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,