Dec 31

License plates

Since the middle of summer, I’ve been playing the License Plate Game: try to spot a license plate from every state in the U.S. by the end of the year. Greg and Virgil have been doing this for several years, using their Palms to keep track of their progress, and I decided to give it a try. I think I’ve done pretty well, considering that I started playing after half the year was already gone. But on the last day of the year, I’m still two states short — I haven’t seen Idaho or South Dakota. Unless a double miracle occurs in the next six hours or so, I’m not going to complete my 2003 checklist.
So I’ll start over with a new checklist tomorrow morning. I just wish I hadn’t seen an Alaska plate yesterday on my way to work. Argh! I’ll need that one tomorrow, but right now it’s useless. (I actually saw plates for Idaho and South Dakota a few days ago, but they were expired plates for sale in a truck stop. The rules of the game state that the plate has to be attached to a vehicle. So those were equally useless.)

Dec 31

What have I done?

I only meant to sabotage Jen’s NaNoWriMo project, but apparently I underestimated my own powers. After posting nothing for almost a month, she has finally reappeared with the revelation that she has lost the ability to blog. This is terrible — and it’s all my fault! I am now working to repair the damage, but I may need some help with this. Everyone, please focus all the positive psychic energy you can spare in Jen’s direction so that she’ll recover quickly from this case of Blogger’s Block and start posting again. Do it for Jen — and for me, because I don’t want to go down in history as the evil mastermind who killed Jen’s blog!

Dec 30

Movies about the sea

Bit by bit, I’m emerging from my Cinderella spider hole. Over the weekend, I started to chip away at my movie backlog by watching a couple of DVDs (I’m so far behind that some of the films in my backlog are already available in disc form). Ruth has been pestering me to watch Pirates of the Caribbean ever since that DVD came out, and she finally screened it for me on Christmas Day. I like swashbuckling adventure films, and this one definitely fits that description. I think the sword duel in the blacksmith’s shop may well end up on everyone’s lists of classic action scenes, along with the shootout at Marion’s tavern in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the gun battle on the riverboat in The Mummy.
The next day, my nephew Jason dumped a half dozen of his newest DVDs on the table in front of us and said we were welcome to watch anything we wanted. I immediately latched onto Finding Nemo, which I missed when it was on the big screen. There was no question that I would enjoy it; Pixar never disappoints. As Bob has pointed out, what most people notice about Pixar is the superb computer-generated graphics, but that’s not what makes all Pixar films huge successes. People of all ages love Pixar movies because of the quality of the writing. Nemo is no exception. I find the movie’s theme — the triumph of hope over fear — very moving. I would try to explain why, but Iain Murray has beaten me to it; his article on the subject was published today at National Review Online.
I still have a lot of movies to watch before I’m caught up. Some of them aren’t out on DVD yet, so I’ll have to go to one of those buildings with lots of seats and a great big screen on one wall. It’s been so long since I’ve been to one that I forget what they’re called. It’s a word something like “theatre,” but I know that’s not right; “theatre” is the place with dressing rooms and a stage where I spent the last two months of my life. Oh, well, it’ll come to me eventually.

Dec 27

Scene breakdown

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.)

Dec 23

Happily ever after

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.)

Dec 19

The light at the end of the tunnel

Greetings from the belly of the beast. Cinderella is now about two thirds of the way through its run — we’ve done eight shows out of thirteen, with five remaining. But those five will go quickly, because we start another weekend marathon tonight. Five shows in 48 hours, followed immediately by strike. So Cinderella will consume my entire weekend, but then it will be over.
The run has gone well overall, considering the challenges that have faced us. One of my earlier posts stated that Sandi, who was supposed to play the Fairy Godmother, had the flu. I deleted that statement because it was incorrect (a mistake on my part). Sandi was hospitalized due to an infection that was apparently more serious than the flu, because they kept her for a week. I don’t know the details, but we were told yesterday that she had been released. We don’t know whether she’ll be returning to the play. I would be delighted to learn that she’s well enough to rejoin us, but if she’s still recuperating, a five-show marathon is probably not the best thing for her. Well, we’ll see.
Two of the Mouse Ponies were sick earlier this week, and one of the king’s pages. Fortunately, those characters only have to appear in a couple of scenes, so they were able to perform despite not feeling well. (And they’ve all recovered now.) Since I haven’t had a flu shot (and can’t get one now, because all of the doctors’ offices are out of them), I was a bit concerned about the possibility that I might pick up a bug from someone else in the play, but so far that hasn’t happened. I suspect that (with the exception of Sandi) all of these illnesses are the result of the same flu virus than hit me during Thanksgiving week, and presumably I still have antibodies for that one in my bloodstream. Not an ideal method of immunization, but if it gets me through the run I’ll be content.
In addition to helping Marie supervise the Mouse Ponies, Ruth has been busy with her own play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which opened last night. It’s a good thing yesterday was the last day of school. I’m looking forward to seeing R&G, but I won’t have a chance to do so until tomorrow, after the 5:00 performance of Cinderella. It will be nice to sit in the house for a change and watch some other member of our family perform on stage.
Next week, after Cinderella has relinquished its hold on me, I think I might like to go see The Return of the King. And perhaps The Matrix Revolutions, even though no one seems to like that film very much. I still want to see it for myself, and I haven’t had time for movies since Cinderella rehearsals began. Heck, I haven’t even seen Pirates of the Caribbean — and Ruth already has the DVD of that one.
Oops, it’s 5:00. I’d better eat my supper and head for the theater. The curtain goes up in two and a half hours. Once more into the breach, dear friends!

Dec 13

The run begins

Opening night went well. In addition to being our first official performance of this year’s run, last night’s show was also our celebration of Cinderella‘s twenty-year history. Before the performance began, director Haskell Fitz-Simons and Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker came on stage and made short speeches. Meeker announced that he had proclaimed December 12, 2003 to be Raleigh Little Theatre and Cinderella Day, and Haskell read a proclamation of his own that made the mayor an honorary member of the cast.
Sandi was still too ill to perform, so Becky joined us again as the Stepmother, and Jo continued as the Fairy Godmother. At the end of the show, over a hundred former Cinderella cast members joined us on stage to sing “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” We then surprised Haskell with a song in his honor (“We Love You, Conrad” from Bye Bye Birdie, with Haskell’s name replacing “Conrad”), after which confetti cannons were fired over our heads. The cast and crew then adjourned to the theatre lobby for a reception to celebrate the beginning of Cinderella‘s twentieth run.
Weekends are the most grueling part of the run, because we do two performances on Saturday and Sunday. (This means that beginning at 7:30 Friday night, we perform five times in 48 hours.) The 1:00 matinee ends at about 2:30, and by the time we remove our makeup and change into street clothes, it’s 3:00. Since we have to start getting ready for the 5:00 show around 4:00, it’s not possible to go anywhere between the shows, so we don’t. A catered meal is served for the cast and crew between the shows. So I’ll be at the theatre pretty much all weekend.
I have to be at the theatre by noon, so I’d better go get ready. More later.

Dec 12

Cinderella update

It’s been almost three weeks since I last posted anything. Anyone who is still checking this blog has undoubtedly concluded — quite correctly — that I’ve been so busy with work and Cinderella that I’ve had no time for blogging. When rehearsals for Cinderella started, I intended to keep up a steady stream of posts, chronicling the whole process from start to finish. And I managed to do that for a while, but eventually I lost my momentum and fell behind. So let me try to quickly bring you up to date.
In my last post on this subject, I described how week 1 of rehearsals was spent learning to sing the show’s musical numbers, and week 2 focused mostly on the dance steps. In week 3, we worked on the blocking of specific scenes, and in week 4 we put all the pieces together and began running through the whole play from start to finish. (It was at about that point that I fell behind on blogging, because run-through rehearsals mean that nobody gets the night off, so my schedule became more demanding.)
Week 6 should have been something of a breather, because we only had three rehearsals scheduled. Sunday (November 23) was a planned day off. Rehearsals were planned for Monday through Wednesday, followed by the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. But I started feeling ill on Sunday afternoon, and by Monday morning I was incapacitated by flu: coughing, sneezing, fever, and aching all over. I was too sick to go to work or to rehearsal on Monday or Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was able to get up and drag myself to work for a few hours, but the Wednesday night rehearsal was canceled. (I hoped to at least do some catch-up blogging from my parents’ house over the Thanksgiving break, but that didn’t work out either. Although I was ambulatory, I was still rather sickly and spent much of the weekend in bed recuperating.)
So week 6 of rehearsals was a total loss for me. I began week 7 not having been to a rehearsal for ten days. Not good. But I managed to catch up. The week ended with a makeup workshop on Friday for those who needed it (I did, since last year’s Cinderella was my introduction to stage makeup, and I was ready for a refresher) and a music-only session on Saturday to polish our singing.
Week 7 — this week — is the big one. Tech Week. It began on Sunday with Load-In, the all-day session in which we moved the whole production (sets, costumes, props, everything) to the Fletcher Opera Theater at the BTI Center in downtown Raleigh. Monday was the first dress/tech rehearsal: we ran through the play in costumes (but without makeup) with the technical crews (sets, props, dressers, lights, sound, and orchestra) for the first time. Tuesday we added makeup to the mix, and Wednesday was another full-dress rehearsal. Last night, Thursday, was the preview performance — technically a dress rehearsal, but in front of an audience of friends and family members.
The preview performance took place in spite of a rather serious setback. When we arrived at the theatre yesterday evening, we learned that Sandi Sullivan, the actress who plays the Fairy Godmother, was in the hospital with a fever of 104 degrees. But when the same show is staged annually for twenty years, it tends to build up a local reserve of actors who have appeared in the play before and can serve as understudies for the major roles. Jo Brown, the actress playing the Wicked Stepmother, has been in Cinderella every single year, and she played the Fairy Godmother for over a decade. For the preview, she became the Fairy Godmother again, and Becky Johnston, who played the Stepmother for three years, came out of retirement to step back into the role. If the audience reaction was any indication, the performance was a huge success. Jo and Becky both handled the last-minute substitutions beautifully, and the show went incredibly well.
Tonight is opening night, the first show for a paying audience. I’ll post more as soon as I can.