinion of himself? She's rather taken with his voice as he toasts Nanki-Poo in the Act I finale, is not unwilling to help him out in the little deception Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah develop for the Mikado in Act II, and so on. Obviously I'll need to work this out with our Pooh-Bah, but if we do this properly, the audience won't wonder "when did that happen?" when we end up together at the end of the show.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Tripping hither, tripping thither

Well, last night the women got our geta. I've been so concerned about the things that the night before, I'd actually dreamt about trying to walk in them. Turns out I was right to be concerned about having enough practice. Not only do the wooden footbeds make it difficult to kneel down & get up again (that's going to take a LOT of practice!), but the "insole" is coated w/ a polymer or some similar coating that protects the nice little dragon design but also ensures that one's socks will slip around a lot. I've already decided that I'm going to rig an elastic heelstrap (the white won't show against the white socks); that's the only way I'm going to be able to safely walk backwards or up and down steps.

As it was, I think our director was alternating between despair and hysterics as she put us through our paces last night. Every single time we'd run through Three Little Maids from School, at least one of us would have pulled a Cinderella and left a sandal behind. I fear that once we get on the set, we may have to do some reblocking to account for our reduced speed (gotta take small steps or the darn things come right off your feet), especially on the graduated platforms being used for stage-left entrances, exits and other blocking.

Oh, and I was only partially correct about the rubber on the bottoms silencing the noise from the wooden footbeds. It merely reduces the noise; this means that we sounded like ponies, not horses, clip-clopping around the room last night. Not a bad sound, but I can't help but wonder how we'll sound once we get on stage.

I'm taking tonight off, but starting tomorrow I plan to wear my geta around the house as well as at rehearsal so I can get used to walking around in them. Only 4 weeks until Tech Week - that's NOT a lot of time to relearn how to walk!

While I'm sympathetic to our costume designer's wish to make us as authentic as possible, I think she may have lost sight of the fact that The Mikado is not about Japan, for all that it's ostensibly set there. But even if it really were a Japanese show, I think we'd still need to make allowances for the logistics of being on stage. When I was in a folk dance troupe, we tried to be as authentic as possible but had to make adjustments for performance. After all, we weren't living in the villages these dances were from; we were Americans performing for other Americans who often didn't know much about what we were presenting. Our costumes were generally as authentic as we could reasonably make or get them, but as just one example, we didn't do authentic hairstyles. That would have meant a different hairstyle for each costume - audiences don't have that kind of patience and the changes would have eaten all our performing time. Likewise, we may end up reblocking to accommodate the more limited movement the geta impose, and the kneeling may have to go. But who knows, maybe I'll get the knack with practice.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Is it Friday yet?

Ugh. I have a conference all this week, just under 25 miles away; i.e., close enough that I'm expected to commute. This may not sound so horrible, but in my case it means going from one side of a major metropolitan area to the other, with all the traffic that entails. Yesterday it took me about 45 or 50 minutes to get to the conference hotel, and twice that long to get home that evening, due in large part to the fact that one of the major arteries I've been using to get there in the morning is limited to vehicles with 2 or more people in the evening. By the time I got home I was so well and truly sick of cars that when my husband proposed going out for dinner, I snapped that I did not want to spend one more minute in a car! I don't know how people make that kind of commute twice a day for years; I'd end up in an asylum, jail, or a morgue.

Two more days of this, then I can go back to accomplishing something. This is one of those conferences your supervisors decide they need to send someone to and I'm that "someone". A couple of the presentations were actually interesting, but there are an awful lot of "tool salesmen" - folks there to talk about this new software tool their company, consortium, or what-have-you has developed or is developing. Some of these sound interesting, until they move from a few crumbs about what it can do to the ontologies, algorithms and logarithms of its operation, the success and failure rates of the testing iterations, and so on. I'm not an engineer or other techie - I don't care about your precious tool's "deep structure" or how many iterations you went through to get it to market. Just tell me what it can do for me, how it can help me do my job better or faster.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

G&S with a non-G&S company

It's been interesting doing a Gilbert & Sullivan show with a cast composed primarily of people who may have plenty of theatrical or musical experience, but no G&S. I've done Mikado once before, and seen at least half a dozen other productions of it. The jokes I merely smile or chuckle at cause the "G&S virgins" to laugh out loud, some of the Victorian turns of phrase can be as perplexing as Shakespeare (in language, context is all!), and many don't realize that the apparent simplicity of the music is deceptive. I try not to be a Little Miss Know-It-All, and it's gotten easier to keep my mouth shut. (Though I'm dying to tell the director that Pish-Tush's name is supposed to rhyme with brush, not push.) I'm probably not biting my tongue any more than I would in any other production in which I didn't always agree with the director's choices.

I had gotten rather tired of Mikado. I'm sure that while much of my revived enjoyment of it is because I'm doing it as a lead, not a chorister, and therefore get to play more, I'm also picking up on the enjoyment of those in the cast who are discovering it for the first time. Oh, and the fun of learning the blocking. It's initially painful, while I try to remember everything at once, but when it starts to work, it's always a thrill ("I finally remembered that parasol business in time to do it!").