As part of surviving the single worst year of my entire life, I decided that getting on stage this Summer, might help remind me of what it is I do, and why I do it. Sure this sounds dramatic but when you have had your whole life’s trajectory altered, you lose your compass and the feeling of simply floating though days becomes the norm. To ground yourself you search for benchmarks that give you some clarity. I thought doing a play might help.
When I looked around at where I might go to get on stage this summer I happened on auditions for Bye Bye Birdie at our cavernous theatre here in Thousand Oaks and it was being done by the theatre stalwart Lewis Wilkenfeld.
He runs Cabrillo Music Theatre and he is the real deal. A true theater baby. He’s the guy that can recite all the roles in any of his shows, who played the role, exactly how much it will cost to rent that beaded headress (and from who), where the theatre company is on fundraising and remind you of your call time. He simply never says “I don’t remember” to any question asked about the show or season or year. And, while running the theatre, he also directed our show…It’s remarkable. So, in an effort to keep his theatre going, click here and donate. If they don’t reach their goal, his 20 year theatre company closes it doors …and that would be truly, truly, tragic. So send him anything you can. The company is worth it.
I auditioned and got a role. An ensemble singing and dancing but small speaking role of the Mayor. I was great with that. I don’t sing that well but in a group…? I’m genius!
The dancing was handled by the great John Charron and he handled me with the right level of discipline for my obvious stage dancing limitations. Lloyd Cooper was the music director and he could not have been more helpful and complimentary of his singers. Thirty years of rust had to come off, and it felt like this group would accomodate that.
The first thing that struck me was how damn talented every kid in the room was. Our first rehearsals were singing rehearsals and though there were 15 adults, the rest of the 64 member cast were kids, and I mean 8-22 year old kids. Lloyd would simply say “lets sing from number 22 and..” and he gesture and the piano would play…and everyone would sing the right notes, the right words and… man was I out of my league. I hummed a lot and listened a super lot…and eventually sang and hit mostly right notes. The bizarrely talented Anne Montavon gave me a compliment the other day when I was knocking my singing, saying; “everything I’ve heard you sing sounds good…what are you worried about?” and this girl can flat out sing. It made me feel like I belonged. Like maybe I was the only one worried about my singing ..hmmm…strangely reminiscent of the early days as an actor when I always felt like I didn’t belong just because I was new.
The acting part was easy but the choreography was also a whole new language for me. I watched in awe of how the dancers just took in the steps and did them, and every change, every subtle nuance asked for by the choreographer was welcomed. They just did it. I’m used to people arguing with changes, and it seems dancers get that change makes things better. The two things I learned is that when dancers get to dance, they really love their lives. Everyone arrived happy and stayed that way. I’m used to actors who arrive already brooding for the tortuous task of digging deeper meanings out of their brains in rehearsal. But dancers express by moving. Which bring me to the second thing…it seems dancers never really tire, they just keep dancing until the clock says stop. At the end of every routine they’d be panting, and I never once heard a groan when John said “let’s do it gain!”, not once. They’d just leap in again, as hard as they could. It blew my mind to see such excitement, every time. Then…on the breaks they’d mark all the moves by thinking through the moves over and over, flapping arms and jutting feet, locking the moves by muscle memory. Sure this is normal for you dancers, but it was so damned interesting for me to see such constant need to master the moves. Actors think a lot, dancers move a lot…the difference was fun to watch.
My lessons have been plenty. The company of people each needed to do their part to make the whole thing work. Yes there are leads but really they don’t carry the show, they carry the story, but the music and the dance (and of course the two very important scenes featuring the Mayor) carry the 3 hour show. Everyone has to do their job, and do it with a level of enthusiasm that makes the audience get on board and enjoy the ride. I’m so used to the Stars, subtly (and not so subtly), reminding everyone in the cast that the show wouldn’t be on the air,(or have a green light) if it weren’t for them. Here the company is a company.
We have 6 more shows. I will write more about Jim J Bullock and some of the others in the cast that have influenced me, but for now I want to say that I have come to adore this group of “kids” who by simply being the artists they are, and by accepting this rookie into their world, have helped me more than they know and more than I’ll ever tell them. My time with them has helped in righting the ship. I’m getting clarity about why we do this, the value of what we do and most of all how damn fun it is to be in a room with like minded people. I’ve spent too much time with people that didn’t have my best interest in mind, and boy it damaged me. So I thank you Cabrillo Music Theatre and cast mates, for restoring my faith in the process of creating and all the care and kindness shown to a guy who took 30 years off between shows.