A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (3)
Time: July 26, 2015Place: Las Positas CollegeRole: PseudolusDirector: Wes Morgan
This goes back quite some time…
“Forum” was my first musical. And while I’ve done many shows now, I remember a lot of things about that production, for one tends to remember one’s first. I think most of all, I recall how nervous I was. I didn’t even do that much. Well, I was on stage a lot, but did not have many lines. What I remember most was the opening number, just standing behind a curtain on a ladder having to poke my head through the curtain and simply say, “Something familiar.” My heart was racing profoundly, and I was somewhat lightheaded, fearing I would forget the line or when to say it. All that weight on my shoulders!
Flash forward to present day and I was considerably less nervous, even though my character had to essentially deliver the majority of the opening number lines and lyrics. And it’s about seven minutes long.
It had been a long time in coming.
I consider attending most auditions, if the show is a good fit, and the drive isn’t insane. So when Las Positas College (LPC) announced it was doing “Forum,” I dutifully showed up. I was called back a few days later. And then cast about five days after that–with the not uncommon “What is taking so long?!?” paranoia running through my head daily. I guess it was a good sign when I was leaving the theatre after callbacks and the director double-checked with me by saying, “You definitely are interested in the role, right?” Check.
I like a read thru if it’s not a sing thru as well (when I don’t know the material). In this case, either was fine since I knew the music well. I’d done “Forum” two other times and see it twice as well. I knew the show. So the reading was nothing but fun. We sat in a square in the theater green room and did introductions. This would be family for the summer.
Was. Every. Weeknight. When I received my schedule I noticed something eye-opening: I was called every night. Okay. I guess it was a large role, and heck, time to relax is so overrated. This would be my night life for a while. At least it was a short commute.
And the time would pass fast. I had only one conflict for a dinner show rehearsal, and the rest of the summer was devoted to working on scenes and songs.
Except for one song.
Pretty Little Cut Song
I think the bad news was delivered to me in an email. Hard to say if was really “bad news,” as I wasn’t particularly emotionally tied to the song or anything. It’s a nice number, and very clingy to the brain (“In the Tiber, there sits a boat”). It also has a lot of lyrics–fast paced and quite repetitive. Not an easy one to let your guard down on. But it was cut. I guess it doesn’t really forward the story and it was noted that even Sondheim loved his song, but admitted it’s best cut from the show to keep pacing fast.
I had plenty else to do. One less song wouldn’t kill me.
This one might. Now “Free” isn’t hard vocally by any means. It’s just barely singing. Yet, I found it one of the hardest songs I’ve done due to its repetition and fast story telling pace. It’s like you’re racing up a ladder at high speed, but building it at the same time, throwing out each new rung right before you grab for it. Make one slip and it’s a long way down.
And again, the sections repeat in melody but with different lyrics. Your mind just has to be sharp as a tack. Blocking is a godsend though. Combined with choreographed actions, those elements help ensure that it all goes according to script from opening to closing. I had mnemonic gestures all over the place. One just does not want to be forced to improvise during a song.
I did have a lyric mishap two days before opening and that was none too pleasant. So there would be more obsessing about the lyrics before each opening. I would alternate between Free and Comedy Tonight. However, once the final note was sung on Free, the rest of the show was all “stress-free.” Nothing was particularly difficult after that moment.
Our home for the first month would be the main stage or the black box theatre. It’s nice to rehearse where you perform, but it’s just not always possible. At LPC, the main stage is usually where the show takes place, but not this time. We had tape to spike the sets, although it’s hard to simulate blocked sight lines. And our sets certainly had that factor.
The show only has three houses. But they are big ones.
“Forum” follows the guidelines once noted by Aristotle: a play should have a single time, place, and action. That’s essentially fallen away over the years as some shows span decades. The advantage of the simpler version is that one set can usually be used for the entirely of the show. And if that’s the case, all the focus and work can be used to construct a very nice scene. For us, it was three homes on a street in Rome. The characters may leave that street, but the audience never does.
So we had three massive buildings, all with a second story. I don’t recall LPC ever having such a large set before. It was a nice welcome change, especially since some theatres really skimp on the sets and leave the audience wondering if the company didn’t perhaps borrow the sets from a middle-school production.
And not even a good middle school.
Ah, this would be fun. The move to the outside. On tech Monday, it was a hot day and that led to a hot night. I guess it was an extra hot day. We had hoped to get a ad-hoc floor made so we wouldn’t be performing on cement. The dancers wanted that as well, but some things were just not to be. For me, I could adapt. The main concern was what the final decision would be. The more time to practice a particular technique, the better.
One error I think we made was not really nailing down the props until tech week. With scripts in hands, it was tough for a while anyway, but “Forum” has important props and not having them in hand meant not truly being aware of their use and importance.
Overall, it’s very easy music to learn. What became a tad difficult was the pausing and timing of “Free,” as most of the rehearsals early on were without accompaniment. And that’s something that should be avoided when possible. For me, I really hate to ever skip the songs when rehearsing, as a musical must focus on the music as well as the dialogue. Make it all count.
The college often has people to handle the poster. Heck, I haven’t designed one for LPC or any theater in years. And that’s fine with me, although sometimes my ideas don’t align with the creative team, so I will make a bootleg poster. And publicity is the bottom line, so there are rarely complaints. I put together one for work and Facebook. The work posted actually was a success as people actually came out to the show. Surprise, surprise.
Lacking any substantial dancing for me, the show was relatively low-stress. Yes, there were many, many lines to memorize and deliver; however, the past experiences with the show made that task none too challenging. Of course Free was the big exception (mentioned earlier).
I did the usual: play the songs over and over in the car, and kept the script nearby. The script was given to us early on, but I needed to highlight and write in it. I heard that the full scripts (used) could be purchased online and they were right. For a mere , I had my own copy and could highlight and write in it all I wanted. Plus, it was small enough to keep in a large pocket during rehearsals. It was a wise investment.
There is a saying in theatre about checking props before each show. Hopefully, it’s something everyone does. It’s a sad unfortunate moment to be in a scene and have something important missing. For me, it’s just not an option. Although, the pre-show is more extensive than that. It involves checking props, putting everything costume item in place, running through the songs and dances, and as much dialogue as possible.
Things Go Wrong
Failed maid — Sometimes things go wrong. It happens in theatre. I read about some actors that will (or can) only do TV or film because of the “no do-overs” aspect of theatre. Something goes awry, you keep going. You know that old adage: “The show must go on.” And on one night, things just went wrong.
Missing Contract — It might have been during tech, but one night, as I was doing a brief entrance into the house, one soldier said, “Get the contract.” Er, okay. I guess it was forgotten. Luckily, props were kept in place, so it was where it should have been. Well, it should have been with the soldier on stage, but this was the next best thing. I grabbed it and slyly handed it to the actor when I returned to the stage. This all occurred during an exit where I have about 10 seconds.
Missed Fanfare — During closing, we lacked one fanfare which stirred the next line. The fanfare didn’t come so the actor didn’t say it, and it was probably the fastest moving scene in the entire show. It was a little funky for a second, but nothing some improv couldn’t cover. It is a huge boon to the show, knowing exactly what each scene is about and what must be accomplished before exiting the stage or beginning the next section.
“Forum” was the first show that several co-workers came out to see. The average is close to zero, but a couple of people have attended a show or two in the past. I guess the larger flyer helped since about eight or nine of them came. It’s not something I require or even expect; however, I do take notice of the ones that are willing to support my craft and they are greatly appreciated.
There were no problem people in the entire cast. No divas. No attitudes. Everyone got along great. Thus, every rehearsal was an enjoyable experience.
Yup. Can’t do a show there without signing up for “theatre.” It’s easier than it used to be before, since you had to take three units of acting, and three units of music, and then some tech units too. It was an administrative headache and could be costly. If you’re still in community college, then the credits (probably all A’s) would be nice, but if you have a master’s already, then it’s all for naught.
It was now one class of “community education” for . Hmm. I think I had the system down cheaper before that since I would pretty much just take one unit total. But I considered it a donation to the college and left it at that.
Oh wait. There was parking. After donating far too many quarters to the parking machine, I finally took a long lunch and drove out to the college to buy a permit. Only . Not bad, but a week later, they handed out free passes. Say what? But I just paid…er, donation to the college. Donation.
Only one costume. I like that. It’s so much easier never having to worry about a change. Plus, it worked well. The costume was a sort of large trousers and a loose tunic top. A headband was actually functional as well as fashionable since it kept my hair out of my head.
Shoes — As I had to pay for the class and the parking permit, I was at my spending limit for a volunteer show. I don’t fault them. It’s just part of the system, but I also didn’t see myself needing to spend another on shoes that I would wear once in my life (I don’t do many Roman-based shows).
They gave me a pair during tech week and the soles were essentially blocks of wood. And hard wood on solid concrete isn’t great for the feet. Or any other part of the body. After one night of that, my feet hurt and my back was plenty sore. If I risked another night of that, I may not be performing at all.
So another long lunch had me at the mall. The big department stores had no inexpensive and ample solution at, but luckily Stoneridge Mall has Payless Shoes. I found the perfect pair. They fit well and had rubber soles and a foam cushion too. Not once did my feet complain. It was another , but money well spent.
Well, aside from the leather rubbing the skin on the sides of my feet, but a Band-Aid fixed that problem. I also kept the shoes. Maybe I will wear them again. Anyone doing another Roman or Greek show?
With a Sunday night closing, we got to stay until the wee hours of the morning and stroke the sets. I suppose I could have left around 11pm or so. I mean I did have a job and such Monday morning, but I hated to leave. I don’t like leaving the work to others, and I also don’t like just…leaving.
Monkey at Heart — I love sets with bars to grab and swing on. When the sets starting going up, it was an enjoyable workout to climb up to the second level without a ladder.
Whether the weather — Summer outdoor shows run the risk of weather. Rain only happened briefly–like for a few minutes during early tech week. But it was darn cold on many nights. My costumes and character (he runs around a lot) kept me warm, but others looked miserable.
Listening — This was my fourth show with an orchestra not in front of the stage. It is certainly more challenging, though I find it’s great training, as one has to listen and count instead of just watching for a baton dip and head nod from a conductor.
Annie — Years ago, the Pseudolus actor had curly hair and wore a red tunic. So his final line was melodically changed to reflect Annie’s signature line of “Tomorrow!” As to tie back to that time many years ago, I too was granted permission to flip around a few quarter notes. Not sure anyone noticed that, but you now have the reason if you did.
Probably not, but never is a long time. Still, three times in the same show is enough. And I’ve played the roles I have always wanted to play.
Now directing it on the other hand…well, I wouldn’t mind that at all.
Next: From tragedy to comedy…