The students of Saint Bernard’s School put on a fine production last week. After starting a theatre program eleven years ago, the school is shutting down this year (like Folwell Middle School, where I played Cinderella) and I think the year’s ending with a decent bang.
As with Carnival!, playing Bye Bye Birdie made for an intense week. Even more intense, in fact, since I had fewer rehearsals in which to learn the music. I joined the St. Bernard’s pit at the last minute, following an eleventh-hour decision at Lion’s Gate Christian Academy that cut out most of the pit orchestra for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor® Dreamcoat. I could have had four rehearsals before tech week, but I thought I was already booked this past weekend. Heh. Fortunately the Birdie score is a lot easier on the strings than Carnival!. 😉
So, the Tuesday tech was my first rehearsal. I had to share music with another player, as the school only rented three scores. (Their original plans included only three violins, but looking back the orchestra’s conductor was glad to have added another.) To say that I muddled through would be pushing it. Frankly, I sucked on Tuesday; I couldn’t read half the notes, but it did get me familiar with the music. I took home a score to use the next day; one player wouldn’t be there on Wednesday.
At rehearsal time on Wednesday, I got set up with my borrowed score. I arranged to get a copy made for the next rehearsal. My playing was better, mostly because I had my own music and could actually see the notes. I was also more familiar with the cuts and so on.
Thursday, I had a photocopy waiting for me. It was excellent, save for about ten pages that had notes cut off the edge. Apparently the copying was done by a student… I made do and listed the pages that needed to be recopied after rehearsal.
Friday, I got replacement copies of the unusable pages. Oddly, two were blank save for a large black rectangle, but fortunately they were the two least critical replacements. I never asked to have them recopied properly; by that point in the process, it was easier to fill in the missing notes mentally.
I would like to do an abbreviated version of what I normally do for shows I’m fully involved in. This being a high school production, there were a lot of happenings that I would like to record.
Unusually, this production placed the pit orchestra on the stage, behind the action. That decision made for some interesting events over the course of the week.
Not a whole lot to write. Some set pieces and props were still under construction, and the actors weren’t yet used to doing all the technical bits; it was only the second time they’d had any of the extra material. The performances, however, were already quite good. The run-through had to be stopped part-way through the second act, so I didn’t get to hear all of the music.
Importantly, the actress playing Mae broke her foot. The crew turned out the stage lights during the break and she fell off the front of the stage in the blackout. “Actor down!” That delayed the rehearsal a bit. It was not amusing that she got hurt. However, the cane she used for the rest of the week added to her character. Really too bad that it happened, though.
Scene change music hadn’t yet been set, so a lot of experiments were conducted (in both applicable senses of the word).1
The scene changes were smoother, and the actors’ performances improved markedly as they got used to working with the extra pieces. A typewriter was added to the opening office scene, but it was broken; the carriage didn’t advance. Half a dozen people clustered around it trying to figure out what was wrong—myself included, since I used to use my parents’ typewriters when I was younger. This model was too old for me to figure out, though.
More scene change music experiments.
The light fight, as I believe I will remember it, began on Wednesday. The tech crew wanted the orchestra stand lights covered with blue gels so they weren’t shining into the audience so much. They also ruined a lot of the stage lighting with the excessive glow, mostly during scene changes. We got through the run; a sheet of gel sat nearby, waiting to be used.
More improvements to all the actors’ work.
On arriving for Thursday’s rehearsal, we all found sheets of gel taped to our stand lights. The crew had used small pieces of black duct tape—a very bad decision, and a mistake that was never remedied—never mind that some of the stand lights were so dim that the gels made it impossible to read the score. By the end of the first act, most of the gels that hadn’t been removed by musicians unable to read their music had all but fallen off; heat from the lights melted the adhesive on the duct tape.
The orchestra was promised gaff tape for opening night, the next day.2 One or two brass players joked that they would quit if they didn’t get usable tape.
The show’s opening night was great! Musically, at least—the only facet I was really qualified to judge. I know that the acting and dancing were both good as well, but I honestly can’t say much about them because we were still making changes to the music between numbers. I can say that every number went about the best it had ever gone up to that point—it was a peak. Timings, coordination, and a hundred other factors all came together.
Somewhere between Wednesday and Friday, the typewriter was fixed. I never found out what was wrong with it.
No gaff tape arrived, however. Many of the stand lights had long strips of black duct tape wrapped around them to hold on the gels so heavily insisted upon by the crew. Of course, it cut down on the light emitted by each light—the desired effect so far as the crew cared—but it also made many of the lights useless. Many gels were ditched, at least partially.
From my perspective in the orchestra, the show didn’t go as well. There were a lot more timing and coordination issues—we played catch-up with the singers a lot when they jumped cues. Both nights, I had (different) guests in the audience; both nights, the guests were pleased with the show. I think there was some Second-Night Slump going on in both the cast and orchestra.
The violinist to my left brought her own gel and a bunch of clips to hold it on. The rest of us had even more tape added to our lights, and still no gaff tape. Ridiculous. Many resorted to removing the gels and just turning the lamps off when not playing, a solution embraced first by the conductor. (She removed her stand’s gel not so she could see her music but so we could see her; the stand light was the only light by which she could be seen by the orchestra.)
Both Sunday shows were back up to Friday’s standards. Maybe one or two timing issues occurred, but a tiny fraction of what happened Saturday. The show really closed with a bang. So what if Gloria Rasputin lost her balance a bit at the end of her tap dance routine? It just made the moment even funnier. 😀
The light fight was pretty much resolved, too. Turning off the lights when we weren’t playing became part of the routine, and the gels no longer fell off. Finally!
First and foremost, “We Love You, Conrad” is currently right up there with “Ten Minutes Ago”, driving me nuts with its incessant playing in my head. Really, sometimes I wish musicals didn’t always have one song that you can’t get out of your head for a month. Ah, whatever. It’s all Jack’s fault.3 😛
I love how Albert’s history as an English teacher lets Rosie needle him about his grammar: “You and me, English teacher.” Then he’s so worried that he’ll mess up again, he second-guesses himself: “I’m so glad that you and I—you and me—could [make this trip together].” A classic grammatical mistake, and yet believable because of the joking around just a moment before.
Changes in language usage between the time of the show (1959) and the present (2010) led to a likely-unintentional joke between Albert and Mae. As Mae is exiting after her first appearance, in which she finally meets Rosie (after hearing about her in Albert’s letters for years), she admonishes her son Albert to do several things. It’s stereotypically motherly. Among the reminders: “Wear your rubbers!” Double entendre much?
His house taken over by Albert, Rosie, and Conrad Birdie, Harry MacAfee’s morning is completely disrupted. Doris (his wife, Kim’s mother) forgets to make his coffee and offers him a warm 7-Up instead; Randolf (his son, Kim’s younger brother) clips out “a few” articles about Conrad Birdie before the morning paper makes it to Harry. Faced with the upset of his routine, Harry declares that “the democracy is over; Parliament is dissolved; Nero is back in town.” He escapes the approach of a drowsy Conrad from upstairs by announcing that he is going to “go burn Rome.”
The last scene before intermission is the television broadcast on the Ed Sullivan Show. Hugo, Kim’s “steady”, punches Conrad Birdie out in a slow-motion bit. Everyone on stage did a great job of coming up with something to do. For instance, Conrad’s guitarist takes off his guitar and swings it at the oncoming Hugo, who ducks to avoid it. The guitar takes out a television crew girl instead; oops.
Everyone scatters after Conrad is knocked down, save for two people tending to Conrad. Rosie tells Albert that she let Hugo in. Best line of the scene: “Oh, Albert, you’re not alone. You’re on television.” (She exits.)
In one scene, Kim flops down on her bed. A Conrad Birdie lunch box and a bobblehead, both sitting on top of her bed’s headboard, fell off on different rehearsal nights. Since they were right over our conductor’s head, we all held our breath when that scene arrived and wondered why the props weren’t secured. The lamp and alarm clock on Kim’s night stand were never in the same place twice, either, and the lamp came close to falling off a couple of times too. Once the set came out with the lamp leaning on the headboard.
Considering the cell phone announcement before every show—”there was no such thing as cell phones in 1959″—there were two very interesting props. In the opening scene, Albert takes “a severe overdose of Aspirin” from a plastic pill bottle with a child-proof cap. (A: “No, that’s too much. Break it in half.” R: “Albert, you’re thirty-three years old. You can take a whole Aspirin.” :D) Later in the show, as the press men are covering Conrad Birdie’s arrival in Sweet Apple, Ohio, at least one of them is pretending to write with a Bic mechanical pencil. I’m pretty sure that neither of those items had yet been invented in 1959…
Mae, Albert’s mother, is a great character. Every time Albert does something, she thinks up some remark. When Albert tells her he’s dissolving the Almaelou Music Co., she slumps over: “Mama, what’s wrong?” “Nothing. You killed me.” Later: “And don’t worry about renting a limo for [my] funeral; I’ll walk.” Or: “When you get back, don’t forget to come into the kitchen, turn off the gas, and pull my head out of the oven.” Or, simply: “Goodbye, Albert.” (She lies down between the rails of the train track.) “Don’t worry about the coat. You’ll have three mink stoles after the train passes over me.”
Charles F. Maude, the bartender in Act Two, is also a great character. He has great exchanges with both Hugo (H: “I’ll have a double rocks on the scotch, and put some rocks in it this time. […]” M: “How old are you?” H: “Thirty-two.” M: “Get out!”) and Rosie (R: “Alvarez is the name, but I want you to call me Spanish Rose.” M: “Spanish Rose?” R: “Si?” M: “Get out!”).
Rosie rants on a bit about having a right to be in the bar after Maude tries to kick her out. Over her rant, Albert phones the bar. When he asks for Rosie, Maude yells over: “Hey, Fidel Castro, there’s a fella by the name of Peterson wants to talk to youse.” Rosie tells Maude to “Tell the weasely little rat I’m not here!” Albert shouts over the phone, “That proves she’s there! Who else would know I’m a weasely little rat?”
Oh, and there was the one night (I think it was Saturday) that the bar sign moved after the scene had started. Like, the stage manager wanted it flown in further but the fly master didn’t pull on the line until the scene had started. It was odd to see the sign jerk toward the deck in the middle of a scene.
All of these memories will be with me for a long time.
Future of St. Bernard’s Theatre
St. Bernard’s School is closing at the end of the school year, but that doesn’t mean the theatre program is going to disappear. Parents are trying to create a community organization out of the current program, one that would welcome all present and past St. Bernard’s students as well as anyone else wanting to get involved.4 I doubt, and hope, that we haven’t heard the last of St. Bernard’s Theatre.
More Small World
I seem to keep running into people I know. The actor who played Charles F. Maude (the bartender in Act Two, if you missed the note above) was a former choirmate. In fact, our mailboxes in the choir rehearsal room were next to each other on account of our adjacent surnames.
This is on top of running into choir parents in the cast and audience of The Sorcerer and another former choirmate at Concordia University’s Carnival!. The world seems to be shrinking; I wonder who I’ll run into next…
Last Monday, the day before starting Bye Bye Birdie, I auditioned for the Rosetown Playhouse summer production of Oliver!. I got my acceptance this past Monday, exactly a week later, via my mother. Apparently, someone at Rosetown misread the email address on my audition form and the message sent to me bounced; last time I checked the DNS, technobabble.es didn’t exist… D’oh!
Anyway, I got into the chorus, which has the opportunity for solos and/or a small character role as well. Rehearsals start Monday. (Lots of significant Mondays with these Rosetown people, eh? Three in a row!)
It’s worth noting that the title of this post is an homage to the character of Mae. She says those exact words to her son before lying down between the train tracks at the station in Sweet Apple, Ohio. (Don’t worry, Albert pulls her back up. He doesn’t “have time for that nonsense.”
- That is, 1) experiments were run and 2) they were conducted by a conductor. [↩]
- Duct tape and gaff (or gaffers’ tape) use different types of adhesive. Since gaff is designed for use in all things theatrical—including lighting, with all the heat that comes with it—its adhesive has high tolerance for heat and doesn’t come off the way duct tape’s adhesive does. [↩]
- A running joke, one of my top memories from this show. Our flautist didn’t come to half of the rehearsals, so we blamed him whenever anything went wrong. [↩]
- Well, I’m assuming about the “anyone else” part. In the past I have tried to get involved with supposedly open organizations that turned out to prefer that members of certain groups not join. Consider my assumption to be an optimistic hope. [↩]