Monday, October 24, 2011

Baltimore or Less

Our second week on the road was spent in Baltimore, MD. We stayed downtown in the Radisson Lord Baltimore, a really beautiful old hotel. I didn't realize that this city is so dangerous, but apparently there is a very large and quite aggressive homeless population in the city of Baltimore. We learned quickly just to be smart and walk with others, especially after dark. That being said, we played the Hippodrome Theatre, which had great crowds and we felt so welcomed there. It was also fun to have a bunch of people from our home office of NETworks come to see the show and we were able to have a big party one night with them.
I loved the inner harbor area of Baltimore. We had great food there and I found it to be a great place to relax and take in the great weather we had, enjoy being by the water, people-watching, etc. Once day a group of 5 guys all took a car and drove down 30 minutes to Annapolis, MD. Having been there before for my brother's graduation, etc. I knew that it was a gorgeous seaside town and with the Naval Academy being there I thought it would be a great excursion to take. We wandered all around, taking in the campus and pondering what life would be like to actually go here or what it may have been like in WWII, when our show is placed. It is just a remarkable thing to see all those young men and women and know the sacrifice they are willing to make for their country. We learned a lot on the campus and enjoyed the history of the whole thing very much. At lunch time we knew we had to find some great crab somewhere so I started searching and found a gem for us. We drove out to Cantler's, a restaurant right on a creek/inlet. It was very unassuming, sitting back past neighborhoods down a tiny winding road, but I knew we were in for a treat, and boy were we happy! The crab was just out-of-this-world fresh and the atmosphere and company only added to the day. What a great time!
We also did a big outing to the National Aquarium in the inner harbor of Baltimore. It is a fantastic facility with so many incredible species. I forget how amazing creation is sometimes, but watching the jellyfish, sea turtles, and octopus definitely brought me back to that place of wonder and curiosity. How God could create such things, but then not be satisfied still and decided to make man... in HIS image... is just ridiculous. I find it humbling and flattering and wonderful all at once. Makes me feel loved that he sees those creatures, but wants us to have relationship and communion with Him.
Baltimore proved to have some really nice weather, too. We walked all around and went to a great art museum in town called the Walters Art Museum. Hidden jewels like that in towns are always so surprising. It was a really large museum with a great collection. Afterward we headed over to an area called Fell's Point that had really fun shops and restaurants and just enjoyed meandering near the water. I ended up meeting up with Katie Reid and her parents for a GREAT dinner that night, too. Having the Reids visit was so fun and kind of made up for the fact that I haven't gotten to see my own family in a while. Anyway- the Reids treat me as their own (Sometimes better than their own! Ha ha!) and I'm always happy to see them.
That just about wraps up Baltimore, I guess! Tour is going well overall. We are just heading to our first stretch of shows traveling by bus and with fewer sitdowns after being spoiled with such a great schedule. This year of tour has already been so different than last year. Much better in some ways, but harder for me, I think. I'm having a hard time finding my life on tour. I don't feel like I know exactly what I'm doing. I don't know how to put it other than that. It sort of feels like I'm just floating around doing shows with these people and for what? Of course I believe in the work and know we are bringing a great show to audiences, but I miss my family and friends on the road so much. I think that it actually gets worse and worse. It's not something that I get used to, but I just crave them more and more the longer I am living this strange vagabond life and seeing them all living in community with each other... in houses... and with cars... hmmm- what a thought! I'm definitely having fun and making building great friendships, I just have to also find my own life on the road; maybe it's time to create something like choreographing a piece or arranging a song or learning something new or something. Maybe I need a project. Ha ha!
I miss you all tons. Call me!

Friday, October 21, 2011

South Pacific Tour has begun... blogging on Beantown!

Our first few weeks on tour are great because we have a really easy schedule, filled with week-long sitdowns. The first two weeks, for instance, were spent in Boston and the Baltimore! I was so excited to spend some time in two cities I have visited, but am not really familiar with. It proved to be a fun kick-off couple of weeks, for sure.
Boston was so exciting. We stayed a little out of downtown, unfortunately, but had week-long passes on the train there to get around, which proved to be super useful. In boston we played the Boston Opera House, one of the most amazing buildings I've ever seen. It was cool to see how many amazing shows had played there and Boston is known for having pretty excellent, smart, and theatre-wise audiences. Because of that it was thrilling to have such full houses and responsive crowds to the show. Our opening night was so exciting! Running up and over that sand dune has to be one of the best entrances to a show I've ever had. It is exciting each and every time and that night, in particular, it was such an energy boost to hear the audience give us sailors great entrance applause! Ha ha! This week was also spent with the show just getting to know our tracks better and better.
In Boston, we made sure to take advantage of being in a wonderful, historic, seaside town! I ate so much seafood it was ridiculous! We spent one of our first days following around our cast-mate, Jess, who went to school in Boston. She took us all over town and helped get our bearings before we had dinner on the water and I discovered the glory of Mike's Pastry in the North End of Boston. This place is famous for their RIDICULOUS cannolis and I would be lying if I said over the course of the week I ate less than 4 of these amazing treats. SO GOOD!!! Boston has so much great food, though. We just stuffed ourselves silly. In that week we had great meals at Quincy Market, Legal Sea Food, Thinking Cup Coffee right by Boston Common, etc. Just so much great food!
I was really happy to have friends to see in Boston also. My great friend of many years is a star in Beantown theatre circles. Kami Smith is always such a great friend to catch up with because she is always the same, wonderful person I have known forever. She is a consistent, hard working actor and loves life. I also love that she is a Southern girl at heart. Ha ha! Anyway- we were able to meet up for dinner and she came to see my show between work, rehearsals, and performances of her own show, which was such a treat! Love ya, Kami! I also had the pleasure of catching up with some people from Ogunquit Playhouse this summer! My son in "Music Man" was played by Colby Stack and he and his family came to see the show and took me out for a great Chinese dinner! I couldn't believe that they came to see me and Colby and his little sister sat through such a long show. They are such great people and I'm so thankful to have them as great new friends.
Another day a bunch of the cast made sure to do the Freedom Trail, which takes tourists in Boston to all the major historic sites in town. It is always cool to stop and recognize the human experience that must have been taking place so many years ago to lead us to where we are now and see the footprint of our courageous forefathers. I also had a great time discovering Cambridge quite a bit one day. We walked around Harvard for a long time and found some good food before wandering by the Charles River. The group I was with headed out to rest and spend time in town before the show, but I was so happy to walk around that I spent the whole day meandering on foot from Harvard, all through Cambridge by MIT, etc. until I walked over the bridge and in to downtown for the show that night. I find it's always important to find time to spend alone and check in with yourself on the road. It's the closest thing to going home that I have found. Just being alone, praying, listening to music that calms you and takes you to a comforting place is irreplaceable therapy as a vagabond traveler. Besides, that day I had possibly the greatest ice cream I've ever had. If you are ever in the Boston area you MUST experience Toscanini's Ice Cream. I had such a hard time choosing what I wanted, but was NOT disappointed. The list of flavors is out of this world and changes all the time as the ice cream is created on-site in their "lab." My flavor of the day was something they were calling B3- brown sugar, browned butter, and brownie. I died. You have to go there. The flavors... oh my heck.
The last couple days in Boston were spent making sure we experienced every last bit of shopping on Newbury Street and had brunch at the Paramount, etc. What a great city! We headed out of town, though, to fly (eventually, as our flight was delayed multiple times) to Baltimore, MD.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How to Build Magic

I’m now working on the national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.” A few years ago while in New York auditioning I was excited to get a student rush ticket to go see the revival of this sweeping show at the Vivian-Beaumont Theatre at the Lincoln Center Theatre. From the moment the orchestra played that epic overture I was off and enthralled in a magical night at the theatre. I was so impressed with the excellence of the production. It was detailed, thoughtful, colorful, romantic, relevant and vital to today’s conversation about war and race. I was blown away.

Fast forward to March of 2011 and find me and my great friend Katie Reid on tour together in “’S Wonderful.” We were on the bus and talking about future plans and prospects for auditions, etc. when we saw that “South Pacific” was going on tour as a non-equity show and I knew I had to be part of it. I certainly believe in the power of positive thinking and, again, as we fast forward to summer of 2011… me and Katie are on the road in the show! I’m so proud to be part of such an incredible production and working with great companies to bring this Tony Award –winning production to audiences across the country.

This is all well and good, but there are so many steps to making this happen. Even after the casting, design, and other pre-production work is underway, we head to rehearsal in New York and a whole slew of other steps begin in the process to open the show.

1) Rehearsals are held in a studio in NYC, basically a big open space with mirrors for us to use to learn the show. There are tables along one wall for the creative to use and slowly throughout the rehearsal weeks we will have more and more props and some small set pieces. Throughout these weeks we will also be called out of rehearsal for costume fittings where the costumers will have us try on our costumes and mark them for adjustments, etc.

2) Toward the end of the initial rehearsal process we have a “designer run” where the lighting, sound, set, and costume designers all come to watch the show in anticipation of adding their respective elements to the show. It is here that other final artistic decisions are made and it’s an important day to showcase the work that’s been done to producers, higher artistic staff, etc. Always an exciting day for the cast, too, because it is the first time to perform the show for some sort of audience.

3) Eventually the show moves into tech process. In a regional or summerstock setting this would mean moving into the theatre for the first time, but on tour, it just means moving into a theatre for the first time. It’s such an exciting moment to step onto the set for the first time. For me as an actor I try to take time to see what our little world feel like on stage. I walk around to find entrances, things that are different than I imagined, spots where I can watch or get away from people, etc. It’s a little bit of a sacred kind of initiation that takes place.

4) Teching is a really delicate, hard, tedious process. Every light, sound, set change, dance number, all has to be tweaked and changed completely to make it all work correctly. The show steps through very slowly from one light change to another, from one dance formation to the next, until the entire show is covered. This whole process can take a few VERY long days. For South Pacific, for instance, (a 3 hour show) we spent 4 full 10 hour days in the theatre before we had gone through the entire show. It is just a super specific balance to make sure everything is exactly as it should be. In the tech process the first layer that is added to make this whole thing a real show is lighting. An average audience member may not realize the impact that lighting can have on a production, but it’s astounding. It transforms everything. We also will add microphones and begin balancing and mixing the cast, getting us used to performing our tracks with wires, clips, and packs attached to us.

5) Next costumes are added a few days before an audience comes in and this is always fun and interesting for the actors. It is that moment where you step into your character’s shoes (literally) for the first time. You have moments where you just get it and panic moments when you realize you may have to shift some of your life on stage or negotiate things differently because of a costume.

6) Next the orchestra will be added, another fun time. Up until this point we have been rehearsing only with a piano, so hearing the full breadth of a score (especially a rich one like this by R&H) is truly thrilling.

7) At this point we are into what are really referred to as dress rehearsals where we work through the show as close to an actual performance as possible for the given amount of time.

8) Finally there will be a couple days of “preview” performances where we will have a paid audience, but will still be adjusting things from show to show and receiving notes from our director, choreographer, etc.

9) Then we have OPENING NIGHT! From this point on the show is “frozen”, meaning that the show should remain the same from this point on so the show that the audience sees on day 100 is of the same direction and intention as on day 1. Of course as actors we have freedom to explore, play, and discover, but all within the parameters and guidelines of the show set on us as a cast. Depending on the length of the run of the show, this is when the real work begins. It becomes a true job in the sense that the excitement and energy and discovery of each show must remain the same. Just as the audience is experiencing the show for the first time, each night we must be discovering and experiencing each moment anew.

There ya have it! A look at what every one of these projects goes through to become the 2.5 hour experience you as an audience member receives. The more and more I do it the more and more I realize how magical it is, and yet how truly NOT magical it is. It is really a bunch of hard work from a bunch of people with passion for what they do. That is how magic is built. Hard work and passion.

Love to you all,