Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Divas: Directorial Post-Mortem

The Divas singing their fabulous hearts out on "I'm a Woman" - the opening number!

Director Diva with her music and Blackberry saying "Can we get a follow spot here?"

Last weekend, I made my directorial debut. No, I didn't premiere a huge tap musical to sold out audiences for a four-week run. It was a much smaller scale than that, but still a very worthwhile experience from which I learned a lot.

Every summer, Denton Community Theatre puts on a summer fundraiser. For the past six years-ish, it's been a musical revue of sorts. For three years, it was called Bravo for Broadway, and it was an invitation-only concert of new and old Broadway songs performed by some of the local favorites. The next three years (including this year), it was called Encore! and featured local actors reprising songs they sang within the context of the shows when they were performed as mainstage productions.

For the summer 2010 version of Encore, we decided to celebrate all of the gloriously talented women our little town has had to offer over the past decades. I was asked to come on board for two reasons. One was because I'd had an idea to do a similar One for Mahler performance as a fundraiser for Anna's and my Susan G. Komen 3-Day minimum fundraising goal, so the seeds of a "divas" concert were already growing in my head. Secondly, the managing director of DCT was asked to direct it, and he had also never directed a show before. Apparently he valued my opinions and knowledge enough to ask me to come on board and head up this process (as well as perform in the production) and, after some thought, I graciously accepted.

We met a few times, compiled a list of women we'd love to see come and perform, sent out the emails, gathered up all the "yes!" answers, found a production team, and Encore III: The Divas! was born. Act I was to be comprised of songs from any show that DCT has produced in it's 40-year history, as well as a song from each of the 3 musicals in it's upcoming 41st season (in order to keep up the "encore" theme), performed by ladies in the cast. Act II was when we let the Divas pick their own song...something they could really cut loose and wail on.

The thing about the summer fundraiser that makes it so difficult is that there is very little preparation time. Mike and I, along with our musical and technical design team, met several times in the months leading up to June 21st, but we only had one week of actual rehearsal in the performance space to put together a beautiful, seamless production.

At the end of the day, we definitely succeeded. I am still getting emails and Facebook messages about how much people enjoyed watching, performing in, and working backstage for this production. I know I enjoyed being a part of the ROCKING group number to start each show ("I'm a Woman" from Smokey Joe's Café) as well as singing my two solos ("Moonfall" from The Mystery of Edwin Drood in Act I and "Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden in Act II) and working with some incredibly talented women.

However, I won't be lining up to direct a show again any time soon, I don't think.

At the risk of sounding incredibly arrogant, I will say that I think I did a pretty bang-up job, overall. I had some good ideas, learned how to wrangle a group of people and face LOTS of different ideas, opinions, attitudes, and the ever-present "too many cooks" problem with grace and professionalism...mostly. Okay, I did lose my temper once, but nobody's perfect, right? RIGHT?! :) I was treated with respect by people who suddenly had to have me as a director when they were a peer/castmate only weeks before. I was humbled by the gratitude and sweetness of the performers, overall. It was in no way a negative experience.

I am very tired now, though, and just ready for a great big vacation from the theatre. Having to balance all the production emails, cast member emails, organization and planning with the responsibilities of my day job, learn my OWN music/lyrics, and still remember that as soon as it was over I had to go back to another rehearsal process for my next project was just too much. Being at the theatre until 1am and back up at 7:30 for work the next day. Having to eat a quick, unhealthy dinner (or no dinner sometimes) and skip the gym so I could be at the theatre to run through some logistics before the actors arrived. Too. Much.

I've started to associate the theatre -- my second home, the place I love and the venue in which I can express myself artistically on a fairly regular basis -- with stress and exhaustion. Booo. I'm fairly sure that this is going to be VERY short-lived, but it definitely could not have come at a better time. Next week I will be on vacation from all things work and rehearsal, and I think I desperately need it.

I feel like this is coming across as negative and/or ungrateful for the opportunity, and that is VERY MUCH NOT the case at all. I had a really great experience, and I gained a lot of respect for my past and current directors, musical directors, vocal coaches, and designers since I had to fill all of those shoes in at least a tiny way throughout this process. That knowledge and respect of what all they do is invaluable to me now, and will change the way I behave and act as a performer from now on. I also got to sing some KICK. ASS. SONGS with some incredibly talented women.

But for now? Just give me my blocking and my notes and I'll quietly write them in my script and say "thank you." :) I'm ready to go back to just being a performer!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dirty Rotten Recap and "When You Got it..."

Well another show, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has been put on the shelf. Due to my ridiculously busy schedule at work (the spring months are when all of our biggest deadlines are, and adding a show to that damn near killed me this time around), I didn't blog NEARLY as much as I wanted to about the rehearsal and production process of this amazing show.

I enjoy every show that I do and I always bond with cast members and find a way to love the role I'm playing...but only once in a blue moon do I get truly sad to close one. The last one was Crazy for You, which just happens to have been exactly one year ago. For that one and for DRS, the Monday after closing was just a dreadfully depressing day. I hated knowing I wouldn't do it all over again in a few days, and even listening to the cast recording when it happens upon my iPod shuffle makes me a little blue. It always passes, and I always keep in touch with the people from the cast, but the first few days are a little rough.

This show was particularly special to me for a couple of reasons. The first is indicated in the pictures heading up this blog post (all above). Kenny Fudge, who was the Andre to my Muriel, made this show so special for me. He has been on my theatre "wish list" ever since I saw him act when I worked backstage last summer for Don't Dress for Dinner, and I am so fortunate to have been cast opposite him.

The roles of Andre and Muriel in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are an absolute trip. They may be secondary plot characters, but they have the ability to steal the show with their fabulous, cheesy (and sometimes dirty!) one-liners, the adorable song and dance number "Like Zis, Like Zat," and possibly the only real moments in an otherwise cartoony show. Muriel is also a very isolated character...all of her stuff is with Andre after a certain point, so I got to spend lots of stage time with this brilliant actor. And I think I fell a little bit in love with both Kenny and his Andre! I am so honored to have been cast opposite him. Kenny is absolutely no-drama, which I love, and his work ethic is incredible. Any time we had down time, we were running lines or talking about why scenes still felt a little off and figuring out how to fix it.

ON the stage, I have never worked with a more giving actor than Kenny. As someone who fancies herself more of a singer than an actress, I can't even say how much I appreciated working with such an amazing actor. His dedication onstage and the way HIS actions brought Muriel out of ME was amazing. I'm so grateful for it, and I think I'll ONLY do shows with Kenny from now on. :)

The SECOND reason this show was so special to me is why I can also post this on my weight loss blog. This show very much felt like a coming out party for me. I haven't been onstage in a lead or supporting role ever since The Reckoning. The last show I did was Chicago, which is when I was at my heaviest. So, some of the audiences have not seen me since I lost the 30lbs (!!!) I've lost since December.

I have to tell you....as much as I love and appreciate every compliment I got on my acting and singing in this show -- probably the most I've gotten yet on my actual performance of a show to date -- I NEVER once got tired of hearing, "Oh my GOD you look AMAZING!" when I'd greet friends, family and strangers after each performance. And honestly? I felt amazing. I felt lighter, my breath support during dancing and singing was better and easier to handle, and I loved all my costumes. I loved how they looked and I loved how I felt in them.

Below is a couple of pictures just to illustrate some of the awesomeness of weight loss. The first one is a picture of my friend Olivia, who was in the show with me (and was also in Crazy For You). Olivia has been on a very similar weight loss journey with me over the past 6 months or more. She has, to date, lost over 55lbs. Since I have lost 30, I felt it necessary to document in a photograph the AWESOME-ness that is 85lbs lost combined:

This picture is just one I threw together when I was scrolling through old Facebook photos last week. The picture on the left is a picture of me after a performance of Chicago, and the picture on the right was taken during the rehearsal process for DRS. I feel like I look SO different (besides the lighter hair color, obviously) in the two pictures. I look YOUNGER in the picture on the right, so I guess it's true what they say, that losing weight can make you look (and feel) younger!

So, speaking of weight loss...I feel like it's time to make the announcement of the next project I'll be working on. I'll just go ahead and come right out and say it and THEN tell the story of how this came to be:

I will be playing Ulla in Denton Community Theatre's production of The Producers this August.

I know, this is VERY unlikely. For several reasons. One, I'm 5'3. Two, I'm not tall and thin with legs that go for days. Three...I'm not a skinny girl.

But, it happened. I'll never play the role again, so I'm going to take my chance since I have it. I need you to know, blog readers, how much I AGONIZED over auditioning for this.

I talked to two very honest, to-the-point friends of mine, who are also directors. I asked them, "If you were directing this show and I auditioned for this role, would you smile politely and then write "fat chance, sister!" on my audition form?" Both of them were honest and direct in their responses and both said something similar to "No, but we'd put you in the maybe file and hope and pray that a tall, leggy Amazon showed up to rehearsals." Okay, so at least I knew I wasn't being completely delusional with the audition. So I went, and I did my best.

Then came the agony of "What happens if I DO get cast? Are people going to see the cast list and scoff? Laugh at the fact that a 5'3", size 10-12 girl is playing Ulla? What are people goign to say to me? How am I going to prove myself? Can I lose another 20 lbs by August if I'm cast?"

Then I got offered the role. And I almost puked. People keep asking me, "Are you so excited?!" The answer deep down is yes...but I have found myself TERRIFIED of what people are going to say/think about this.

I was vague-tweeting about this on Twitter before I was offered the role, and another local actor who is also a fitness coach, Jimmy Hays Nelson, tweeted back to me, "Don't let someone else's opinion of you become YOUR reality." Boom, reality check. Why am I SO concerned about what other people are thinking?

Honestly I could go on and on about this...but I'll save that for another blog. Right now I'm just going to re-focus on making HEALTHY changes in my life, start religiously counting calories again (had a leeeeeeetle too much indulgence over the holiday weekend), and up the ante on my workouts. Not so that I can prove to anyone else that I deserve to play this role, but so that, just like I did in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I can walk off that stage every night feeling amazing and confident because I know I have worked hard.

As Ulla says, "If you got it -- FLAUNT it." Bring it on.