Sunday, February 9, 2014

For the Love!

This is for Johnny and Nicole. I hope it lightens the week a little.

 “I guess I got an entertaining bug, from my grandfather, Hyme Progaut, who was very very big in the Yiddish theater back in New York. He was in the, the sardonically ireverant, 'Dibik Shmibik, I Said more Ham'. And that review, I believe was nineteen thriteen and that review, is what made him famous. Incidentally, the song, 'Bubby Made a Kishka' came from that review.” Waiting for Guffman

“This bulging river this God and Devil in one. There aint a THING can be done. The River's in our blood. This deep and bulging river's in our bloood. Corky- BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD.” WFG


So there he was....dead. The King was floating away safely in a boat, but his daughter was groaning over the dead servant boy's body, sobbing with grief. He had sacrificed himself for their people...merely because she had turned to say goodbye to the man she loved.

The servant boy lead her to a secret boat containing her escaped father, the King. But her lover, a warrior captain, discovered them before she could get into the boat and float away to safety. So she turned and raced toward her lover to say one last goodbye and THAT was their undoing.

She had to say goodbye. She couldn't just get in the dang boat. She couldn't yell "I love you, but I have to save my nation!" from the water? She had to feel his embrace. She had to get one last kiss.

Then the King yelled out "daughter!" and the captain was confused. She was a Princess? Had she lied to him? Was it all a lie? No! She had to explain it all to him, but it was too late...HIS evil father was now on the scene commanding him to kill the errant King. But it became very clear to the captain now...She was a princess and she was trying to save her people and he LOVED HER. He KNEW her (and when I say "knew..." you know what I mean, right?) So... much to the dismay of his own father, he thwacked at the rope holding the boat to the shore and the King floated away.

Angered by this, the captain's father attempted to kill the princess but the servant boy flung himself in the sword's path and now...he's dead. And it's all her fault.

And there beneath the full July moon, Princess Aida cries over her friend as Radames realizes that his love is no longer a secret and it will mean his treasonous death.

Surely they will all die. And yep.

They do.

In a stone box below the sands of Egypt...errr....American Fork, Utah. But I'm ahead of myself. And I start to cry. Because I already know the ending but I always wish I could change it.

And I can't stop crying! I have directed in this theatre before. A couple of times. And it's not Egypt. And I have been bitten by about a hundred ants during the course of the show because it's a stone amphitheater cut out of the side of a hill and needs to be sprayed. But I am still bawling. And my back is killing me because there is no back rest - just a stone seat. Still...yes...bawling. And it's July. Sweltering heat. Bawling. And I know half the cast, in fact I taught a few of them when they were in junior high, which, I think made me bawl even harder. Night after night, I've listened to the director of the show (I know him because it's my husband Andy) tell me how difficult it has been to put the show together (all community theatre is!) and still it's an absolutely beautiful show, what was he worried about? Bawling.


“HOW HIGH A RIDGE I COULD NOT TELL, FOR THE SUN HAD SET AND DARKNESS FELL BEFORE I REACHED ITS PINNA-CUL.” WFG


Then the scene comes to a close and the servant boy is lying on the stage, dead, the lights go out. He lets a decent moment go by, and then he pops up and exits the stage and there is a little laugh from the audience because he's alive! Too bad about that gorgeous full moon "blue out." And I start crying again. If I was indoors that effect would take me hours to put together but in this amphitheater the sitting moon lends it's hand without another thought as if it’s just another audience member swinging in to see the show. "You're welcome" it says. Still, wish you could put a dimmer on it just for a second for the dead servants exeunt.

But we quickly forget about the undead servant when Aida and Radames are banished to the tomb together...and I am crying again. A big plywood tomb. Not sandstone at all. And it's on wheels. Two amateur actors. One of them graduated from BYU that very day, in business, I think. Both of them are married to other people. Amazing singing voices. But the commitment to the roles... I think that's what has me crying.

And is occurs to me that we are at the end of a year full of theatre that has filled our lives once again with people like us that love theatre and do theatre for the love of it. We are back in the arms of what we love. Community theatre. We are back where we began.

Literally.


“My first show was Barefoot in the Park, which was an absolute smash, but my production on the stage of Backdraft was what really got them excited. This whole idea of 'In Your Face' theatre really affected them. The conceptualization, the whole abstraction, the obtuseness of this production to me was what was interesting. I wanted the audience to feel the heat from the fire, the fear, because people don't like fire, poked, poked in their noses, you know when you get a cinder from a barbeque right on the end of your nose and you kind of make that face, you know, that's not a good thing, and I wanted them to have the sense memory of that. So during the show I had someone burn newspapers and send it through the vents in the theatre. And well, they freaked out, and 'course the fire Marshall came over and they shut us down for a couple of days.” Corky St. Clair, Waiting for Guffman


The day we decided to send out wedding announcements we knew just where to begin. My mom had taken all my "show shirts" - you know, the souvenir t-shirt you get with the cast list printed on the back - and cut them up. She sewed the squares together and made a quilt out of them. We called it the "Show Quilt" and it is precious indeed. We laid it out on the living room floor and started making a list of all the people we wanted to send an announcement to. Because those are the people you gather into your heart. Old roommates, old neighbors, old ward members...sure...but how much time do you spend with a show cast in comparison?! THOSE are the people that would want to know that you are getting married. Those people share an experience with you that cannot be replicated. This quilt represented all the time you came together after a long day at work to bind yourself to a group of people that may have never put on a pair of tap shoes in their life...and you see them sweating bullets over Stephen Schwartz’s Russian Klezmer harmonies in the bathrooms, backstage wrestling with Sondheim in the halls, panicking that I have just asked them to wear nothing but a towel in the shower scene of Damn Yankees...that hard swallow, followed by "Suuuure...my wife is going to have a heart attack." OH HOW I LOVE THOSE PEOPLE!!!


“I got off that boat with nothing but my dancers belt and a tube of CHAPSTICK!” WFG


And at this point as the cast of Aida has brought back a flood of precious memories, I pull out a notepad from my purse and start writing this blog through my tears. I forget about the ants and it just spills out onto the tiny notepad - all my love for every person that I have ever been in a show with or directed that never got paid to do a show, but just came out to do it FOR THE LOVE. You know who I'm talking about. And you know why you do it.

And you are why I do it. And you are why I was crying my eyes out that night in July.

I was an emotional wreck anyway because I was "sluffing" my own show (Thoroughly Modern Millie) that night to see Andy's show. But I had my Stage Manager on speed dial and we had already been sending texts back and forth all night.


Jan: How's it going?

Jamie: Taylor broke her leg today. Stop texting me. (Taylor was the girl that played Millie)

Jan: I'm not used to missing a show.

Jamie: You are useless now. Enjoy Aida. We got this.

Jan: I know, but...

Jamie: Stop texting me. I need to go do your show and you shouldn't have your phone on anyway. Geeeeeeez.

Jan: Yes ma'am.


“I was shopping for my wife Bonnie. I buy most of her clothes and Mrs Pearl was in the same shop! And it just was an accident you know, we started talking... about panty hose, she was saying... whatever that's not the point of the story but what the point is is that through this accidental meeting... it's like a Hitchcock movie you know where you're thrown into a rubber bag and put in the trunk of a car, you find people. You find them. Something, is is it karma? Maybe. But we found him, that's the important thing. And I got Bonnie a wonderful pantsuit.” WFG


The first show we got to do when we moved home was You Can’t Take it With You which Andy directed and I got to play my favorite role in the world – Penny Sycamore. I admit that I am completely type cast in this role, but I don’t care. I love her wackiness. The older I get, the more I see myself in her. And I loved this cast because it was all our “old” friends from Lehi High and Lehi Arts past and present. Jean and Jerry Hatch have kept the Lehi Arts Council going strong after all these years. And Chad… it’s so good to be home around Chad again…what an incredible group of people we worked with. It was like a comfort food buffet every night.


“Now everybody knew that Corky could direct, but who knew that he could act and sing and DANCE, and there's only one other person in the world who can do that and that's Barbara Streisand.” WFG


You Can't Take It With You the play that wraps its arms around you every single time...all five times I’ve had the privilege of opening its pages...and that's why we keep going back to it. The very theme of the show typifies those of us that spend our free time doing theatre…..What will we take with us into the next life? All the money we’ve made doing community theatre? HAHAHAHA! No! Might as well audition for a community theatre piece, make new friends, love on old friends and have the time of your life. Memories, people! It’s all about making memories. You can’t take it with you!


“If there's an empty space, just fill it with a line, that's what I like to do. Even if it's from another show.” WFG


I'm certain that the opportunity to do Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Sandy Amphitheater this summer (2013) was a gift from my Heavenly Father for the eight years I went without directing community theatre. What a relief that the cast we found was brilliant and talented and passionate and ready to RUMBLE...in tap shoes.

Everyone in Millie was a brand new friend, with two exceptions. I got to reconnect with our dear friend Kate who absolutely put the shine on the show with her magnificent chocolaty voice. Why isn't she on Broadway? And the lighting designer was my former high school student and lighting virtuoso Cole Adams (remember that early blog I wrote about Scmecky and Schmole? He's Schmole.) He also, should be on Broadway. Everyone knows it. Right?

Here's the thing...at casting, I was the NEWBIE. I didn’t know anybody except Kate. I would be casting blind, which is always scary. However, this was not my first rodeo and I set about to find passionate players that would come to the bar. And the bar was pretty high. There are four or five monster tap numbers in Millie, non-stop choreography, 16 set changes which usually means 16 costume changes, wigs…this isn’t your mamma’s South Pacific Jr. Still, we had more than a hundred people show up for auditions and I was flanked by choreographer Marilyn Montgomery and music director Eric Richards who were geniuses and knew everyone and could teach anybody anything (which, to my glee, I would learn later.)

The auditioners were all pretty great, but they were moms, and students, granddads and business men, a few community theatre Ron and Sheila’s with headshots that were taken in their backyard, etc… Some of them had taken drama classes in high school and a couple of them were actually theatre students on the university level, but most of them were there for the love and all of them were extremely talented. This was good.

We had an opportunity to cast some real veterans of the Hale Center stages but we would have had to work a miracle around their schedules because they were already in a show there. Still, when I listened to them sing and read their endless resumes I thought long and hard about making it work. They were real shiny types if you know what I mean. Their headshots were done in a studio and they had been asked to come and audition. They didn’t just show up for the love. It wasn’t sitting well with me and I know it’s because deep in the pit of my stomach, I pursue directing contracts on the community level for the teaching opportunity as much as anything else. (Heaven knows it isn’t for the money!) Would they be directable, could I get what I wanted from them? I’m so judging them right now and I have no reason to…except the air that followed them into the room and the non-verbal communication that was flying around the room from everyone else…screaming out “The Hale Center has just arrived, make way!!!” Hmmm…I would have to make a lot of way to use them – one of them was even an Equity actor that told us he was willing to lie to Equity to be in the show. Too bad I’m married to an Equity actor and know how completely unethical it is to put a theatre company like Sandy Arts in that kind of trouble. (And besides that, if you’re an Equity actor why are you even available for my little community show? Gah! I hope Equity catches that guy…)

I digress.

I made an executive decision, that if the community had come out to audition, the community would be cast. And I thanked the shiny-types for their presence, said a prayer over our rag tag but passionate crew of theatre lovers and posted the list. (I also bought tickets to the Hale show and it was fabulous!) But you know what?!

I was right.

I would put any one of my backyard headshots up against a studio hooty tooty any day. They were brilliant. They were zealous and grounded and available and they sang and danced until that show “shined like the top of the Chrysler Building.”


“I's a hankering as a young feller to be an actor but I went inta taxidermy instead.” WFG


The role of Millie was played by a sweet mom that used the role as motivation to lose 50 pounds before the audition! I had no idea! What an amazing example she was to me. I’ve never seen anyone work so hard. She listened to me like it was her last day on earth. I loved her for that! But then she turned around and made bold awesome choices and lead the way. She was stunning to watch on stage. They all were. I cried every night and Millie is not a tear jerker. I just cried because I knew how hard they had worked and how much they listened to me and ran with it. BIG. On closing night they gave me a reel-to-reel version of TMM (Julie Andrews!), which is what I had grown up watching when I was a kid! How did they find that?! I just don’t know how to thank them for reminding me how much I love this stuff. This little blog will have to do. For the record, I would work for any of them again, anytime.

On top of having a brilliant cast, Sandy City also offers a support staff that is a shining example all community theatres everywhere. They are organized and ready to give you the world as a director. Of course, Cole came in at the end and lit it up until it was beyond the vision of what I had in my head.


“Of course Broadway is great and...there'll be other offers, keepin' our fingers crossed, but, and I think you know what I'm thinkin', the ultimate dream, Hollywood...Ever since I was a kid doin' my impressions..'Here's lookin' at you BABE' and 'yyyou don' cccare about aanybody but yyyerself'...who's that, who am I doin'...” WFG


I should take one more paragraph to pay tribute here to another community theatre that I owe my very life to. The Scera Theatre in Orem let me direct two of my all-time favorite experiences. First, Children of Eden, which is the mother of all my memories for some reason. It combined the warm summer nights with what I believe to be the greatest cast of all time and the greatest story of all time. Cole lit it, Becky stage managed it, Robert Bowden cracked the whip over the music direction and it brought me the dearest friends…all willing to wear sand colored overalls and be trees and animals on command.


“I'm walking on air... you know... this is a sensation which is... forget it. When I became a dentist, I thought I was happy, but THIS...” WFG


I must pay tribute to the show that brought me my eternal companion. Damn Yankees – also at the Scera. Andy and I were just “hanging out” every night that summer because I had cast him as Applegate (the devil). One night Chad, our BFF, leaked that Andy might have deeper feelings for me and I better be ready to deal with that if came up…”Just a warning…” he peeped out, “I know how you feel about younger men, don’t shoot the messenger.” The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up. “Poor Andy,” I thought. I will never date a younger man again as long as I live.” But D’OH! He was an incredible Applegate! And I am a sucker for talented men on stage. Neither of us broached the topic for another year. But I sure thought about it. Every single day. Thanks Scera. Thanks Chad (who I met in Titanic – also at the Scera, BTW). See what I mean?!?!? I owe everything to community theatre!

Incidentally, some of you do to! Because I’ve never, NEVER, NEVER done a community theatre show without it introducing at least two young couples to each other who ended up getting married after the show! You’re welcome Johnny and Nicole, Stewart and Sarah, Jacob and Ashley…and I could go on and on and on...there is a list exactly as long as I have on my resume. (Okay, I’m not counting Nunsense or Steel Mags).

If that’s not reason enough to do a show… I don’t know what is! Those odds beat Match.com any day! Get out there and volunteer!!

So how to end my love note to community theatre peeps that have crossed my path? I owe community theatre my life. I can never repay it for what it has given me because it gets ahead. I am indebted for the blessings and so grateful for this particular gift I’ve been given because it gives back 100 fold. If your community doesn’t have a theatre, there’s no time like the present to start one up.


“So what I'm understanding here, correct me if I'm wrong, is that you're not givin' me any money, so now I'm left basically with nothing, I'm left with zero, in which, what can I DO with zero, you know, what can I--I can't do anything with it!..this is my life here we're talkin' about, we're not just talkin' about, you know, something else, we're talkin' about my life, you know!” WFG

So raise your plastic prop glasses to the community theatres that are still making it work despite the world’s insistence that money makes the world go around – I completely disagree – we’ve done some great theatre on a dime, some borrowed lights and a trunk full of love.


“You have to go where the love is.” WFG