Theatre

Ragtime

Time: November 08, 2009
Place: Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre
Role: Harry Houdini
Director: Carol Hovey
My Reflections

Ragtime

I suppose it would be an exaggeration to say that I’ve gotten more roles by not auditioning for shows; however, it would not be hyperbole because it has been the case many times. It’s most certainly ironic.

Ragtime was not a show I’d ever seen. I had heard of it of course. Other theaters in the area had performed it, but I knew very little. Thus, when the auditions came up for Pleasanton Playhouse, I decided to pass. I mean there weren’t really any roles for me. Or so I thought.

I received an email asking if I could come in and read and sing for the part of Harry Houdini. Hmmm. Maybe. I didn’t know very much about the role, so I asked around. Feedback varried. Some said it was great; others said it wasn’t that big of a part, but they all said the show was fantastic and a good one to be a part of. So I agreed. Let’s do it.

Finding a time to audition wasn’t easy, and was also something I’m wasn’t sure it was really necessary. It just seemed superfluous. I mean I had done over 20 shows with that theater company. They pretty much knew what I could or could not do. The audition never really worked out. Eventually, I was told that I had the part. Whee!

Rehearsals

For the first part of the rehearsal process, I was living in Dublin. I had to drive down 580 to rehearse in Livermore. Since rehearsals started at 7:30 PM, that wasn’t really a problem. I even carpooled for a while. Well, I guess you could call it carpooled; I mainly just gave people rides from the Bart station. That was fine. It wasn’t really out of my way, and the extra company was nice.

The first few weeks were mainly music rehearsals. Often we split up the sexes, which worked really well due to the large amount of singing in the show. It also gave us time to focus on our parts. Both musical directors did fine jobs in optimizing the potential in people.

Wednesday rehearsals were at the Pleasanton warehouse, which was crowded, very crowded. I think this was the biggest Pleasanton Playhouse cast that I had ever been a part of. The room was full. We could sit down, but not much else.

After a while, we started blocking rehearsals. This mainly involved me sitting down and reading. I quickly learned that I didn’t have much to do in the show. I wasn’t in the ensemble numbers, so…I just read. And ate chocolate. Joan always brought chocolate. I loved the chocolate.

Sets

The sets were minimal. Turns out there were some complications in getting the sets from other theatre companies and everything just went south fast. So they pieced together various units into something workable. Projections also helped, though I find nothing beats good old wood and paint. I guess you just do what you can with what you got. With the power of the story and music, I think it’s one I’d even want to see on Broadway.

Costumes

The costumes also had problems, but the substitutions turned out great. I thought they were pretty much top notch there. Granted, my tuxedo coat was a little large, but it was only for one small scene. No use fretting over that. Actually, I wore a lot of my own clothes. I had some dance pants that I hadn’t worn in years and they came in handy. Needless to say, they still fit well. Another boon of running frequently and eating right.

Performances

All the performances went pretty well with no major catastrophes. Once again, saying Macbeth in a live theater had no positive or negative effects. No lights fell on anyone’s head. No orchestra members exploded. I just make it a point to prove this in every show– unless I have are really huge role. Well, I mean there’s no point in taking chances.

Party

This wasn’t really a partying cast, so I opted to have the one big cast party. I had trouble deciding whether or not to have it on Halloween or the day after. Finally, Saturday night was chosen for undisclosed reasons. It went well. The playhouse provided the food and I provided the entertainment, well the “option" for entertainment. I setup the karaoke system, complete with the fog machine, colored lights, disco ball, and spinning siren. Most of these gadgets had not been unboxed in years. It was fun to use them once again, though a pain to setup. People had no bashfulness about getting on the karaoke. It was occupied all night. If only I had received my plasma by that time.

Since it was a Halloween party, many came dressed in costumes. I got out my black cowboy outfit that I use for the dinner shows. However, with so many apparel items, it quickly got pretty warm. The next day I found costume pieces all over the house. There was a lot of leftover food too. We ate heartily for a while.

Extras

There were a few odd things about the run. We didn’t do Secret Pals. Granted, I probably would not have participated as I really can’t stand shopping to begin with and those are the hardest gifts to buy. However, others love doing SPs. There was also no video. Perhaps it was due to rights or something. Hard to say. Most surprising was that there were no t-shirts. Now that’s very odd. No, I wouldn’t have bought one, but still! It’s fun seeing others wear them years down the road.

Closing

Three weeks after opening, we closed. I’m not sure we ever sold out, though we did have some very large houses and great audiences. Considering the high ticket prices and the state of the economy, that’s actually a pretty good sign.

Random thoughts

The show Ragtime is full of powerful moments, but a few really stood out for me:

— The ending, when Father says his line about perishing on the Lusitania just seemed poignantly sad, especially since Father was really needed at home with his family, but couldn’t resist the urge to explore the world.

— Adding to the last note was how Little Brother stated that father had traveled the world and learned nothing. I guess that’s because travel should open your eyes and expand your mind by seeing other cultures and reflecting on your own. Obviously, it doesn’t work for everyone, which is sad.

— With Harry Houdini, there are lines about him searching for something deeper, something spiritual. It certainly wasn’t unusual for the time period (or any period for that matter). Sir Conan Doyle also spent a great part of his later life searching for something "beyond." Still, I wasn’t sure how factual the comments about warning the Duke were, or if Houdini had any sort of connection to Franz Ferdinand.

— With the assassination of the Duke, WWI one began. Be that as it may, many feel the war would have begun nevertheless. There was just too much tension, diplomacy, and angry politics going on the time. The powder keg had simply exploded. Germany began invading. Read All Quiet on the Western Front again for a better understanding on the confusion. (Yeah, you already read it in school. Read it with an adult’s perspective on the world. It changes everything.)

— I mentioned to the music director that I had gone to three weeks of music rehearsals, learned everything, and sang hardly any of it during the show. That said, I was really joking. I enjoyed learning the music, and the vocal workouts from each night were a great help. It’s just good stuff to know, whether not I ever sang it on stage. And truth be told, I never really memorized all of music, just the stuff I actually ended up singing (well at least most of that).

— Every night during the “Getting’ Ready Rag" and “Henry Ford," a small troop would perform the same number in the green room, using the monitor for reference. Several videos of it are even floating around the Internet.

— The straightjacket ripped three times during the run. It was fixed each time, but funny how easily it tore apart. There was just no way I wasn’t exiting the box free of it.

— I simply must start practicing that back flip again if I want to keep it as a parlor trick.

Next: I Will Never Let Your People…

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