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Photo shoot

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

One of the things I like about community theatre is that it offers me opportunities to do things I’ve never done before — to push the outside of the envelope, you might say. Today was certainly no exception. Before leaving home, I shaved off my beard, and then shaved the upper part of my chest. Next, I drove to the theatre, where I put on a dress and started applying lipstick and mascara.
Perhaps I should back up and explain. Today’s experience was a photo shoot for the cover of a local magazine, part of the publicity for Radio Gals, the final show of the 2007-2008 season. Here’s the description from the RLT website:

Musical. From the creators of Pump Boys and Dinettes comes a lively, nostalgia-dipped musical, with old-time musical numbers and country humor. It is a warm spring day in 1928. From her parlor in Cedar Ridge, Arkansas, Hazel Hunt broadcasts her own radio station: a daily fare of inspirational and popular tunes, gossip, funnies, recipes, classified ads, sports scores, and fan mail from her mailbag. However, due to Hazel’s habit of “channel wandering,” her broadcasts are not always so local, to which listeners as far away as Montreal can testify. Enter O. B. Abbott, Federal Radio Inspector, intent on rescuing the airwaves from Hazel, claiming that workmen have been receiving the WGAL radio signal in a tunnel under the Hudson River, and accusing Hazel of being a “gypsy of the ether!”

But auditions for Radio Gals haven’t been held yet. The costumes and sets don’t yet exist (everyone is still busy putting together Peter Pan). How do you photograph characters who haven’t been cast, wearing costumes that haven’t been made, on a set that hasn’t been built?
You cheat, of course. First of all, you don’t need the whole cast; you can just photograph a couple of the characters. And in this case, even though auditions haven’t been started, we do know who will play one of the following two characters (as described in the casting call):

AZILEE SWINDLE: Elderly, well-dressed lady. Friend and associate of Hazel’s. (Usually played by a male–Voice midrange — instrument: preferably bass)
MABEL SWINDLE: Elderly, well-dressed lady. Friend and associate of Hazel’s. (Will be played by Brent Wilson, the Musical Director–voice midrange, plays piano.)

So you just have to find someone to be Azilee, and dress him and Brent in existing costumes from RLT’s inventory. You locate an actual living room with a decor that looks right for the 1920s, and you shoot the pictures there.
Actress Denise Michelle Penven-Crew volunteered her living room, so all that was needed was a man who would agree to put on a dress and pose with Brent. But who? At one point, RLT’s Technical Director, Jim Zervas, thought he would have to do it — but he really needed to spend the time working on the Peter Pan sets. So, when I crossed paths with him after rehearsal two nights ago, he said, “Hey, Pat, I need a favor.”
The next thing I knew, I was down in the costume shop trying on a dress. Fortunately, I was able to fit into the black and pink dress that Jo Brown wore in You Can’t Take It With You as Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (on the left in this photo) back in 2004. We also found a suitable wig. Obviously my beard would have to go, and I would need to eliminate any chest hair that might be visible above the V-shaped neckline.
Now you know why I was in a dressing room at RLT today, wearing a dress and applying makeup. Costume Designer Jenny found a shawl, a couple of necklaces, and a pair of earrings to complete my ensemble. Brent was already dressed, made up, and ready to go. The two of us rode across town to Denise’s house with photographer Stuart and Office Manager Wayne.
We were surprised to find a utility crew digging up the street in front of the house, installing or replacing some buried pipes. There were about half a dozen men wearing orange vests and hardhats, and Brent and I walked right past them in our dresses, wigs, and makeup to get to Denise’s front door. They didn’t give us even one whistle or catcall! I was devastated.
Inside the house, Stuart and Wayne set up the lights. Brent and I posed with some prop microphones and musical instruments while Stuart snapped the pictures. After that, it was back to RLT, where I changed into my own clothes and scrubbed off the makeup.
And that’s why, in a few weeks, I will be appearing on a magazine cover in drag — dressed as a character that I won’t be playing in a show that I am not in. I’m afraid that theatre historians in the future will be terribly confused when they find these photos in the RLT archives. But imagine my confusion if, while I was working on the props crew for You Can’t Take It With You, a visitor from my future had appeared, pointed at Jo Brown, and said, “Take a good look at that dress. In a few years, you’re going to be wearing it.”
In any event, I can now update my resume to show that I have experience as both an actor and a model. In fact, considering where one of today’s pictures will end up, I believe I can truthfully say that I was a cover girl.

The five seasons

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

Raleigh Little Theatre‘s Cantey Awards ceremony was held last night, bringing down the curtain on the 2006-2007 season. I have now been volunteering at RLT for five complete seasons. I’ve written here about a few of the plays that I worked on during that time, but many of them didn’t get a mention. So what have I actually been doing with the last five years of my life? Here’s the complete list:
2002-2003
Once Upon a Mattress: Light board
A Streetcar Named Desire: Light board
Cinderella: Actor
The Dance on Widow’s Row: Sound
2003-2004
Production coordinator (lights & sound, main stage)
Dames at Sea: Props
Schoolhouse Rock Live: Follow spot
Cinderella: Actor
Honk!: Sound
Smokey Joe’s Cafe: Wireless microphones
2004-2005
Production coordinator (lights)
Pump Boys & Dinettes: Light crew chief, light board, follow spot
You Can’t Take It With You: Props
Cinderella: Actor
Divas!: Follow spot
Catfish Moon: Light crew chief
Carousel: Actor
2005-2006
Production coordinator (lights)
The Spitfire Grill: Assistant stage manager (ASM)
Cinderella: Actor
Wit: ASM
Divas!: Follow spot
James & the Giant Peach: Video projector
Candide: Actor
2006-2007
Production coordinator (lights)
Honky Tonk Angels: ASM
Cinderella: Actor
House of Blue Leaves: ASM and actor
Merlin and the Cave of Dreams: Light board
Garden of the Wild: Stage manager
That list doesn’t include shows on which I worked in a one-day-only capacity: set construction work call, strike, light hang and focus, or ushering. (For example, I didn’t officially work on The Full Monty last month — but I ushered at one performance, and I came to strike and helped dismantle the set. And of course I recruited the light crew chief for that show.)
And here’s what I’ve already signed up to do in the new season:
2007-2008
Production coordinator (lights)
The Battle of Shallowford: ASM
At first, I intended to explain each of those job titles here. But each one really deserves a blog post of its own.
UPDATE: My commitments for the new season are:
2007-2008
Production coordinator (lights)
The Battle of Shallowford: Actor
I didn’t expect to be cast in Shallowford, but I was. More on that later.

Under pressure

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Following a link from Instapundit, I read a Popular Mechanics article on Extreme Plumbing by Jamie Hyneman of MythBusters fame. Jamie makes the following point about pressure tanks:

The forces at play with high-pressure tanks can be huge. If the energy stored in a workshop air-compressor tank is released all at once, it can hurt or kill a person. I once complained to our insurers, “Why are you so fussy about the explosives we use on the show? Every day we make rigs using pressure tanks that are just as dangerous.” Big mistake. Now they fuss about pressure tanks, too.

As it happens, I was reading this shortly after I got home from Raleigh Little Theatre, where I spent all day working on the first technical rehearsal of House of Blue Leaves. I am assistant stage manager for this play, and one of my responsibilities is to handle the special effects that are used when, halfway through Act 2, a bomb explodes just offstage. One of those special effects is a compressed-air cannon that fires a load of fuller’s earth through a doorway onto the stage, simulating the cloud of dust and smoke produced by the explosion. The cannon fires when I open a valve that releases air from a pressure tank.
In fact, one of the last things I did at RLT before coming home was to repressurize that tank to 80 psi so that it’s ready for tomorrow’s dress rehearsal. Then I came home and read Jamie’s explanation that pressure tanks are dangerous and can kill you.
Actually, I’m not worried. If you read his entire article, you’ll see that that paragraph is scary only when taken out of context. Sure, pressure tanks can be dangerous if you use them in a reckless or irresponsible way, but the MythBusters don’t do that, and neither do theatre techies like me. Jamie’s article is really about how many of the challenges on MythBusters have been solved with plumbing and pressure tanks, and what that tells us about how useful and powerful that technology is. And fun, of course. I’m certainly going to be careful operating my cannon over the next several weeks, but I’d be lying if I said it won’t be a big thrill to set it off.

Voltaire’s footman

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

A year ago, I wrote about a strange coincidence that happened to me. It was connected with the Raleigh Little Theatre play that I was rehearsing for, which was a week away from its premiere.
The same thing seems to be happening again. I am in the cast of Candide, which opens next week. A few days ago, I was reading James Lileks’s daily Web column The Bleat, in which he wrote about watching a Charlie Chaplin film with his preschool-age daughter. Describing her response to a particular scene, Lileks wrote: “She had the exact same reaction I had – gasps and laughter in equal amount. You could show this movie to Voltaire or his footman and they’d have the same reaction.”
As it happens, in Candide I am Voltaire’s footman. What are the odds that Lileks would pick that particular example of a random historical spear-carrier during the brief moment in my life when I happen to be playing him on stage?
This isn’t the only odd coincidence I’ve experienced recently in connection with my theatrical avocation. A couple of days ago, I decided on a whim to see what Wikipedia had to say about NECCO Wafers. (It’s an obscure candy that I vaguely remember from my childhood, but haven’t seen for a long time, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know who made them, what they were made of, or even if they still existed.) Wikipedia does, in fact, have an article about the Wafers, and another article about NECCO, the company that makes them. I learned that NECCO has three factories, one of which is in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
As I wrote here a few months ago, I was born in Thibodaux.
Out of curiosity, I followed the link to Wikipedia’s article about Thibodaux and skimmed through it. At the bottom were links to the Web sites for Thibodaux’s city government and its Chamber of Commerce. Reading the Discover Thibodaux page on the city’s site, I learned that my birthplace has a community theatre called the Thibodaux Playhouse, which seemed remarkable for a town of less than 15,000 people. I figured the Playhouse probably had a Web site of its own, and one Google search later, I was looking at it.
Actually, I was staring at it in astonishment. The Thibodaux Playhouse is now rehearsing a play called The Spitfire Grill (a stage adaptation of the 1996 movie). Auditions were held a few weeks ago, and the show will open at the end of July. I am quite familiar with The Spitfire Grill, because we produced it at Raleigh Little Theatre earlier this season, and I worked on it as assistant stage manager.
Again, I have to ask: what are the odds of this kind of thing happening?
UPDATE (5 June 2006): There’s definitely some kind of cosmic conspiracy going on. I was just reading the five-minute parody version of “Logopolis”, the classic Doctor Who episode that this blog was named after, and it contains a NECCO Wafers reference!

Just a coincidence

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

So I’m on my way to work, practicing my vocal parts for Carousel as I drive. I have the cast recording from the 1994 Broadway revival playing on my car stereo so I can sing along. RLT‘s production of Carousel opens a week from Friday, and the more I practice the better. I’m stopped at a traffic light, and my attention is focused more on what I’m singing than on the view of the car ahead of me. But gradually, I realize what I am seeing on the car’s trunk lid:




It’s an advertising sticker for a car dealership in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Apparently someone drove a car from there to North Carolina just to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It worked.

Catfish Moon, part 1: Recruiting

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

It’s been weeks since I’ve posted anything here. Blame Raleigh Little Theatre, which is where I am almost anytime I’m not at work or sleeping. Right now we’re rehearsing Carousel, but before I start talking about that show, I want to tell you about my experience on the previous one, Catfish Moon.
I was light crew chief for that play. The job of the crew chief is to recruit, schedule, train, and manage the light crew for the play in question. This was my second time serving as a light crew chief; the first time was on Pump Boys and Dinettes, a show we staged last fall.
The first question on a light crew chief’s mind is: is this a play a musical? The answer determines the size of the light crew, because musicals use follow spots and non-musicals don’t. If there a no follow spots, the crew chief just has to provide a light board operator for each performance. For musicals, a crew of three (one light board operator and two spot operators) is required, so the size of the light crew triples and the scheduling task becomes far more complex.
Pump Boys and Dinettes was a musical, so I had already had the experience of managing a large light crew. I knew Catfish Moon was not a musical when I volunteered, so I was looking forward to a less demanding job this time. I started by sending a note to the RLT Volunteers e-mail list, announcing that I was the light crew chief for Catfish Moon. I included the list of technical rehearsal and performance dates, and invited would-be light board operators to send a me note.
I was delighted with the response — I actually heard from more volunteers than I could use on this show, which is not always the case. I ended up picking five people for the crew. One of them was a veteran who has been volunteering at RLT longer than I have. It’s tempting to try to fill your entire crew with people of that sort, but I don’t think it’s a good idea because you risk burning out your best people. On the other hand, you don’t want to recruit too many people with no technical theatre experience at all, because you don’t know how well they’ll handle the job. In this case, I was delighted to be able to fill my other four slots with people who had some backstage experience at other theatres, but who were new to RLT. With any luck, they would get hooked on the experience (the way I did three years ago) and stick around for other shows.
After making my selection, I sent e-mails to those five people to let them know that they were on my crew, and notified the other volunteers that I wouldn’t be needing them for this show. (I invited them to volunteer for later plays, and offered to pass on their names and contact information to the light crew chiefs of those shows if they would like me to.) Now it was time for the part of the crew chief job that I find most challenging: drawing up the schedule.

Performing Cinderella, part 2: from Prologue to Ball

Tuesday, January 27th, 2004

Scene breakdown
Part 1
I can’t describe what goes on during the Prologue for two reasons: there’s far too much of it, and most of it I’m not even consciously aware of. The entire ensemble is on stage in this scene, and director Haskell has divided us up into various groups, each of which has its own little story line to play out. For example, the Landlord stands behind the barrel at stage left, serving drinks to the characters nearby. A pair of rogues work their way through the crowd, picking pockets. The Lovers stroll through the middle of it all, oblivious to everything but each other. And so forth. I only pay attention to the other characters that I interact with, so there are undoubtedly other bits of action being played out on the far side of the stage that I don’t even notice. I can’t really stop and watch the play, can I?
So let me just describe what the Prologue is like from my own highly subjective point of view. In my mind, the scene breaks down into a series of shorter encounters:

  1. The other quartet members and I enter, move to downstage center, and perform our “Love, Joy, Health, and Peace” song-and-dance number. At the end of the third verse, the red drape rises, revealing the townspeople. The quartet performs another dance routine, which ends with Anne and me downstage left as the Schoolmarm enters, downstage right, with her pupils behind her. Anne and I don’t like the Schoolmarm, so we hightail it upstage and join the knot of revelers around the Landlord’s barrel.
  2. The Schoolmarm and her pupils are the focus of attention now, and the rest of us react as they interact with a pair of street urchins. (These kids are the same ones who play the Mouse Ponies and the Young Prince.) Then Mother Ginger (the town baker) enters with a tray of cookies, and the children crowd around while she and her assistant hand them out. We react to that too (much rubbing of stomachs, licking of lips, and sniffing the imaginary aroma of freshly-baked prop cookies).
  3. The whole ensemble gathers at center stage to admire the Christmas tree and chatter about how lovely it is. Inspired by this, the quartet does another song-and-dance routine: “Here’s to thee, O Christmas tree, we wish thee all good cheer . . .”
  4. As soon as we finish, we scurry out of the way of the Wooden Shoe Girls, who are already moving downstage. These lovely ladies perform a traditional holiday dance while the rest of us clap and cheer.
  5. After the girls come the Hobbyhorses, two of the town’s youths in pantomime knight-on-horseback costumes. They play out a thrilling jousting match while we spectators choose sides, make hasty wagers, cheer one champion and boo the other, and go wild when one of the knights finally slays the other.
  6. The entire ensemble now sings and dances a reprise of “Here’s to thee, O Christmas tree,” after which we all join hands in a long line that snakes back and forth across the stage and then play Crack the Whip, still singing, until we exit stage right.

End of Prologue! As the ensemble members troop down the stair to the dressing rooms, the Fairy Helpers finally come down from their pedestals (where they have been pretending to be statues throughout the prologue), and sing a song introducing the Fairy Godmother. At first they can’t find her, but they finally figure out she’s inside the Christmas tree, rotate it so that the opening in the back is exposed, and she emerges to sing another song with them. While this is going on, members of the running crew (who are hidden behind a backdrop) grab handles attached to the Christmas tree and move it off, stage left. (I describe this because the tree’s location becomes important later.)
Down in the dressing room, it’s time for the ensemble members to remove their prologue costumes and makeup and get ready for the Ball. As with my preparation for the prologue, this is a race against time, but I no longer pay attention to the clock. What’s important now is not what time it is, but what scene is currently being played out on stage. As I work on my makeup, I keep one ear cocked to the sound of the monitor speakers in the dressing room ceiling. Through these speakers, we can hear the dialogue and songs of the current scene (and since we all have the scene breakdown memorized by this point, this is all we need to keep track of where we are in the play). Here’s what I’m doing as the scenes prior to the Ball progress:
“Hi Diddle Dee”: I remove my prologue costume: first the top hat and hood, then the ruff collar and shirt, and finally the pants and jazz shoes. All of these get hung up or stowed on the shelf above the hanger rod. The white socks also come off, leaving me in my briefs and undershirt. I put on a pair of drawstring sleep pants and go across the hall to the men’s room. (I can’t walk around in my underwear, and I’m not ready to put on my pants for the Ball. The sleep pants are loose and comfortable — especially in the dressing room, which sometimes gets a bit hot and stuffy.)
“What’s to Become of Me?”: I peel off the stick-on earrings and toss them in the trash. Using a facial cleansing wipe, I remove those parts of my makeup that aren’t compatible with the Ball: the teardrop lines, eyebrows, and eyeliner (which is the wrong color for the Ball), the lipstick, and the circles of rouge on my cheeks.
“Get to Work”: For our Ball characters, we have to put on Restoration makeup, which begins with a very light (but still skin-colored) base. After experimenting with different types of makeup last year, I ended up using highlight makeup from my starter kit over my entire face. I needed something very pale, but not as pale as Clown White, and that fit the bill. Since last year’s prologue makeup had a darker, more natural flesh-toned base, I just cleaned it all off and started over when applying makeup for the Ball.
But this year, I’m wearing Clown White for the prologue. I don’t really have to clean that off; I just have to make it a bit darker and more flesh-toned. So I take my prologue base from last year (the darker, more natural-looking stuff) and dot it on over the Clown White. Then I use my fingers to blend the two together, producing a pale flesh-toned base suitable for the Ball. I spread this over the holes I created with the cleansing wipes, then blend it all until my entire face is a single, even color.
“King Darling the Third”: I apply eyeliner similar to what I wore for the prologue, but this time with a blue eye pencil (to match my Ball costume, which is blue). As before, this means drawing a line along each lower eyelid and high, arched, blue eyebrows. I apply mascara again, since most of it probably got wiped off when I was removing the black eyeliner after the prologue.
“If I Gave You A Silken Ribbon”: Time to apply lip color. This is the same lipstick I used for the prologue, but now it only goes on the middle third of my lips, in a heart shape. I’ve already blended the pale base makeup over the remainder of my lips. Creating this heart shape takes a little more precision than applying lipstick to the entire mouth, so I use a small brush to put the lipstick on.
“Knock! Knock! Knock!”: The Fairy Helpers are now delivering invitations to the Ball, so I’d better get busy if I’m going to be ready to attend it. I apply rouge to my cheeks, but this time it follows the natural line of my cheekbones instead of forming circles as it did in the clown makeup. Finally, I brush on a layer of translucent powder, and the makeup is finished.
“At the Ball”: Instead of painted-on beauty marks, we use glitter appliques from a party store, which come in various shapes (stars, moons, hearts curlicues) and colors. These are attached with spirit gum. John, who sits to my left in the dressing room, is a wizard with spirit gum (his prologue costume includes a fake mustache and beard), so I have him glue two heart appliques to my face. I make one more visit to the men’s room, then start putting my Ball costume on. Removing the sleep pants, I pull on a pair of white tights, carefully working them up each leg and pulling them taut so there are no wrinkles or sags. Over the tights go a pair of blue satin knee pants with suspenders. Next, I put on a pair of ordinary black dress shoes and add shoe trims — elastic bands with gold metallic flowers attached, which snap on over the instep and transform the plain shoes into fancy footwear suitable for the Ball. I’m now wearing the bottom half of my costume.
“By My Fire”: The ensemble sings during this number, but we do so invisibly from the stage left wings. I go down the hall, up the stairs, and join the other ensemble members who are congregating in the wings as Cinderella sings the solo part of the song. Once we’re all in place, we sing our verse as Dennis, who plays one of the Ugly Stepsisters, directs us. (We can’t see Jane or hear the orchestra over the sound of our own voices. Dennis stands at the edge of the stage where he can see and hear, and relays the tempo to us so we stay in step.) After the song ends, I go back downstairs to finish getting ready.
As the Fairy Godmother is transforming the pumpkin into a coach and the mice into horses, I put on the rest of my costume: a striped vest, a frilly jabot that fastens around my neck, and a jacket that matches my knee pants. A lace handkerchief is required for one bit of the “Sneeze Polka” scene, so I fold mine up and tuck it between two of the buttons of my vest (my costume has no pockets). Finally, I take a white yarn wig off the styrofoam head on my makeup table and place it on my head. My costume is complete, and I climb the stairs to the stage-right wings, from which I’ll be entering for the Ball.
When I get there, Cinderella’s scullery-maid dress has been magically transformed into a ball gown, and the Fairy Godmother is instructing her helpers to go with Cinderella to the Ball. Numerous other ensemble members are gathering in the wings, but we have to be careful where we stand. In a moment, the Stepmama’s House set will separate into two halves, which glide offstage into the wings (guided by a track that’s attached to the floor). We actors have to stay out of the path traveled by these set wagons. No problem: while I’m waiting for my entrance, I stand inside the Christmas tree, which is nearby in the wings, upstage of the track that the set wagons run on. From inside the tree, I watch while the running crew techs move the wagons off, secure them, and then move away. At this point I step out of the tree and advance to the edge of the stage, where Gina (my initial dance partner for the Ball) is already waiting. I’m behind her, so I touch her shoulder to let her know I’m there. We’re in place and ready for the Ball.
As the Mouse Ponies pull the coach offstage with Cinderella inside, the ensemble sings: “Cinderella, Cinderella, Cinderella, now it’s time your every dream came true!” The last note has to continue until the coach is offstage, so we hold it until the Fairy Godmother signals our cutoff. The FGM says, “I see by the stars that it’s time I was getting to the Ball as well! But of course I must remain invisible — for now.” As Jane plays the opening bars of the Ball music on her keyboard, Gina and I (and the rest of the ensemble) rush out onto the stage, take our places, and start to dance the Polonaise. The Ball has begun.
(To be concluded in Part 3.)

Performing Cinderella, part 1: Before the show

Saturday, January 3rd, 2004

Now that I’ve given you the scene breakdown for Cinderella, I want to describe what I actually do in the show. Although the play is now over, I’ll write this in the present tense for simplicity. I’ll describe a 7:30 p.m. weekday performance, but this timeline is also valid for a 1:00 or 5:00 weekend show. I plan to stop and explain a number of things, and I’ll put those digressions in italics so you can skip them if you like.
Morning. After showering and before shaving, I apply a moisturizer to my face.
Like most guys, I normally don’t give much thought to my skin unless it malfunctions or something pokes a hole in it. But for actors, facial skin is a tool — the canvas on which you use makeup to paint your character. So keeping that skin in good condition becomes imperative. Applying and removing stage makeup several times a day dries out my face and leads to soreness (especially in the area around my eyes) if I don’t take precautions. At the makeup workshop on December 5, one of my fellow actors recommended a light, nongreasy moisturizer called Cetaphil, and that’s what I use.
5:00. Before leaving work, I eat supper at my desk.
During the show’s run, I prefer to drive directly from IBM to the theatre, so I bring my supper to work and eat in my office before leaving work. I either go out for lunch or bring that meal to work as well. This is one of the reasons I recently bought a bigger backpack.
5:45. I leave work and drive to the BTI Center. On the way over, I use my electric razor to touch up my shave. When you’re applying stage makeup, you don’t want to have any stubble.
6:15. I arrive at the theatre, sign in on the call board, and walk down the corridor to the ensemble men’s dressing room. Removing everything from my pockets (wallet, keys, coin purse, Swiss Army knife, Palm), I store it all in a pocket of my backpack. I turn off my mobile phone and put it in too, along with my wristwatch. I stash the backpack against the wall underneath my costumes (which are hanging on a rod that runs along one wall of the dressing room). I visit the restroom. (I’m a bit paranoid about making sure my bladder is empty before I go on stage.)
6:30. The other cast members have been arriving, and now someone knocks on our door and says it’s time for vocal warmups. We climb the stairs to the stage, where the entire cast is assembling, most still clad in street clothes, some with their makeup partly done already. Music director Jane is sitting at her keyboard in the orchestra pit, and she leads us through a few minutes of voice exercises. When she’s done, ensemble member Elanah takes over and leads stretching exercises.
If the stage manager or anyone else has announcements for the cast, this is when they speak up. For example, a cast member may say, “You’re all invited to a cast party at my place after Thursday’s performance. I’ll post handouts with directions on the call board.” On December 20th, Jane surprised me by announcing that it was my birthday and playing “Happy Birthday” on her keyboard while the whole cast sang to me. Until that moment, I had completely forgotten that it was my birthday.
6:40. Back in the dressing room, I remove my glasses and put in contact lenses. I use a facial-cleansing wipe to clean my skin and then apply moisturizer. I take off my street shoes and put them with my backpack, then remove my street clothes (leaving only my underwear) and put on the RLT-provided white undershirt, the bottom half of my Prologue costume (baggy white clown pants with elastic suspenders), and white crew socks. I fold my street clothes and place them on the shelf above the rod where my costumes hang.
The contacts are daily-wear lenses that I obtained for the play, because I can’t wear my glasses on stage. Lenses that completely correct my vision would have to be special-ordered and would be too expensive, so these lenses correct only my nearsightedness and not my astigmatism. I couldn’t use them for driving, but they’re perfectly fine for use on stage, where I just have to see well enough to avoid walking into the scenery.
6:50. I visit the restroom again. Time to get started on my makeup. I open my makeup kit, pull out my container of Clown White, and start applying it to my face. Using the tip of my index finger, I put dots of makeup on my forehead, cheeks, chin, and nose until I look like I’ve contracted some horrible disease, then spread it evenly over my entire face from hairline to jaw line.
My makeup kit is a small tackle box that I bought at Wal-Mart during last year’s Cinderella. Many actors use triangular cosmetic sponges to apply and blend makeup, but I prefer using my fingertips because it gives me better control of where the makeup goes. This may be because all of the foundations I’ve used so far are creams — if I were using a powder base, the sponges might be more useful. On the other hand, I might just use a cosmetic puff instead.
7:00. The speakers in the dressing-room ceiling come to life as the stage manager or one of the ASMs (assistant stage managers) announces that the house is open (audience members are now being seated) and then says “25 minutes until places.” I apply lipstick, then start using an eyeliner pencil and mascara to define my eyes.
Stage makeup sometimes is used to change your appearance for a role — adding lines to make you look older, for example — but its basic function is to make your features visible to the audience. Without makeup, the combination of distance and bright lighting will make your face look like a featureless oval. So you have to use foundation and lipstick to restore color, eye makeup to emphasize the borders of your eyes, and highlight and shadow makeup to exaggerate raised areas (such as cheekbones or the bridge of your nose) and hollows (under your cheekbones and eyebrow ridges, for example). Highlight and shadow don’t apply to clown makeup, but I define my eyes by using mascara to darken my upper eyelashes and by drawing a line along the edge of each lower eyelid with a black eyebrow pencil. And, of course, lipstick makes my mouth visible.
7:10. “Fifteen minutes to places” comes over the speakers. I use the eyebrow pencil to draw high, arched eyebrows above my real eyebrows, which are more or less obscured by the Clown White. The Pierrot style of clown makeup calls for stylized teardrops, so I draw a short black line downward from the center of each lower eyelid. Using a small brush, I draw circles on each cheek with rouge. After applying a layer of translucent powder over my entire face, I open a pair of small stick-on earrings (hearts or diamonds) and glue one to the bottom of each teardrop line.
The purpose of the translucent powder is to “set” the makeup, giving it a dry surface that hopefully won’t rub off on things. Our costumer originally gave me small rhinestones to use as teardrops, glued to my face with spirit gum. But the Cinderella concession stand in the lobby sells stick-on earrings (along with tiaras, magic wands, and so forth), and these turn out to be perfect for use as teardrops. Since they have their own adhesive, no spirit gum is required — I can just peel them off the backing paper and press them on.
7:20. “Five minutes to places.” The makeup’s done. I visit the restroom one more time (I told you I’m paranoid about this). Time to finish getting dressed. I put on black jazz shoes (no big floppy clown shoes for me, I have to dance in this outfit!), then remove the top half of my costume (a big, baggy white shirt with long sleeves) from its hanger. This shirt has a drawstring collar that ties in the back, so I put it on over my head backwards, pull the drawstring tight in the front and tie it, then turn it around and put my arms through the sleeves. There’s also a separate black ruff collar, which ties around my neck with a ribbon. Finally, I put on the Pierrot headgear: a close-fitting black hood (instead of a wig) and a black top hat. I check my makeup in the mirror to make sure I haven’t smudged it.
7:25. “Actors to places, please.” Stepping out into the corridor, I meet the other three members of the quartet, and we climb the stairs to the stage left wings. The stage left ASM and several other crew members are there, and cast members greet us quietly or say “break a leg” as they pass through to take up their places behind the red drape. The Fairy Godmother (FGM) and Curtis, who plays one of her helpers, arrive. (The other helper is already in the stage right wings.) We can hear the audience murmuring in the house.
The red drape is a curtain that conceals the townspeople while we (the quartet) sing our song in front of it. We are a troupe of traveling entertainers who are arriving in the town as the play begins. As we enter, we ad-lib chatter about the town and our journey, stop and ad-lib more comments about the audience and the fancy clock on the archway over the stage, then begin our song. As we finish, the drape rises to reveal the townspeople, and the prologue really gets under way. The fairy helpers are on stage during the prologue, but they stand frozen on pedestals on both sides of the stage, pretending to be statues. A large conical Christmas tree stands in the center of the stage, acting as a centerpiece for the scene. It’s also the where the FGM is hidden during the prologue — it’s hollow and has a door-shaped opening in the side that faces away from the audience.
7:30. The townspeople are in place, and one of the crew members reports to the ASM that the FGM is now in the tree. A prerecorded announcement in the FGM’s voice plays over the house speakers, pointing out the locations of the fire exits and asking audience members to turn off their phones and pagers. The five of us (quartet and Curtis) wait as the final moments tick away, mentally reviewing our song lyrics and dance steps. We hear applause from the audience as a spotlight picks out Jane in the orchestra pit. She bows, the spotlight flicks off, and the house lights fade. Curtis moves past us onto the dark stage and steps up onto his pedestal. The quartet is already lined up in the order of our entrances — Anne first, then me, followed by Meredith and John. As we tiptoe to the edge of the stage, Jane begins playing on her keyboard the sound of the town clock striking the hour. That’s our cue. The lights come up on stage as we start our ad-lib chatter, walk out on stage, react to the clock and the audience, and begin to sing.
(Continued in Part 2.)

Scene breakdown

Saturday, December 27th, 2003

Cinderella may be over, but I’m not done writing about it yet. There were several blog entries that I wanted to write while the show was in progress, but I ran out of time. So I’m going to do it now while the experience is still fresh in my mind.
A couple of those entries will have to refer to specific scenes in the play, and those references won’t mean much to you unless you know what those scenes are and the order in which they occur. There are only fourteen of them, so I’ll just list them here:

  1. Prologue: A quartet of commedia dell’Arte players comes on stage and sings a song to the audience. The curtain behind them then rises, revealing the people of the town going about various activities as they prepare to celebrate Christmas.
  2. “Hi Diddle Dee”: The Fairy Godmother (FGM) and her two helpers sing a song that introduces them. Then they review their list of needy cases and identify Cinderella as a candidate for their next magical intervention.
  3. “What’s to Become of Me”: While FGM and her helpers watch invisibly, Cinderella sings a solo about her sad lot in life.
  4. “Get to Work”: Stepmama and the Ugly Stepsisters enter and order Cinderella around, then sing a song in which they give her lots of work to do. FGM decides she definitely has to help Cinderella. Remembering that today is Prince Charming’s 21st birthday and he has to choose a bride by midnight, she tells her helpers to disguise themselves as royal guards and observe what’s happening at the palace while she looks up some magic spells.
  5. “King Darling the Third”: In the throne room, the nearsighted king sings a song (along with his two pages and the two “guards”) that introduces him. Then Prince Charming the First enters and the king reminds him of the impending deadline. The king hits on the idea of holding a ball that evening and inviting every unmarried woman in the realm so that the Prince can choose one. He orders the “guards” to deliver the invitations.
  6. “If I Gave You a Silken Ribbon”: The Prince sings a solo about his difficult lot in life and his failure to find a bride. FGM arrives, receives an update from the helpers, and tells them to go ahead and deliver the invitations; she’s going to make sure Cinderella attends the ball.
  7. “Knock! Knock! Knock!”: The “guards” deliver a singing invitation to the Stepmama, the Stepsisters, and Cinderella. Stepmama tells Cinderella she can’t go to the ball.
  8. “At the Ball”: Stepmama and the Stepsisters sing about going to the ball, then depart, leaving Cinderella behind.
  9. “By My Fire”: Cinderella sings about her sad lot in life some more. FGM and her helpers appear and tell Cinderella that she’s going to the ball after all. They transform a pumpkin into a golden coach, six mice into horses, and Cinderella’s plain dress into a beautiful gown. FGM instructs her helpers to accompany Cinderella to the ball; she will also go, but will remain invisible.
  10. The Ball: The ball is already in progress when Cinderella arrives, astonishing everyone with her golden coach and breathtaking gown. By the end of the ball, the Prince is thoroughly smitten and asks Cinderella to marry him. She accepts, the clock strikes midnight, and she flees, leaving a glass slipper behind.
  11. Prince in the House: The heartbroken prince decides to search the entire kingdom for the woman whose foot fits the slipper. Accompanied by the king and the two “guards”, he goes out into the house and tries the slipper on various members of the audience.
  12. Slipper Scene: After visiting every other house in the kingdom, the party reaches Stepmama’s house. After trying the slipper on Stepmama and both Stepsisters, the Prince identifies Cinderella as the mystery princess from the ball and once again asks her to marry him.
  13. “Hi Diddle Dee” Reprise: Both families head back to the palace for the wedding, while FGM and her two helpers sing a reprise of “Hi Diddle Dee.”
  14. Finale/Bows: The ensemble and principals take their bows, sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to the audience, and then exit to the lobby to greet audience members and sign autographs.

The ensemble and the Mouse Ponies are involved in just four of these scenes: the Prologue, “By My Fire,” the Ball, and Finale/Bows. (The ensemble is heard but not seen in “By My Fire”; they sing offstage during the last verse of the song.)

Happily ever after

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

It’s over! Cinderella XX has ended its run. And a good thing, too; I don’t think I would have lasted much longer.
The Friday night performance went okay for me, although I was worried about Jo Brown. She was feeling increasingly ill and got through that show mostly on sheer willpower. Since we didn’t have to arrive at the theatre until noon on Saturday, I had planned to sleep comparatively late that morning, but I woke up at 5:00 a.m. with a sore throat. I was able to clear up the soreness by drinking a couple of glasses of water and went back to bed, but when my alarm went off at 9:00, I was still somewhat hoarse.
When I got to the theatre at noon, there was a mixture of good and bad news. Sandi was back and ready to reclaim the role of Fairy Godmother, but Jo was now too sick to perform. She had gone home to rest, and Becky Johnston would be staying on as Stepmama to the end of the run. The two Saturday shows went surprisingly well, considering that Sandi was stepping back into her role after over a week away from it. But she’s a trouper, and performed as if she had never been away. I, on the other hand, was struggling to keep my voice from cracking. The only place where this really mattered was the very beginning of the play, when the quartet enters and sings to the audience. That song is four-part harmony, with me as the only bass — so if my voice were to give out, there would be no hiding that fact from the audience. I got through it, but my singing sounded ragged in my own ears. (The other members of the quartet swore they couldn’t tell, but perhaps they were just being kind.)
The rest of the show wasn’t as risky, because I only had to sing when the entire ensemble was singing. I cheated a bit and just lip-synched part of the “Sneeze Polka,” one of the song-and-dance numbers in the Ball scene. By the end of the show I had figured out that I could keep my voice more or less under control as long as I was singing fairly loudly. Between that trick and lip-synching, I was able to get through the evening performance. On Sunday I had the same experience; I woke up with a sore throat, banished it with lots of water, and managed to produce enough baritone to sing two more shows.
The final performance began at 5:00 and ended about 6:30, and we had to be out of the Fletcher Opera Theatre by 11:00 p.m. And when I say “we,” I mean the cast, crew, scenery, props, costumes, and all personal items. Everything. So the strike had to proceed rapidly. Normally, I tend to think of a strike as something that begins immediately after the final curtain, but that’s only true of striking the sets. For everything else, the strike begins while the final performance is still under way. For example, we started striking costumes immediately after the first scene. Costume strike instructions were already posted on all the dressing room doors, so we knew what to do. As soon as we were done with a costume, we put the dry-cleanable portions of it back on the hangers and moved them to a wheeled costume rack near the door. Washable costume items like undershirts and tights were tossed into laundry baskets. Accessories like jewelry and shoe trims were placed in ziploc bags and safety-pinned to the costume hangers. Shoes belonging to the the theatre (like the jazz shoes I wore for the Prologue) had to be sprayed with Lysol, rubber-banded together, and placed in the box marked “Shoes” in the costume shop. Hats and wigs went into other boxes.
Up on the stage, the props people were striking props as soon as they were no longer required. After the show ended, we actors took off and struck our final costumes, scrubbed the makeup from our faces, and then packed up our makeup kits and other personal items and loaded them into our cars, leaving the dressing room empty and clean. Then we reported to the stage, where the crew had already finished striking the props and were now working on the sets. By 9:00 all of the sets, props, and costumes were loaded into two rental trucks. One of these, containing mostly costumes, went to RLT to unload those, and Marie and I went along to help. After all the costumes were moved back into RLT, we drove to RLT’s warehouse to help the others unload the sets and store them.
Ruth wasn’t able to participate in the Cinderella strike, because she was on stage in the final performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. But we picked her up afterward, and the three of us went out to IHOP for an impromptu strike dinner.
Thus ended my second year in the Cinderella ensemble (and Ruth’s debut as an actress, but I’ll let her tell you about that in her own blog). Will I do it again next year? I really don’t know. At the moment I don’t even want to think about doing another show — I’m looking forward to having evenings and weekends again, and being able to do things like watch TV, spend time with my family at home instead of at a theatre, or even go to bed early if I feel like it. Ask me in June or July if I want to audition for Cinderella XXI. For now, I plan to put away my dancing shoes and makeup kit, grow my beard back, and return to my normal lifestyle. (If I can remember what it was.)