Jan 27

Performing Cinderella, part 2: from Prologue to Ball

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.

Jan 26

Something in my eye

On December 4, I went to my optometrist’s office for an eye exam. I needed contact lenses to wear on stage during performances of Cinderella, and to get those I had to have an up-to-date prescription. Therefore, an eye exam. I got the prescription, but Dr. Samuels told me that one of the routine tests had produced an unexpected result. One of my eyes had a greater internal fluid pressure than the other. “I’d like you to come back in a month to repeat the test, so we can figure out whether this is a temporary aberration or a measurement error,” he said. “If it’s real, it could be an indication that you’re at risk for glaucoma.” I scheduled a follow-up appointment.
That appointment took place last Friday, and the result of the second test was the same; the difference in pressure is real. And another test showed a slight, barely measurable decrease in my field of vision — exactly what you would expect in the very earliest stage of glaucoma. We don’t know for sure whether I have the disease, but I certainly fit the classic pattern. The next step is to go to a glaucoma specialist for an optic nerve scan. Dr. Samuels gave me a referral to a specialist in Raleigh, and I have an appointment to see her on February 4.
I didn’t actually know what glaucoma was, so I did some Web research with Marie’s help. Basically, it’s a degenerative disease (usually, but not always, associated with excessive pressure inside the eye). If not treated, the disease damages the optic nerve, causing the visual field to narrow gradually over time. This leads to “tunnel vision” and eventually to complete blindness. There is no cure; damage caused by glaucoma is permanent. However, glaucoma can be treated with medication (or, in some cases, surgery) that prevents the damage from happening in the first place. If the disease is detected early, the prognosis is excellent.
As it turns out, there is a history of glaucoma in my father’s family, and it illustrates the importance of detection and treatment. My grandmother, Ruth Morris Berry, had glaucoma — and so did her father, Willie Morris. Willie’s was never treated, and he eventually became blind as a result. Grandma Ruth’s glaucoma was diagnosed and successfully treated with medication. Both of them lived into their nineties, but my grandmother didn’t go blind.
If I do have glaucoma, it has been detected very early. I know this because December 2003 was not the first time I went to Dr. Samuels to get contact lenses for Cinderella. I did exactly the same thing in December 2002, and my intraocular pressure was normal. So the glaucoma, if such it is, developed sometime during 2003.
I’ll know for sure when I visit Dr. Talluto on February 4. If she determines that I have glaucoma, the most likely result is that I’ll have to use eyedrops every day for the rest of my life. It’s possible that I’ll have to have laser surgery. But I won’t lose my sight — thanks to Cinderella, and to medical science that’s almost a century more advanced than when Willie Morris was my age.

Jan 18

Varicella zoster

Bob recently wrote about Laura’s experience — and his own, in 1979 — with chicken pox. I thought I would add my own CP story, since it’s a fairly unusual one. I contracted the disease in 1988, when I was 28 years old.
Ruth was two years old at the time, and had caught CP in the usual way, from some other kid at her day care center. She developed a full-blown case: mild fever, followed by blisters all over her body. We had been expecting this to happen; no CP vaccine was available at the time, so this was just a standard rite of early childhood. Ruth didn’t seem to mind much (at the age of two, she didn’t care how the blisters made her look, and if they itched, she didn’t complain much). A week or two later, she was fully recovered and back at day care. Marie and I heaved a sigh and turned our attention to other matters, believing that the CP episode was over.
But we were wrong. The next weekend, I developed a low-grade fever, and when a couple of small blisters began to form on my skin, I realized what was happening. I couldn’t believe it. How could I be getting CP at age 28? I didn’t actually remember having it as a child, but I had assumed that it took place when I was too young to recall. I mean, what were the odds of my having gotten all the way through childhood without ever being infected? But just to be sure, I called my mother and asked her: did I have CP when I was a kid? She couldn’t remember. “Then I never had it,” I said. “Trust me, Mom, if you had ever seen this disease, you would remember it.”
This couldn’t be happening. I was 28 years old, and coming down with chicken pox. Why hadn’t my mom ever warned me that I had no immunity against this virus? Oh, right, like that would have done any good. What would I have done when Ruth came down with it, moved to a hotel for two weeks? By that time I was already infected; the virus is contagious before symptoms develop. If I had known that I was susceptible to CP, that just would have given me one more thing to worry about that I basically had no control over. I had been better off not knowing.
By Monday morning I still only had a few blisters, but I knew that the worst was still ahead. At the time I was working at IBM on my very first technical writing contract, and of course we had a major deadline approaching. I decided to go in to work and get as much done that day as I could, before the disease forced me to take time off. But when I explained the situation to Jane, my supervisor on that project, I forgot that she had previously worked as a nurse. She asked what my temperature was, examined the incipient blister on my forehead, and said, “Go home and call me next Monday.” She knew I was going to be out of commission for at least a week.
I have read that before the CP vaccine was developed, mothers of small children often practiced a more primitive form of immunization known as “chicken pox parties.” They would deliberately expose their young children to a kid who had the disease. The idea was that, since your children would have CP sooner or later, it was better to get it over with while they were young. (This also let mothers control when their kids had the disease, instead of being caught by surprise.) In the week that followed, I often wished that my mother had done this, because the worst thing about CP is that it looks awful. Looking in the mirror, I would see my face and body covered with red, fluid-filled blisters. I won’t link to any photographs (you can search for them yourself if you like), but it looks like something out of a horror movie. And the blisters itch like mad. I used topical remedies (Aveeno oatmeal baths and calomine lotion) as much as possible, but it was still very uncomfortable. And you mustn’t scratch, because if you break the blisters, permanent scarring can result. Blisters formed on my scalp (making it impossible to even comb my hair), inside my mouth, and even in my esophagus. It became difficult to eat solid food, and painful to swallow anything. (Except milk, for some reason. I pretty much lived on milk for several days.)
But really, the worst thing about having CP as an adult is the way it makes you look, because it means you’re trapped at home. I spent the entire week in our apartment, because I knew that if I went out in public, people would scream and flee in terror. Having watched Ruth’s case run its course, I knew that this was only temporary. But it was still depressing.
Eventually the blisters healed and I was able to rejoin society. But despite my best efforts, some of the blisters did get broken prematurely, and I still have scars on my face as a result. They’re not very noticeable, but if I point them out, you won’t have any trouble seeing them. (Oh, and let me just mention that when a CP blister inside your mouth breaks, the resulting taste is nauseating. Fortunately, this only happened once.) And, of course, I still have the virus. Once you’re infected with varicella zoster, it remains in your body, dormant, for the rest of your life. It’s not contagious, but factors like stress or fatigue can cause it to flare up again in the form of shingles. So I can never be sure that the virus won’t decide to torture me some more in the future. (But I have nothing special to complain about there; virtually everyone born before about 1990 has also had CP, so we’re all carrying dormant varicella zoster around with us every day.)
Ben wasn’t born yet when this happened, but he went through the usual CP experience when he was two or three. And shortly after that, the vaccine became generally available — just too late to do me or my children any good. But, I told myself, Ben was the last Berry who would ever have CP. Future generations would all be vaccinated, so none of my grandchildren would ever have the disease. But Laura’s experience indicates that it’s not a clear-cut as that. However, as Laura’s doctor pointed out, even if the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting CP, it tends to result in a much milder case. So even if my grandchildren won’t be completely immune, I can still hope that they won’t have to go through what I did.
(I know that sounds self-pitying, and that’s not really what I had in mind. I realize that as medical problems go, CP is not much worse that a bad cold. And when I think about my father, who’s been dealing with much more debilitating and painful afflictions for years, I’m embarrased to be making a big deal out of a simple childhood disease. All I’m saying is, CP is NO FUN AT ALL, and I’m glad that future generations will mostly not have to deal with it.)

Jan 18

The Battery Project

Ben recently posted about the “science project” he and I did to dispose of a bunch of old batteries. He provided some great photos, but didn’t go into much detail about what we actually did. I’d like to describe the procedure we used.
First of all, let me explain how this project happened in the first place. Disposing of used batteries is a bit complicated for most people. First you have to do some research to find out where and when you can turn them in for recycling (at your local waste management authority’s household hazardous waste collection, or a business near you that accepts used batteries for the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation). Then you have to pack up all your dead batteries and make a special trip to drop them off. But if you work at IBM, getting rid of your used batteries is much simpler, because IBM sites have special receptacles for batteries in employee break areas, right next to the recycling bins for aluminum cans and plastic bottles. So you just have to take your batteries to work with you.
Last summer, while visiting Marie’s family in Charleston, I noticed that they had a gallon pickle jar in their garage that was completely full of batteries. Marie’s brother Harold explained that he had been collecting them for some time (because he knew that they shouldn’t be put into the trash), but he wasn’t sure how to actually dispose of them. I told him about the receptacles where I work and said I would take care of them, and we brought the jar home with us.
But those IBM receptacles have a label warning that leaking batteries are not accepted. It was obvious that some of the batteries in Harold’s jar had leaked, and the stuff that leaked out of them had gotten all over the rest of the batteries. Most, if not all, of the batteries in the jar were probably fine for recycling, but they would have to be cleaned first. And that task was daunting enough that I put it off for several months, while the jar sat on our kitchen table.
Finally, I decided it was time to deal with the problem. But cleaning these batteries would involve more than just washing them off. I would have to chemically neutralize the leaked material. And not all of that was the same, because the batteries were of different types.
So the first step was to sort them out. This involved putting on a pair of latex gloves, unscrewing the lid of the jar, pulling out batteries one at a time, and sorting them into two plastic dishpans: one for alkaline batteries and the other for acid batteries. When I finished, there was a small amount of liquid in the bottom of the jar. Since the vast majority of the batteries had been alkaline, I concluded that the liquid was alkaline as well. I diluted it with a cup or two of water and then poured in some vinegar (a mild acid). This caused the liquid to begin fizzing — a chemical reaction was taking place, producing bubbles of gas — which meant that I had been right. It was alkaline. I kept adding vinegar and mixing until the fizzing stopped, indicating that the alkaline stuff had been neutralized. I diluted it with a lot more water and then poured it down the drain.
Now to deal with the batteries themselves. I took the dishpan containing the alkaline batteries, added enough water to cover them, and then added some vinegar. More fizzing. Ben continued adding vinegar while I stirred up the batteries with my gloved hands, until the fizzing stopped. I poured off the neutralized liquid, refilled the dishpan with warm soapy water, and washed the remaining crud off the batteries. Pulling out a few at a time, I rinsed them clean and handed them to Ben for drying; he put them into a cardboard box.
When all the alkaline batteries were clean and dry, we repeated the process with the acid batteries, using baking soda (a mild alkaline) instead of vinegar. Then I washed out the pickle jar with soap and water. The result was a clean jar and a cardboard box full of clean batteries. I inspected the batteries and found that none of them seemed to be leaking now. A few (like the 9-volt one that Ben took several photos of) had enough surface corrosion that I thought the IBM collection program probably wouldn’t want them. I set these aside for disposal at the Wake County collection site. The pickle jar went into our recycling bin with the rest of our glass jars, plastic bottles, and empty cans.
I could theoretically have taken the whole box of batteries to work at once, but it was really heavy. So I decided to spread them out over several days. I filled four quart-size Ziploc storage bags with batteries and took one of them to work with me each day until they were all gone. After three days of this, the receptacle in our first-floor break room was too full to take any more, but fortunately our building has another break room on the third floor. The receptacle there was almost empty, so I dumped the last bag of batteries in. The labels on these receptacles include a phone number to call when one is full; I called and reported that the first-floor one needed to be emptied.
Thus ends the saga of the Giant Jar of Batteries.

Jan 15

Pioneers revisited

In my second post to this blog (written 3 October 2001), I tried to identify some of the astronauts who appear during the title sequence of Star Trek: Enterprise. Tonight I discovered that the Startrek.com website has a page that explains most of the images in the sequence. Does that mean I can now find out whether my guesses were correct? Well, not entirely. The Opening Credit Sequence Timeline doesn’t cover every single image in the credits, and some of the ones I tried to identify are among the missing ones. But let’s take another look at my list anyway. My guesses were as follows:

  • A test pilot in front of his plane — maybe Gus Grissom, maybe Chuck Yeager. The timeline doesn’t mention this image, so the pilot’s identity remains a mystery for now.
  • A close-up of Alan Shepard, suiting up for Apollo 14. Correct!
  • An Apollo crew during launch, probably on Apollo 13. Wrong! This shot does show three astronauts experiencing a launch, but they’re in the mid-deck of a space shuttle.
  • An Apollo crew walking down a corridor, possibly from Apollo 11. It’s an Apollo crew, but the timeline doesn’t say which one.

One right answer, one wrong answer, and two inconclusive ones. Rather unimpressive for a self-proclaimed Apollo buff. I guess I should hang onto my day job.

Jan 14

More names

The silly names stopped for a while, but I got two more this morning: Untroubled L. Desired and Residential K. Shuteye. A few days ago, I also received one that wasn’t generated by the same program, because it had no middle initial at all. But it was still funny: Urban Gosling.
UPDATE: The latest is Goiania H. Categorize. I didn’t recognize Goiania, so I looked it up. “A city of south-central Brazil southwest of Brasília. It is a shipping and processing center in an agricultural and cattle-raising region. Population: 920,840.” Well, that’s something I didn’t know when I woke up this morning. So now my spam is not only entertaining, but educational as well.

Jan 07

Fun with spam

In the last few days, I’ve started receiving some spam e-mails that I actually don’t mind very much, because they make me laugh. Most spam messages have ordinary-sounding names in the “From:” field, probably taken from some big-city phone book. But this latest crop of spam is using a different method. The program that sends the messages is generating very silly sender names by randomly picking two words from a dictionary and inserting a middle initial between them. As a result, yesterday I received spam e-mails from Modules H. Zip, Avenue H. Scrimshaws, and Lithographer H. Draftsman.
Noticing that all three names have the same middle initial, I concluded that the name generator always uses H. But I was wrong. Today I got another of these messages, and it was from Downplay G. Brokerage. Maybe it uses a different middle initial every day? I can’t be sure without more samples. Hopefully I’ll receive some more tomorrow. Good grief! I never thought the day would come when I would actually look forward to receiving more spam.
UPDATE: Another one arrived while I was writing this post! It’s from Subcontinent V. Marquises. I’m glad I wasn’t trying to drink anything when I read that name — I would be wiping the beverage off my screen right now.

Jan 07

Don’t get cocky

My alma mater, the University of South Carolina, scored a victory at bowl game on New Year’s Day — specifically, the Capital One Bowl in Orlando. It’s true that the Gamecocks did not, technically, play in the Capital One Bowl. But team mascot Cocky won the College Sports Mascot competition. According to this newspaper article, Cocky defeated 11 other finalists, including “a bear, an alligator, two fierce felines and two large dogs.”
When I pointed this out to Bob (who also went to USC), he commented that a popular vote was a lame way to resolve such a competition. “It should have been a fight to the death,” he said. “I’d like to see how a chicken would fare against bears, alligators, and dogs.”
“Well, remember that this is a cockfighting chicken with razor-sharp blades strapped to his feet,” I said.
“Yeah, but it’s still a chicken.” Bob replied. “Unless it’s wearing armor and is packing a gun, my money is still on the carnivores.” I can’t argue with that.

Jan 03

Performing Cinderella, part 1: Before the show

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.)