Friday, September 13, 2013

The Final Three Weeks...the last Playmill Highlights.

It’s been hard for me to write this entry. Partly because there’s a LOT to write—a lot can happen in three weeks. But also because I’ve got some kind of psychological block. You could probably just call it writer’s block, but I think writing this entry also has something to do with closure, and I just haven’t been ready for that yet. But the best cure for writer’s block is to just write, so maybe the best cure for not being ready for closure is to just close it.

So, here they are. The Playmill highlights of the last three weeks.

Week 17 was a week in which we learned to just go with the flow. By some cruel trick of the universe, we lost both of our technicians within the same week, so Katie Ludlow joined the Playmill family at the last minute as our cover technician. I became the sound tech for “Beauty” nights, since “Beauty” is complicated enough to need a separate light and sound tech. We had a…rocky few shows as we were learning. We truly learned what Stacey was talking about when she said that the tech booth is a horcrux and that it makes people cry. There were never really any HUGE mistakes, except one epic sound fail, which I’ll talk about in a minute.

The biggest crisis was that the first Saturday Luke and Joe were gone, we finished a show of “Beauty” and during the lunch break discovered that the “Seven Brides” lighting disk wasn’t loading. So we…didn’t have lighting cues for the show that was starting in oh, ten minutes. So, Katie ran “Seven Brides” off of the “Beauty” cues, which meant it was basically lights up, black out, and Stacey filled in as the sound tech, even though she hadn’t run tech for four years. Oh, and Roger and Jake were both gone. So that was crazy. But they ROCKED it, and Heavenly Father helped us through, and it was one hell of a Saturday. Joe drove all the way from Boise and reprogrammed everything on Sunday, then drove all the way back to teach school again on Monday.

The hardest thing about rocky tech stuff at the end of the season was that we had all gotten so USED to the rhythm of everything…the timing of each blackout, the volume of each song. When it was the tiniest bit different—one second earlier or one second later—it felt like a huge deal to the cast. In reality, the shows were really FINE, but it threw everyone into such a panic that the week felt rockier than it actually was. Katie rocked it, I think I might have rocked it, except for that one epic sound fail.

It was EPIC.

So, in the classic number “Gaston,” we had a choreographed face punch in the middle of the big dance break. It had a fun little sound effect that was a visual cue—you hit “GO” on the cue right when Squire wound up to punch Mason. All was well, Squire wound up to punch Mason, I hit “GO.” But instead of playing the face punch, SFX (the sound program) started playing the NEXT SONG. If you know SFX, you know that it means that both “Gaston” AND the next song were playing AT THE SAME TIME. It sounded chaotic and awful, so in my panic, I did what I was taught to do in sound design class…stop ALL the cues. In my memory, this moment happens with a mighty “shutting down” sound effect…the lights even flicker in my mental playback. In reality, it was even more awkward…everything just stopped. And I had NO IDEA where in the music to go to pick up again. I sort of tried to find a place to pick up, but it was hopeless. Stacey happened to be up in the booth, and if she hadn’t been there to talk me through, I don’t know what I would have done. She told me to just let the cast move past it and pick up as soon as we could. The poor cast just sort of stood onstage for a moment before kind of starting to wander off. Roger came on and began his scene about the beast having Belle locked in a tower, which normally has underscoring, but didn’t because I had just stopped all the cues in a panic. They did the whole scene and then Squire normally starts the Gaston Reprise (“Lafou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…”). Squire looked up at me with this look of panicked hope, and I just gestured to him to keep going, since I assumed that the Gaston Reprise was part of the underscoring cue. (Which, ha ha, it wasn’t, so I totally could have played it.) Squire and Jacob sort of awkwardly spoke their lyrics, before allowing it to descend into improvisation:

Squire: Lafou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…
Jacob: That’s a dangerous pastime…
Squire: I know. But that whacky old man that’s Belle’s father...he’s out of his mind.

Then they do a whispering bit before launching into a full out reprise of “Gaston,” which there was no way they could speak through. They did the whispering bit, and Squire started saying something like, “We should put her father in the asylum…and I have just the man to do it…” then looked to Jacob to add to it. He saw this look in Jacob’s eyes and thought, “Yes! He’s got an idea! He’ll solve it!” and when Jacob opened his mouth, he said, “Yes. But first…” And between Stacey, Katie, and I, we all decided it was time for a black out, so the lights dimmed just as Jacob was saying, “We have to go…into the other room…”

That’s one for the books.

Also, during Week 17, Misha (Frumah-Sarah) fell during the “Dream” in Fiddler. It was bound to happen at least once during the summer. During the “Dream,” she’s sitting on Mason’s shoulders, who somehow does a great job of walking around under this huge dress on a nearly dark stage. At the end of the dream, Misha says, “Here’s my wedding present, if she marries Lazar Wooooooooollfffff!” and on the “Woolf,” she’s pulled up through the ceiling by Boyd and Jerry, Mason ducks down and exits and we all run offstage and it’s AWESOME. Misha’s exit upward is assisted by a few of us onstage who are gathered around her, pushing her feet up. Well, this one night, through a combination of factors, she just didn’t make it into the ceiling. Dave couldn’t find her foot in the huge tattered wedding dress, she wasn’t in the usual place onstage, there was something weird in the timing. So when she said, “if she marries Lazar Wooooooooollfffff!” instead of disappearing into the ceiling, she disappeared sideways and backwards into the crowd of us onstage. I like the think we handled it pretty well, most of us staying onstage to try to mask Misha as she attempted to get offstage. (Except for Jacob, who panicked and just ran off.) The problem was that Mason was still sort of under her, and she was wearing about 20 feet of tattered wedding gown, and it was really dark onstage, and she kept trying to crawl off, but we all kept stepping on the wedding gown in our attempts to hide her. Everyone made it off okay eventually, but it was an awkward few seconds.

So that was Week 17. The lesson learned was to be flexible enough to just go with whatever happens, and to trust that Heavenly Father will help you through.

Weeks 18 and 19 were far less dramatic, which was a nice change. Second to last Sunday, we went to Virginia City as a cast, which included wandering town, window shopping, the traditional candy store splurge, and the ghost walk. Now, later, one of my most vivid memories of that day is actually just the drive out to Virginia City. I rode with Squire, Jerry, Tanner, and my husband, and there was a big storm going on kind of around us, and we were listening to 90’s music. Just one of those moments that stand out in memory. Nevada City’s living history museum was closing right when we got there, but the kind people allowed us to come in and explore anyway, which was awesome. We also enacted a scandalous story of old timey saloon happenings (with Stacey's original captions, because they're awesome).

The lovers meet in secret.

His wife enters in a jealous rage. 

A brawl begins. 

The married couple reunites. 

The sheriff comes to check the saloon out. 

He arrests the wife for murder. 

Everyone fights again. 

The End. 

(Someone needs to take all this and make a fun, old-timey silent film out of it, with subtitle cards and everything. Maybe I will someday.)

In past years, the cast hasn’t done the ghost walk, but it’s one of my FAVORITE things, so I made phone calls to make sure it was happening and that we could go. Our tour guide couldn’t make it at the last minute, so the manager offered to either refund us or take us herself, even though she hadn’t done a ghost tour in twelve years. We decided to just go for it, and I remembered that I actually have a love-hate relationship with ghost walks. Because they’re fun and interesting and totally really actually scare me. But I’m the one who was all gung-ho about insisting on the ghost-walk, so I couldn’t let anyone know I was actually SCARED, so I just kept asking where my husband was and obsessively gripping his hand the whole time.

The last two weeks were also filled with family—Dad and Mary and Isha came to visit, along with Melissa and Kyle, and then later, Mom came! (Dad and Mary and Co. actually came during Tech Hell Week 17, but whatever.) We also went home to Rexburg for one Sunday for the baby blessing of little Benjamin! It was a beautiful day at Jacob’s parents’ new house, which is a lovely house, enchanted by the spirits of L.M. Montgomery and J.M. Barrie and Laura Ingalls Wilder, full of trees and wild lawns and gables. And our sweet nephew Benjamin was big enough to get out of the hospital! Go Ben!

There were a handful of other good “Fiddler” moments, too. Like the one night when everyone’s headscarf came off during the wedding dance. (Bad Jews.) And the night that Crusty inexplicably panicked and forgot a line. We’d been doing the show for THREE MONTHS, and for some reason, he became incredibly uncertain what his line was. It was supposed to go:

Me: A pot.
Trudy: A pan.
Crusty: A broom.
Jerry: A hat.

But about halfway through the word “broom,” Crusty panicked and just stopped talking. He said, “Br—” The confusion of it made Jerry’s next line a question.

Me: A pot.
Trudy: A pan.
Crusty: A br--
Jerry: A hat?

The fun part about being tech for “Beauty” was that once we knew what we were doing, it meant we kind of got to watch the shows and anything crazy that happened onstage. (Even though Katie and I did two entire shows half-asleep once. We called it our “La la la putting on my lipstick” night, and every single cue we barely made on time because we were just orbiting other planets.)

Anyway, favorite moments include when Mason’s “fellow candlestick” hat came off during “Be Our Guest,” and instead of putting it back on and continuing, he just walked offstage, leaving Max and Tanner to their own devices. They both kneeled in preparation for Mason’s usual cartwheels before realizing he wasn’t there and doing ten extra Russian kicks to make up for it.

There was also a great moment in “Beauty” when Cogsworth’s pendulum fell off his clock costume. He couldn’t pick it up in his big clock costume, so he looked to Dave (Lumiere) and said, “Will you pick that up for me, please?” Dave looked at him for a moment, with his candle-covered hands in the air and said, “Look at me.” The two of them looked over at Heidi, who was dressed as a teapot, and they all realized that because of their costumes, NONE of them could pick up the pendulum. Eventually, Dave Walker entered and at some point in the scene picked up the pendulum, admonishing in his beast growl, “Keep your dangly bits attached!”

There were two moments of “feedback farting” in “Beauty” that are worth recording. The way the theatre is set up, there’s one or two areas onstage where you have to be careful of body mic feedback. Normally, I got pretty good at being aware of it and avoiding it, but twice it got the better of me. The first time, Dave Walker’s mic set the speakers off, and after an obnoxious feedback “waaaaaahhhh” from the speakers, he covered for it by waving his hand in front of his nose and saying, “Scuse me.” It sent everyone, audience and actors alike, into hysterics. Dave M’s next line, “What were we thinking? We will never be human again” was adapted into “With manners like that, we will never be human again,” and I think it took Hannah a solid five minutes to stop laughing. The second time it happened, it was Cogsworth’s mic, and Crusty did the same cover, with an added comment about the scent being “slightly pine-y, what with the wood and all.”

Closing night of each of the shows was emotional, although we did have a crazy dance party before closing night of “Fiddler.” Katie played the track for “Tradition,” and we did our own improv’d version, complete with Cam playing Tevye, who was actually just Bill Cosby. This cast has been told so many times to stop ad-libbing that it sort of just exploded out of our systems. We each played the different roles, did one another’s lines and dances, and experienced something between hysteria and catharsis. “Anatevka” that night was hopeless, though…during both the 6 and 8:30 shows, at least half of us were sobbing, myself included.

During our final Saturday, as we ate between shows, we passed out yearbooks and Playmill rings, reminisced about the summer, and made nominations for the Braying Jackass Award. I don’t know when the Braying Jackass Award started, but it’s been a tradition at the Playmill for at least thirty years. One person gets the award for doing something stupid or irresponsible or generally jackass-y. Boyd won for “Disney On Ice,” which is what we call the night that he sprayed the stage with silicone before “Beauty and the Beast” for some reason that made sense at the time, but just ended up making everyone slip and slide and fall during the entire show.

Another fun thing about closing the shows was that Squire shaved his beard! It had become a pretty mighty beard by the end of the summer, so it was quite the event when he shaved it. It started out as Squire, Stacey, me and Mason in the boys’ bathroom, but as word spread, the crowd grew as more and more of the beard came off. It kind of came off in stages, and at one point someone pointed out that Squire looked like Jean Valjean. He started singing, “Do You Hear the People Sing,” and slowly the crowd in the bathroom started joining in, until it was real-life Les Mis in there. When he got down to a mustache and soul-patch, he put it to a vote, and the majority said to keep it, so he kept it. All night, I kept doing double takes, wondering who the guy helping with flats was.

There are a hundred, thousand, million other images I’ll carry with me from this summer, but I think the one I want to close with is this one. During the finale of “Beauty and the Beast,” everyone comes onstage and stands together as they sing. Katie and I were already crying sometime around the beast’s transformation, so we kept having to wipe tears away to see the stage well enough to hit our cues. As everyone walked on during the final 8:30 show, half of the cast was crying, and as they were singing, they slowly joined hands, until the whole cast was standing hand in hand, crying and singing…this big cast family that was sharing the stage for the last time after a beautiful beautiful summer.

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