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Flash Dispatch, 2-19:
Diary of a Residency, 2
By Rebecca Stenn
Copyright 2001 Rebecca
(Editor's Note: PerksDanceMusicTheatre
is in residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan,
Wisconsin this month. The Kohler Center has commissioned the Perks
to create a new piece, using members of the community. Rebecca Stenn,
artistic director of the Perks and the Dance Insider's features
editor, has been sending dispatches describing the progress of the
work. (To read her first report, click here.)
In this episode, she reports on last Thursday's opening night, and
the rehearsals leading up to it. Jay Weissman is a musician with
the Perks; Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope are dancers with the
-- Opening night, in any situation, is an exhilarating and panic-inducing
proposition. These feelings double when you are working with 30
community members who have never before performed in front of an
audience. Some in our community cast were incredibly exhilarated,
and others were, to put it mildly, petrified. Ellis, one of our
7-year-olds, asked me as we stood in the wings at "places" where
he should look -- up? (I pictured Ellis, arms pasted to his sides,
head angled to the Heavens the entire show.) I told him the audience
would be too dark for him to see; he should look where he always
looked in rehearsal. Greta, our 8-year-old star, pulled at my other
sleeve. "Remember when I told you I wasn't going to be nervous?"
she said, "I was wrong. I have huge butterflies flying around my
stomach right now." Her eyes widened; I swear, I could almost see
the colorful things swirling around her abdomen.
As it turns out, no one
had any real reason to be at all concerned. We had rehearsed endlessly.
Everyone knew what was up; the only ingredient we had missed so
far was the actual audience itself.
Here are some thoughts
on the rehearsals leading up to opening night, as I recorded them
at the time.
Michele is lying inside
a huge lycra bag, squashed together with four 12-year-olds. She
has expressed (a number of times) a certain amount of reticence
in this self-appointed assignment, and lately it has grown to downright
dismay. Each time though, she valiantly rises to the occasion and
climbs in. "Please stop pinching," she asks her bagmates matter-of-factly.
Peter calls the cast
to attention. "Actors, dancers, musicians, people of all ages: Lend
me your ears."
Will and Tom, our light
designer and percussionist, arrive. They watch the run, Will scribbles
lighting notes furiously, and Tom just stares, open-mouthed. "It's
really strange," he says later to our expectant faces, "psychedelic
even. What have you guys been doing in Sheboygan for the past two
weeks?" We hope, for a moment, that strange is good.
The cast has been prepped
by Peter, who has absolutely no mercy. He explains the concept of
"sight-lines' and tells everyone that there will be no watching
from the wings. This is so painful for me that I have to look the
other direction when he tells them, they look so disappointed. (He
eventually allows them to sit backs pressed up against the wings.)
"If you can see the audience, they can see you," Peter says, and
it becomes their mantra.
Before we begin, I gather
everyone around. "Is this another pep talk?" asks Holly. She rolls
her eyes just a little. "No!" I say, and just ask them to pay attention.
Will calls "Places!" The lights go out, and the run begins. Smoothly.
Until, of course, my first exit, at which point I pay no regard
to my own advice and trip, badly, in the dark, on the fog machine.
There is a huge crash and my hand, right foot and elbow sting. But
I am not stopping for a little fall. I strap on my harness for the
flying section and notice -- ugh! -- blood pouring from my foot.
It looks, in the dark, like mud. I've slashed my damn toe. I now
become terrified of dripping on Greta's snow-white costume in our
upcoming duet. The floor is covered with drops of deep red, and
the kids stare in delighted horror at it. The wings are abuzz. A
mini- first aid station is hastily put into action. I'm gauzed,
polysporined and taped back into business.
After the dress rehearsal,
which has gone extremely well, the guy doing the video taping tells
me he has some notes for me. Among them: tell the kids they need
to extend their arm lines to the ends of their fingers. A classicist.
A purest. How delicious.
Steve, the marketing
director, picks me up at 6:45 a.m. We drive to Milwaukee with Greta
for an interview on Fox News. It is incredibly cold and early.
Later, at the theater,
I am amazed by the simple beauty of our set. 70 brass faucets (rejects
from the Kohler factory -- Kohler being the company that makes most
of your bathroom implements) are hung at various heights from the
grid, and Will has lit them in such a way that they seem like golden
raindrops. The audience enters the space to a soundscape Jay has
prepared of slowed-down dripping water. It is an installation.
Everyone is nervous,
and everyone performs beautifully. At the end, the audience rises
to a unanimous standing ovation. I am overcome. I look around at
our beaming cast and at the clapping audience, and feel the energy
swirl around. For a moment, I could burst with happiness.
After the show, at the
reception, we talk with Susan (our main middle-aged character and
a mother of four) and her husband. She is a trained dancer, a miraculous
find. We joke that we'd like to take her with us on the road. "Can
we borrow her for a bit?" we ask her husband. He looks at us solemnly.
"I want my family back," he says. All four of his kids are in the
show. We back off. "Okay," we say.
I run to catch up with
Joyce (our 75-year-old grandmother character), who is on the way
out. I want to thank her. She is with her son and daughter. Her
son, of course, owns the health food restaurant we have eaten lunch
at almost everyday (we never knew). He turns to me beaming. "This
is my mother!" he says. Proud.
That's how I'll sum it
up. We and our cast feel that pride. It is elusive. It is rare.
But we feel it now, and it seems to make every minute of work worth
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