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The Sound of Music Rehearsals: Iz Over

May 21, 2010 Leave a comment

:'(

The play closed several days ago. There were a lot of crying actors during the final curtain call. I managed to refrain from crying until my first bow, and then my tear ducts refused to dry. When we took the cast bow, I got to watch one big, fat tear fall to the ground from the end of my nose. Looked pretty cool, actually. I cried again when they started dismantling the abbey and mountain.

Overall, the second weekend went better than the first, I’d say. There were fewer hitches in the performances, since we’d worked out a lot of the problems we’d had.

We also had bigger audiences — word got around. For Saturday’s matinĂ©e (during which we were competing with both a radically sunny day and the library’s Reading Rendezvous) the theatre was about 3/4 full; for the final performance, Megan and her helpers crammed extra chairs into every nook and cranny they could get away with and still had to turn 40-50 people away.

The audiences were more responsive, too, on average. For those of you who have little to no experience with performing, let me explain why that matters.

Performers have a symbiotic relationship with their audiences — the performers provide entertainment and work off the energy that the audience’s reactions return to them. A dead-quiet audience is harder to perform for than one which comes into the theatre inclined to laugh at all the jokes and cry in all the right places. Every audience has its own character, and that character colors the performance. Generally, matinĂ©e audiences are quieter and more reserved; audiences for evening performances usually laugh and clap more freely; and the school performances feature kids aged 6-19, so their reactions are impossible to guess at ahead of time.

Audience reactions can take many forms. You can think of some, I’m sure — clapping, laughing, gasping, etc. There are variations within those basic types, as well. Take laughter, for instance: you can separate laughter into giggles, chuckles, sniggers, snorts, belly laughs, nervous laughs, laughing silently, and many others. But there are other possible reactions, as well. Dead silence with no whispering in the audience at all is just as much a reaction.

Sometimes, especially during the school performances, we get unexpected audience reactions. One boy whose class has been studying WWII recently saluted back at the Nazis during one of our shows. During another school performance, when I was holding the list of music festival winners out from behind the curtain and shaking it in an attempt to get Max’s attention, a few kids near the front yelled out, “Behind you! It’s behind you!” At the beginning of one of the public performances, when I was hurrying out the back of the audience with the other nuns, nattering about finding Maria and where did we see her last and where oh where oh where could she be, I heard an audience member mutter, “Maybe she’s in the bathroom.”

Cast Party

The cast party was held Saturday after our evening performance at Shane & Erin’s [lovely] house. Erin remarked at one point that there were enough people in each area (several rooms on the main floor and out by the fire pit) to be its own party. And indeed, it was packed. Most of the cast and crew were there, some with spouses and children. Shane spent a lot of time out at the grill cooking meat — hamburgers and hot dogs — for everybody. Bonnie, mother of one of my fellow nuns, decorated a cake for us, too, which was delicious.

I took asparagus and bacon and prepared bacon-wrapped asparagus on sticks for Shane to add to the flame. They were a big hit. I had told a couple of people who professed a love of turkey bacon that I would get some of that, too, so some of them were turkey-bacon-wrapped asparagus on a stick. I felt really bad buying the turkey bacon — it was just turkey sandwich meat, cut into strips and colored to look like bacon. Heresy! I didn’t try any of those ones myself, but they were the only ones left by the end. The ones wrapped in real bacon disappeared as fast as they came off the grill.

It was an evening of chatting, and laughing at pictures taken both of the play and backstage, and more chatting. It was what Thanksgiving would be like if your family had 50 people in it. I ended up being one of the last to leave. Had some good conversations with the other people whose brains work well late at night.

And I found out that Erin collects stuffed animals the way Shane & Wayne collect Pez dispensers — by the hundreds. She has three teddy bears that would be six or seven feet tall if you stood them on their legs. Dana had to bribe Grace (who played the second youngest Von Trapp child) with cuddles to get her out of her burrow in the pile of giant teddy bears to go home, even though Grace was only hanging on to consciousness by a thread.

Strike

Strike is the process of dismantling the set and putting the set pieces, costumes, and props away. In community theatre, everyone helps with striking. We don’t have a paid set crew who do it for a living. It’s a short process with everyone’s help, though. Well, a shorter process.

People dropped out after varying lengths of time, starting with little Anna (the adorable 6 year-old who played little Gretl). I was there ’til about 9 PM, if I recall correctly. I started out on props, then moved to a power drill to take apart sections of the set. I had a few odd jobs in between. By the time I left there were a dozen people left at the most. I’d have stayed later, but the only job left to do at that point was repaint the stage… and I was wearing pants I use for work. The pants were the same color as the paint, but it’s still bad principle to get paint on your work pants. (Unless you’re a painter, of course.)

Fin

P.S. No really… :'( I miss everyone already, even though it hasn’t been a week yet and I have most of them on Facebook now.

The Sound of Music Rehearsals: Here We Go!

May 13, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been awhile since I wrote one of these, since I’ve been busy with work, rehearsal, and school. In fact, we’re already past the first weekend of performances and moving right along into the second.

The remaining rehearsals were a time of steady improvement. We continued to do one act per day up until the last Friday before tech week, on which we ran the whole play. Saturday was a work call day; some people helped dismantle the set at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium, move it to the APU Grant Hall, and rebuild it. I went to the later work call at the TBA studio, where I helped with costumes. I learned how to add ribbon to things; as a result of my inexperience, it took me way longer to do the task I was given than I had hoped. However, I was surrounded by friends engaged in other needlework projects with whom to chat. It was a great way to end the week.

Tech Week

Tech week was brutal — but then, tech week always is. Tech week is all about melding cast performances with costume and sound cues and lighting and the set and hoping that everything meshes together the way it’s supposed to. The process is made more interesting by the fact that it’s the first time the cast gets to rehearse on stage, as well. Before that, we were practicing in the TBA studio, which is a considerably smaller working space and where the set was represented by tape on the floor.

In short, tech week necessitates a lot of adjustments.

As Shane put it, it’s no longer the actors’ time to grow; everyone stops caring about the actors during tech week because it’s when the other artists involved in the production get to focus on getting their parts right. And things evolved quite a bit over the course of the week. That evolution was perhaps easiest to see in the development of our costumes. Charlotte and her team of costumers ran themselves ragged finishing up our garb. (And they did a fabulous job! I less than three them.)

Tech week is exhausting for everyone, really. After our school performances that Thursday, we had no evening show, so I went home and took a nap. A six-hour nap. After which I only went to bed an hour late. I got a LOT of sleep that day.

School Performances

The TBA in TBA Theatre stands for Training Better Artists. The staff are devoted to both helping people improve their theatre skills and encouraging youth to take interest in the arts. To the latter end, every play they put on has school-day performances on Thursday and Friday which are set up specifically for grade school (K-12) field trips.

Due to the limitations of bus transportation schedules, we are unable to give them the full two-and-a-half hour performance. We have to cut out a lot of the show and forego an intermission for the school performances. This has a couple of unfortunate side effects. The school audiences miss out on some good songs sung by good singers, for one. And for another, while we still give the audiences our all, the missing scenes make it more difficult to really get into the moment later — both for the audience and the actors. It’s just a shame. :(

In General

What can I say? The cast is fantastic, the set, lighting, and costume crews have outdone themselves… the show rocks. I’m so glad to be a part of it. It makes me sad that the copyright contract forbids us to record the show, ’cause I want to take it with me. The show closing this weekend is going to be one of the saddest things that’s ever happened to me.

The Sound of Music Rehearsals: It’s Like a Giant Puzzle!

April 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Monday, we ran through act one. Tuesday, we ran through act two. Wednesday was a day of working on various groups’ weakest songs. Today (Thursday), Shane and Lindsey are busy working on leading man and lady stuff. Tomorrow… well, they haven’t sent out the e-mail for tomorrow yet. Rolf and Liesl are called tomorrow, for sure, which Erin announced on Tuesday.

The run through of act one went pretty well. We were mostly aware of what we were doing, and had missed the blocking of few scenes, in spite of the fact that we’ve been blocking things out of order and piecemeal. The run through of act two was less good. The only scene in act two which had been neglected was scene one… but that scene is half the act. Oops. Since it is the second act, people are also less solid on both lines and music.

Had a bad moment during the wedding scene in act two — we nuns failed at working our blocking properly. That ended up getting completely reworked on Wednesday anyway, though. There were set pieces (desk, chairs, suitcase) to be removed as part of all this, which had people ending up in different places than they had originally been blocked, and then that threw off this and that and the other thing. The end result is that we’re still doing basically the same thing, but with some people in different places and now all the nuns know exactly when to move. It’s a good thing.

Everyone’s command of their music is gradually strengthening. Some people are singing songs they’ve never heard before, even though all the cast members have at least seen the movie. As with any full-length musical adapted to film, some of the songs from the musical were either omitted from the movie or used as background music in passing for the movie. One song, the love song Maria and the Captain sing together, was replaced with a different song for the movie. Max and Frau Schraeder both get to sing — twice, I think, off the top of my head. The nuns do more singing than everyone else — except, perhaps for the von Trapp children.

The youngest actor among the von Trapp children is six years old, and adorable. She has also never had to learn any music as complex as the stuff they’re singing here. She’s not the only relatively inexperienced singers amongst the von Trapp children, and the next-youngest child is eight. But I’ll tell you what — they’ve come a long, long way since their first singing rehearsal. They sound beautiful. And they’re only getting better. :D

Have I mentioned that this production is gonna be awesome?

People keep telling us that the nuns are getting similar compliments from people who overhear us rehearsing. We know better, though. We’re much improved, ourselves, but there are a few rough patches that are taking a while to file down. And our weakest song, so far, is the finale. (Its official title in the score, by the way, is Finale Ultimo. No pressure.) Now, granted, it’s our least-rehearsed song. However, we want it to sound fantastic, because the song is fantastic. The nuns, in general, get some of the most beautiful music in the show, but that song is truly lovely. Amazing four-part harmony under the Climb Ev’ry Mountain melody line, sung by the mother abbess.

Ah, look at me — I’m getting a dreamy smile on my face just thinking about it. I’d say I’m going to go practice it, but the truth is that I’m going to go watch the second episode of this new Japanese drama show I’ve been watching. Now that I’m off book, I use some sound files I made to practice my music while I’m at work.

The Sound of Music Rehearsals: All the Nuns Do, Really, is Get Onstage and Sing

April 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been called to rehearsal thrice this week. The first two were just the nuns doing more parts work with Justin. Charlotte, who plays the Mother Abbess in the show, has her secret identity as a voice instructor, so she’s been helping Justin catch things we need to fix. She pointed out on Monday that when the second sopranos are spot-on, the whole choir is spot-on. Since I had noticed prior to that observation that if I fuck up, the rest of the section fucks up, I find myself in a position where I can drag the entire choir down. (I’m poorly skilled at blending with my section and have a strong voice, so a couple of the girls listen to me to make sure they’re on track.) For most of the songs this isn’t a problem, but I have a couple of problem spots, including having to punch a C through a Gmaj chord, which are going to be the focus of most of my solo practicing. I have the music pretty much memorized, now, thankfully, so I just need to practice those trouble spots over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and OVER until my head wants to explode.

Tuesday we had another nun join our ranks. An offstage nun, sent to bolster the altos, since this new nun is actually a guy — and a rather large one, at that. There’s no way we’d be able to pass him off as a woman onstage, even with the habits covering just about everything. So Sister Mary Timothy (nuns do sometimes take guys’ names) will spend the entire show in the wings, making our four-part harmony sound better without having to be too hot under a stifling costume.

Yesterday we finished the nuns’ blocking. That was short work. Our movement for anything but scene changes is limited, but then we spend however long on stage singing our hearts out. The nuns do more singing in the play than I had first anticipated when I went up for the part. (Just saying, mind; I love it.) I’m pretty sure the nuns are the only people in the show with four-part harmony. The kids have some harmony in their version of The Sound of Music, but it’s three-part. And while I think the kids have at least one instance of a capella singing, the nuns start the show with a capella. It’s pretty grand.

Speaking of the nuns starting the show: the school shows, the ones intended field trips, are being shortened. The full show — which is what we’re doing for all the evening and weekend performances — runs about two and a half hours. We’re cutting an hour, if I recall correctly, for the school shows. Included in the cuts are almost everything the nuns sing. The show is going to start with Maria singing The Sound of Music, and the wedding preparation scene in which we sing the number I’ve dubbed Nuns: The Reprisal is being removed. I don’t know what other cuts are being made, but any nun without lines is going to sing one random song in the middle and then the ending number, where we all come onstage with the Mother Abbess for a four-part harmony version of Climb Every Mountain. If I had to guess, the cuts that Erin has decided to make are going to result in the school shows being a lot like the movie version.

Argh, a Gmaj chord with a C added to it! It drives me bonkers just thinking about it.

The Sound of Music Rehearsals: The Nunnery

April 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday started out as a full-cast rehearsal. We all did warm-ups together — real, full warm-ups — for the first time, including some more name-learning. We then picked up where we left off with the read-through of the script. There was little left, so it took us less than an hour. Erin (the staging director) made some general comments about the direction she wants to take us in; she and Jaime (the stage manager) made some announcements regarding things they need from us. My tendency to ask more questions than anybody else manifested itself in a slightly-amusing-but-slightly-exasperating fashion, as usual. I’ve resolved to try to rein my question-asking in a bit, writing down questions that apply only to myself or to a few people for later asking.

One of the cast members will be taking head shots of us for the programs, and we get to write bios to go next to them. I’ve seen many bios in programs over the course of my life; my favorite is that of a music student at UAF, who performs “on a 1986 larynx handcrafted with love (and shall we say by love) by [mother’s name] and [father’s name].” My current rough draft is less amusing than that:

Lena LeRay began acting at the early age of eight, making her debut as Monkey #1 in Alaska Theatre of Youth’s 1993 production of The Jungle Book. She participated in the drama club during her year of college-level student exchange in Kushiro, Japan, where she learned that literacy is an essential part of sight-reading a script (if having nothing to do with a balanced breakfast). This role in The Sound of Music is her first onstage role in nine years and her second role in a musical. A few of her favorite things are video games, great stories, and the Japanese tea ceremony.

After Erin finished announcements and answering [my] questions, a few people were called to work on songs with Justin (the musical director) and the nuns and postulants were called to work with Erin. She divvied us up, assigning us to specifically be postulants, novices, or nuns. I am a fully-sworn nun. I already knew that I would be, though. Somewhere along the line, I saw a list of cast members that had “postulant” next to my name, and after I mentioned that aloud Erin informed me that I would actually be a nun.

Last night, Erin encouraged us to start formulating the details of our personae, even though most of us have no lines. I’ve been doing some of that already, and given the foreknowledge that I would be a full-fledged nun I had already decided that I wanted to try to exude the sort of feel that I got from my tea ceremony teacher in Japan: warm and hospitable, a font of experience and knowledge, and free with smiles and encouragement when mistakes are made. My nun may end up being nothing like Ikushima-sensei, of course, but she is the inspiration. And the Japanese tea ceremony gives me a sense of peace and serenity that I imagine a nun gets from her religious life.

We blocked the first two nun group scenes, which will have Maria’s solo rendition of the musical’s theme song in between them, and proved to remember our songs quite well, considering the fact that they were performed a capella (as they should be) while simultaneously figuring out how to move to where we needed to be in a graceful and nunly fashion. Very promising. I’ve never worked under Erin as a director before, and I can already see why Shane calls her a “super-director”; she’s making creative use of the available space to capture the audience from the very first second.

Random Side Note: Erin’s told us about the set; it’s going to be badass. It’s so kick ass I’m not even going to tell you about it; you’ll have to either come see it or listen to me describe it after opening night. Well, I’ll give you one hint: one of my many questions for Erin last night was “Are the nuns going to start out in the set?” >:D

Things to do:

  • Research nuns: their rings, vows, history, the nuns of Nonnberg Abbey in particular, Catholic practices, etc.
  • Research names a nun might take (and if you have any suggestions, please let me know)
  • Final draft-ify that bio
  • Memorize my song lyrics and melodic lines (which I think I’ll have to do at the same time)

TBA Theatre’s Sound of Music Performance Schedule

Most of our performances will be of the full script and run about two and a half hours with an intermission. We are also doing some shorter shows, about an hour and a half with no intermission, during the day on weekdays. These shorter performances are intended for grade school field trips. Last I heard, which was last Thursday, there was still room unreserved in those performances. Interested parties should contact TBA Theatre.

Full-Script Shows:

Friday, May 7 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, May 8 at 3:00 PM, 7:00 PM
Sunday, May 9 at 3:00 PM

Friday, May 14 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, May 15 at 3:00 PM, 7:00 PM
Sunday, May 16 at 3:00 PM

School Shows:

Thursday, May 6 at 10:00 AM, 12:30 PM
Friday, May 7 at 10:00 AM, 12:30 PM

Thursday, May 13 at 10:00 AM, 12:30 PM
Friday, May 14 at 10:00 AM, 12:30 PM

The Sound of Music Rehearsals: Gettin’ the Ball Rollin’

April 6, 2010 Leave a comment

So. I am too lazy to check and see if I’ve mentioned this on the blog yet, but I’m in TBA Theatre‘s upcoming production of The Sound of Music.

And it’s going to be awesome. (Less than three. Less than three. Less than three!)

Everyone in the cast is great. We have an array of beautiful singing voices and fantastic acting talent; everyone has a wonderful attitude; and everyone is totally jazzed about doing this. Some of our cast have never been in a play before, but I have every confidence in their ability. Irony alert: all of our on-stage newbies are adults. All the children have been in at least one play before. Interesting, no? But I digress.

I’ve only met a few of the crew, yet, but they’re already busting their beach balls to make sure that we have everything we need when we need it, and that the entire process goes as smoothly as possible. They are just as jazzed about this as the cast, and it’s a pleasure working with them.

My part in the play is that of an unnamed, miscellaneous nun. I failed to get a speaking role because I was ill-prepared for the audition… which is fine with me, in all honesty. The little parts are as important as the big parts. I’m getting to work with old friends and make new ones and sing gorgeous hymnal music in The Sound of Music. Playing little parts is nothing new to me, anyway. The only big parts I’ve ever had, if I recall correctly, have been villains. (And I’m just not cut out to be a Nazi, when you get down to it.)

Last time I was up for a part in a play was when I lived in Japan; that was an abnormal audition process since it was a drama club with about ten members. We all read for parts and the director decided to keep me off the actor list because my Japanese skills were below par. (Reasonable, though I probably would have been more useful on stage, when all was said and done.) Before that, all my acting experience was with Alaska Theatre of Youth. I did ten plays with ATY, nine of which were part of their summer conservatory. I went through something close to a regular audition for those. However, having paid for the privilege of receiving a one-month, intensive acting/performing arts course culminating in the performance of a play, I was guaranteed a part in something. I went through a real audition for the only winter season play I did with ATY (their first run of Perseus: The Adventures of the Greeks), but I was 11 years old at the time, so that was a very long time ago.

So. I’m happy I got in and excited about my part in it. Did I mention it’s gonna be awesome? Because it is.

So, Actual Rehearsal Stuff…

Today was the fifth day of rehearsal. We started last Tuesday, and only got to have three rehearsals last week. We were supposed to have started on March 22nd, the Monday of the week prior, but the scripts/scores (scrores?) had yet to arrive at the time. Last week’s rehearsals were mostly devoted to having everyone get to know each other. TBA Theatre runs under the assumption that a tight-knit, ensemble cast yields a better end product than do a bunch of people who don’t bother to get to know each other. That’s a sentiment I agree with, and even if that were untrue it still makes for a more fun experience all around.

We also did a read-through of most of the script last week. It was supposed to be a read-through of all of the script, but we ran out of time. A read-through, for those of you with no theatre background, is where the entire cast of the play comes together and reads the script as a group to familiarize themselves with the script so that everyone knows how their part fits into the story as a whole. There are several advantages to having everyone read through it together as opposed to just taking the script home and reading it. One of those is that you get to hear each cast member reading his or her own lines and get a feel for the flavor that each actor will bring to the show. Another is that it helps knit the group together more tightly. (And, of course, since many people procrastinate… the director gets to make sure everyone has read it.)

The first two days of rehearsal this week have been devoted to learning parts for songs. The first half of the 6-9 rehearsal time on both days has been devoted to Maria and the von Trapp children, and the second half to the nuns. The children sound beautiful! I get to listen to them before we nuns rehearse, and it’s fun to hear them shape up so quickly. Some of them (including the 6 year-old who’s playing Gretl) are learning entirely by ear because they are unable to read music, but that’s proving only a minor hindrance.

We the nuns are divided into four sections: first sopranos, second sopranos, mezzo sopranos, and altos. I’m in the second soprano section. The poor altos are understaffed, overbalanced, and have the hardest parts to sing. Since we have no men (nuns, wot wot), they get to pretend to be basses. Their parts jump all over the place, and dip so low that producing sufficient volume is a challenge. I wish my voice were in better shape. A couple of years ago, I could have done a pretty good job of helping fill that section out; now, I would do little good with the low, low notes they must sing.

Tomorrow is the first all-cast, three-hour rehearsal since the read-through of the script. No one has told me what the agenda will be, but I suspect we’ll be starting to block the show. Blocking (again, for those with no theatre background) is the actors’ placement on and movement across the stage. Which side of the stage an actor enters on, for instance; where he or she needs to be during certain lines; and on which side of the stage to exit. Finding an in-character reason to move from point A to point B is often left up to the actor, but it’s the director who decides where the actor must go in order to develop the image in the director’s head.

Bonus Trivia

  • Theatre is the art; a theater is the place where theatre is performed.
  • The copyright contract for The Sound of Music forbids many things, including changing the place or year in which the story occurs and recording performances. Each infraction of the copyright terms costs $5,000 US.
  • The movie version of The Sound of Music is a shortened version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, which is based on the memoirs of Maria von Trapp (The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, ISBN 0-385-02896-2). Japan also created a 40-episode anime based on her memoirs.
  • Unrelated: U.S. naval boot camps separate their recruits into divisions of approximately 100 people, who are then stuck in a building together and forbidden to leave. The goal is to simulate shipboard life, when navy soldiers (is that the appropriate term?) have nowhere to go and only each other to depend on for extended periods of time.