Time: November 07, 2015Place: Pacific Coast Repertory PlayersRole: BillisDirector: Joy Sherratt
It had been a great many years since I last did this R&H classic. It’s a show I enjoy, though yes, it’s quite dated. Which means if you’re going to do it, it has to be done quite well.
And this was done quite well.
The first time I did the show was years back. I didn’t audition, but rather was asked to attend an extra callback as they didn’t have a Cable. I did. I was offered the role and thought to check my calendar. Oops. There was a conflict—I was supposed to attend a wedding. And it was a tough call. But the engaged couple said to go ahead and do the show. I’m guessing they were miffed that I would even consider missing the wedding.
The show went well and Cable was a great role to explore and perform. I was eager to do the same character again. Years had passed, but I was still tan.
I auditioned. I was called back for Cable, Billis, and a few other roles, though Cable was the only one on my “I accept” list. Yet, there were some very talented performers at the callbacks. I didn’t think my chances were super.
And days later, I was offered the role of Billis. Hmm. I didn’t know. I wasn’t too sure of how much he did in the show. And “Fiddler” had a lot of down time. It’s not fun when the backstage area is so small. I mean I had a nice couch at home. I could sit there much more conveniently.
Still, I had to review the character. I got a copy of the script and read through it. Turns out Billis does a lot and has many chances to make the audience laugh. I wrote the director and accepted the part.
Having been in the show before, I knew a fair amount of the Billis dialogue just by hearing him before, but of course there were scenes I was not in the first time, so those had to be memorized. I found out how much fun stuff occurred that I missed the first time around. He’s a funny guy.
PCRT uses equity actors, so they don’t waste time(with equity, time is money). Three weeks was about it. They cast well in advance. You sort of have to these days. Seems like less people are doing theater, so it’s important to lock in the actors before they take roles elsewhere—or stop taking roles at all.
A director should be able to do two things well: create a wonderful and entertaining show, and work well with people. Obviously, the first is perhaps most important, but if the second trait isn’t strong, then I usually will avoid working with that person a second time. Life is too short to volunteer otherwise.
In this case, we had an outstanding director who exemplified professionalism. It probably helped that she did a lot of acting herself. I never saw any belittling or disrespect from her. Our time was always valued and used wisely. And this means a lot. Sure, we got paid a small amount, but really, it was essentially volunteer performing.
Also, there was no “the sky is falling” alarms during tech week. Granted, tech went very well, but I believe some directors are savvy enough not to freak out or try and instill panic in the cast by alarming speeches stating that the show won’t be ready to open. I always roll my eyes (metaphorically) when those announcements begin. Shows almost always open just fine, and even if not—pressing the panic button with the actors is usually not the solution to the problem.
I’ve only done two shows with PCRT, but both have been directed very well and again…PROFESSIONALLY. It’s nice. It’s just very nice.
It also means there isn’t much time for fooling around. As I said, there are only a few weeks of rehearsal and it goes by fast. You learn a few scenes, songs, or dances on one night and they expect them to be memorized the very next time—even if it’s a day later. That’s fine with me. Shows require as much time as they have. This means if a show has eight weeks of rehearsals, it someone always needs most of that time. If only three weeks are allocated, it will take three weeks.
The Firehouse is small! Thus, the stage is small. I had worked on shows with the same set designer many times, and this is someone who makes magic happen in small spaces. I had no doubt that we’d have a fine looking set.
And we did. Great use of the space without going all “Our Town” on everyone. The entire set was used efficiently. I enjoy shows like that. Audiences pay for good talent executing the roles and music, but part of the show is sets…and costumes.
One extreme to the other from last time. As a Marine, I wore sharp and fitting attire as they always try to look professional as possible—even on a tropical island. For the sailors, it’s much more relaxed. Whatever allows the workers to get the job done. And that was a plus, since the clothes were quite comfortable. Plus, very few changes.
Ah, the immortal Honeybun number. No, I hadn’t fully seen it done (again, I was offstage for it before), but I knew what went on. He wears coconuts and grass skirt and has a battleship tattoo on his stomach. Okay then. I knew what to expect.
It was great. The laughs were plenty and the reaction was enjoyable. I think the number grew over time. Having to be a little “off’ in the choreography is always such a great way to perform—if it’s intended.
The ship was drawn on each weekend with a permanent marker. It lasted a night or two and then had to be touched up. I thought the application would tickle more; however, it mainly was just relaxing. I could have fallen asleep during those times.
A nice thing about this role is that the majority of it takes place in a string of connected scenes. So there’s some preparation before going on, but at that point, it just keeps going until completed. All or nothing type thing. I had to ensure a few key props were in place, and that was that.
Probably the most noise made in a dressing room this year were the reactions to the game of “Cards Against Humanity.” I was busy getting ready fort he show so I didn’t partake, but just about everyone else did in the men’s dressing room and it was fun to listen to. Granted, it was probably the most politically incorrect thing to witness, yet sometimes that can be a good thing. 2015 was a much, much too sensitive year.
They were talented of course, but also a great group to work with. No personality conflicts, no whiners, no drama queens. No one had to counter every suggestion from the director, or ask interminable questions after a rehearsal.
They were just good people to be around.
The theater is so close that I can walk to it, and sometimes I did. It’s especially nice on opening night when the cast meets for food and drinks after the show. This way, I can enjoy a drink or two and simply walk home afterwards. No car—no worries. (I ended up even getting a ride home, so the return home walk was avoided.)
No coworkers attended the show this time. It’s funny since this one was closest to work. But c’est la vie. A few friends did and for that, I’m thankful. But it’s entertainment. If it entertains you, come watch. Otherwise, no worries.
Billis could probably have come from anywhere, but I’ve always seen him as a New Jersey guy so that was his origin for me. Still, on one night, I felt his accent switching into southern. It was an odd thing, especially since I wasn’t trying for that (and as well, the first 80% of the show was Jersey). The frustrating part was that I couldn’t get it back. Each time I opened my mouth I kept getting southern. Usually, controlling an accent is tough when intoxicated, but I was stone cold sober. I was especially focused on the accent for the next couple of show. At the end of the run, I asked a cast mate that I was in the scene with if he noticed this odd occurrence and he said he hadn’t. Hmm. Okay, maybe it was all in my mind. I guess I’ll never know.
But they did record that night, so there might be evidence out there.
There was a point near the end of one show (right before curtain call) where everyone was lining up to got back out, and it just really hit me: there we were, performing a show that had been done perhaps countless times since the 65 years it had been around, probably all over America, and probably in a few other countries. Each version somewhat unique, but following the same lyrics and lines. The same story told over time. It’s a neat feeling, to think you’re somehow connected with all those other people across time and space—sharing this story, telling a hopeful tale, yet centered around a horrific war.
It’s also a very easy script to memorize as it’s finely written. The dialogue just flows easy. Lines and lyrics make sense. There’s nothing weird or cryptic about what’s being said. Always a bonus when you have that in a musical.
So would I do it again? Actually, I probably would. I think I’d stick with the same role. I don’t have the same desire to play Cable, and Emile exists primarily for the music, so that role doesn’t appeal as strongly. Nah, Billis gets the laughs. That’s where it’s at—comedy.