So Long, Farewell…

The Sound of Music closes today with the 5pm show after a very successful run. I went to last night’s show with my sister and was pleased to see that Michael Berkeley began the pre-curtain segment by introducing the musicians to the audience. The show was great and it was followed by the usual standing ovation.

This will be my final post of the season. It was a privilege to observe the entire process, beginning to end, of bringing a major musical to the stage and I hope I have been able to convey at least some of this to readers. I know my experience as a theater audience member will be much enhanced by my summer “job” at TriArts.

The idea for this blog was Michael Berkeley’s. I had contacted him looking for “something to do” and he suggested the blog. Michael, who is one of the founders of TriArts has been with it every year since its beginnings in 1990. He has been intensely involved in every season, first as Musical Director, then as Artistic Director. Without Michael, TriArts would be a very different place. Of course, TriArts is a collaboration and many people have contributed their time, energy and in many cases their hard earned money to the theater. But Michael has been present for 22 years, encouraging young people, some who have gone on to careers in theater. He generously makes time for everyone, helping them learn their lines, learn music and even taking the time to give my family a backstage tour a few years ago. He is a gifted and generous artist.

To all of the actors, the technical staff, the interns, the designers, directors, business staff and board members who gave me encouragement and patiently explained some of the more mysterious aspects of theater to me – a big thank you. You all contributed to a great show in a great season and it was my privilege to witness and record it.

I’ll be back next year to report on the process of next season’s shows and there will be a few posts over the winter to bring you up to date on TriArts’ latest news.

Have a great off-season everyone. See you next year.

The Work Doesn’t Stop

When Sound of Music closes on Sunday (there are only five performances and tickets are selling fast) many people believe the set is struck, or dismantled, the grounds are cleaned up and then everyone goes home for the winter. Not so…not by a long shot. It’s true that the actors, the interns and the technicians go back to their homes, but there is a pretty sizable staff that stays on through the off-season, making sure things run smoothly and will continue to run smoothly next season.

A theatrical season at TriArts takes careful planning. First of all, next years shows need to be chosen. That is done at the end of summer by the Season Selection Committee made up the two Artistic Directors, Michael Berkeley and John Simpkins, Scenic Designer, Erik Diaz, Lighting Designer, Chris Dallos, Executive Director Alice Bemand, William Suter, the Chair of TriArts Board, and TriArts founder Sarah Combs and former Executive Director and long time friend of TriArts Pamela Chassin.

Once the shows are chosen the work begins. Directors, design and technical people are contacted and interviewed. Casting is discussed. Contracts are drafted. Budgets are worked on.

Much of this process is overseen by Executive Director, Alice Bemand with the able assistance of Audrey Brooks, the Office Administrator. Alice has been with the theater for about seven years and Audrey for more than six.

Over the winter, budgets are set for the shows, design teams are set, summer interns are hired and technical staff is selected. Housing is secured for next years actors and staff. Community outreach continues through the winter. Program advertisement is sold. And TriArts other activities like the Youtheatre Camp and Bok Gallery Events are planned. Alice likes to say that show business is a business, but she takes satisfaction in being a creative business woman. Audrey and Alice are two hardworking women. And a major reason that TriArts runs so smoothly is their hard work.

20120822-152742.jpg
Audrey Brooks, left and Alice Bemand making business creative.

Kids of All Ages

I was at the theater on Thursday, just before the matinee and I saw bus after bus pulling into the parking lot discharging lots of excited kids. I then saw vehicles letting out lots of senior citizens who made their way into the theater. As I stood in the back of the theater before the curtain I heard the usual excited chatter between the audience members, but when the curtain went up you could have heard a pin drop. Every song was applauded enthusiastically and when I returned to the back of the theater just before the end of Act I, the roar following Mother Abbess’ “Climb Every Mountain” was almost deafening.

I went to the business office and asked Alice Bemand and Audrey Brooks about this somewhat unusual audience. They told me that local senior centers and area day camps love to send people to the show. In fact TriArts adds extra weekday matinee performances to accommodate them. This past week saw visitors from the Sherman Senior Center, Noble Horizons, Geer Village and the Morris Senior Center. And the campers were from the Farmington, CT EXCL Summer program (125 kids). In addition TriArts Youtheatre Summer Program – Willy Wonka, Jr. Workshop were in attendance. What a fun way for seniors and kids to spend an afternoon. And what a fun audience for an actor to perform for!

Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet

I sought out a most valuable musician in TriArts Sound of Music orchestra to give me an idea of how it is to play in this musical. Rich Conley, a member of the TriArts family for 22 years, plays the oboe, the English horn and the clarinet in our orchestra (but not all at once). He will be playing for West Side Story later this year and he’ll be playing piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, tenor sax and baritone sax (definitely not all at once). Rich has hired musicians for most of TriArts large productions since its inception when they did Annie Get Your Gun in a tent in Pine Plains, NY.

TriArts has done many of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals and, as Rich says, “You can’t do them small.” These grand musicals need lots of instruments and lots of musicians. Anyone who has seen the current production is amazed that there are only 11 musicians playing. It sounds much larger. And the musicians do play 17 instruments (but not all at once). I visited the orchestra area backstage – it’s to the right as you are facing the stage. It’s a very small area because so much space is needed for the set. The Sharon Playhouse has a very small orchestra pit underneath the stage, but it is uncomfortable and seldom used.

The orchestra is conducted by Michael Berkeley, who is TriArts Artistic Director and Music Director. One might wonder how the singers see the conductor if he is way backstage. There is a television monitor at the back of the theater, they can look to for their cues. And the orchestra hears the dialog and music on stage through a speaker backstage. Rich, who has played for Sound of Music five or six times, says the orchestra knows every line from the show, so they don’t have to see the show to know what is going on. Even in an orchestra pit, the musicians rarely see what the actors are doing.

We often talk of the TriArts family, and Rich gives truth to that term. He is married to Sarah Combs, who was Annie in TriArts first Annie Get Your Gun, was Maria in TriArts first Sound of Music, and was the director of last season’s production of Hairspray.

20120816-152002.jpg
Rich Conley, backstage at Sound of Music

First Weekend

Sound of Music had its first full weekend of performances and a rousing success it was. I was there opening night and again on Saturday night. Both nights saw standing ovations. I’m not surprised. It’s such a good show.

We return tomorrow afternoon at 2pm for a matinee, another 2pm matinee on Thursday followed by a 7pm performance that day, and then Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. There are lots of future performances, too.

I will be talking to cast and crew on Thursday, if I can catch them between performances, and will be reporting on how the show is going, what the actors are focusing on and what the crew is doing to keep everything ship shape. I’ll also talk to a few members of the orchestra to find out how they are enjoying this production and how it is different from other shows they have done. Stay tuned…

Bravo!

Last night’s opening was terrific. Everyone did a great job – the cast, the crew, the designers, the technical staff, the people in the production office, and in the business office. Congratulations to all.

There is a performance tonight at 8pm, tomorrow at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. I’m going again tomorrow night with my family – I can’t wait for them to see it.

I’m going to take a few days off to be with my family, but I’ll be back next week to talk about what happens backstage once a production is up and running. It’s an interesting process so stay tuned.

Opening Night!

Tonight at 7pm all of the hard work, months of it, actually, comes to fruition. At about 6pm, when the audience is finishing an early dinner, or getting ready to drive to the show, the cast is arriving at the theater. They’ll put on their make-up and microphones. They’ll begin to get into costume. They’ll gather at 6:30 for their sound check to make sure their mics are working. Singers will do their vocal exercises. The tech people have been busy all day, fixing last minute glitches, making sure the set is ready for the 17 performances to come. The lighting designer, the master electrician and crew are checking all of the lights for blown bulbs or “fried” gels, the sound designer is making a check of his system prior to the cast and orchestra sound check. The costume shop is madly making last minute changes to costumes and then making sure they are in perfect shape for tonight’s performance. The set designer and his crew are making last minute changes to aspects of the set. The prop master is making sure all props are accounted for, are in working order, and are where they should be so the actors and crew can find them when they need them. And then at a little after 7, the curtain will go up and the magic will begin.

I’d like to say a word about the show’s director, Gary John LaRosa. I’ve been a theater fan all of my life. Have been involved as a volunteer in several aspects of theater. This is the first time I have been involved from the very first rehearsal to opening night. Watching Gary John take this very talented cast, and, in a collaborative effort, bring them from a group of talented individuals to a cohesive, coherent cast performing a very difficult show is like watching magic happen. You’re not sure how it happened, but it did…and beautifully. And then to watch the cast perform with the orchestra, and then on stage, with costumes, lighting, sound and props – you have this incredibly entertaining, and enlightening show. Gary John would be the first one to give credit to everyone who participated in the process. And everyone involved does deserve tons of credit. But Gary John was the catalyst. It was his vision, along with Michael Berkeley, that brings us the show you will see and I know you will love.

Gary John leaves tomorrow for his next gig. He has several things lined up – no surprise since he is so talented. I’d like to thank him for being so generous with his time and allowing me unlimited access to rehearsals. He patiently explained the process to this civilian and I hope I conveyed at least some of what he taught me. Good luck, Gary John, you have left us with a great show.

20120809-162836.jpg
Gary John working with Travis Mitchell, Michael Sharon and Molly Parker-Meyers early in the process.

*********************************

From now on, the focus of the blog will be on what it takes to keep a show like this one running smoothly from opening night to closing. I’ll talk to many of the people who work behind the scenes, backstage and in the business office. The work continues after opening night and it might be interesting to find out how that work is done.

Final Dress

It’s intermission during the final dress rehearsal. We open tomorrow night. A few select friends have been invited to the rehearsal. They love it! And I know you’ll love it!

In Her Own Words

I asked one of the visiting actors, Clare Solly, what it is like to be here in Connecticut, working on a show. she said, “why don’t I write something for the blog?” So, in her own words:

Thoughts on being a traveling actor:

Traveling to different cities, and meeting new people is part of the dream of a working actor. In reality, no professional actor (unless they are really lucky, or have a good deal of funding to support them) stays in one place permanently. And really, we are like modern day gypsies: traveling from town to town, entertaining people, and then moving on to do it again somewhere else. Most of my actor-friends LOVE this aspect. And generally, it is pretty great.

Most theaters are great about helping out of town actors find housing or providing housing, which is wonderful, as it provides a working vacation. I always love staying with actual people instead of in hotels, because you get to have a real feel for the area and the people you’re temporarily living with.

There are some drawbacks, though. For me, the most difficult is anticipating what you actually will need, and remembering to bring it with you (and fitting it in to a minimal amount of luggage–with 5 suitcases, you don’t make many friends on the Metro North). Most of the time you can always go out and purchase whatever you forgot, or live without it. For my first three weeks here, I was without a car… so anything I forgot, I really had to live without. You don’t realize what you use everyday, until its not there. Luckily, my Sound of Music cast mates who live locally came to my rescue, and helped me get to the store, or just brought me what I needed. (I still can’t believe I didn’t anticipate the need for Qtips, scissors, ibuprofen, or IcyHot. And my personal “requirement” for flavored creamer probably annoyed the people giving me rides home–as I use A LOT and I asked to stop at the grocery store on the way home almost every other night.) Don’t worry, dear reader, I have now been loaned a car by the theater (initiated by our great Company Manager), I also now have Qtips, and I have also cut my creamer intake by half.

Why do I do it, you may be asking. Theater, for me is a creative collaboration, not just of the people on stage, and those who helped to create the live moving picture on stage, but WITH the audience as well. Everyone in the building adds to the production. (One secret that audiences may not know, and that actors might not realize they do, is that we actors are watching and rating you as an audience by your reactions and applause, just as the audience is watching and applauding our performance. And the more you give to us, the more we give back to you.) Many actors will tell you that they perform for the sound of applause (as NONE of us do it for the money–its not that good, unless you’re famous), but its more than that. Its the same wonderful feeling as it is to give a perfect gift for a great friend, and receive an unexpected one in return.

***************************************************************

If you, live in the Sharon area and would like to be part of the TriArts community by having one of our actors or technical staff in your home next summer, please give Alice Bemand a call at the theater phone number shown at the top of this blog.

20120808-145536.jpg
Clare Solly, aka Sister Margaretta

Going, Going…

I was talking to Blair in the box office today and she tells me that tickets for the show are selling really well. We’re creating a lot of excitement in the area. I know that rehearsals are going very well, so if you haven’t yet gotten your tickets, and to make sure you get the seats you want, you should call the box office at the number listed above, drive to the box office or go online(click the link below) sooner rather than later. The show opens day after tomorrow and word is getting out. You don’t want to miss out.

20120807-145839.jpg
Blair is waiting for your call.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.