Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Drowsy Chaperone, the Exhausted Me

Many magazine articles targeting the over-50 woman (me) tell us that a key to staying young is to try something new.

I am happy to report that it is true.  Stepping out of your comfort zone, doing something different, learning a new skill -- although sometimes really scary and uncomfortable, a new "something" can ultimately increase your happiness and self-confidence.  Yep.  It's true.

What did I do?  I starred in a Broadway show!
The whole cast and crew (except for Fred Lewis!)  So, we had a re-take later!

OK, not "starred", but I was the first character on stage.
OK, after the narrator, Man in Chair.
And while I wasn't on Broadway, the show was, and won many  Tony awards in 2006.
I was in the Jackson County Community Theater's production of The Drowsy Chaperone, which we performed 5 times to lovely, enthusiastic audiences at The Pines' Evergreen Room (the site of our wedding reception 32 years ago!)

Have you seen the show?  All over the internet, they call it "the best show you've never heard of."  It's a show within a show -- the Main in Chair listens to his cherished recording of the show which he envisions taking place in his apartment.  He adds his commentary, both theatrical and social (!) as the show goes on around him.  Really, you should go see a production as soon as you can.  It's just fun -- I promise you will love it, and leave with a smile.  (If you live near me, Beef and Boards is doing the show in Indianapolis in April and May -- go!)
 Monkey, monkey, monkey. And Janet Van de Graaff.  And Man in Chair.  And Hannah!  

I didn't plan on being in a show.  And that might just be the best part about this whole story -- I sort of stumbled into it.  (That's a little Drowsy pun.)  I'm going to tell my story now, so when I am old(er) and gray(er), I can look back on this experience.  Like Man in Chair.  Sigh.

My church pal, Darin (a member of the JCCT Board of Directors), called me last fall and asked if I would like to help with the music for the theater's winter dinner production.  I was to play for auditions and then help the actors learn the music.
Sure.  I could do that.
Right away, though, I knew I was in over my head.
Some of those trying out brought me music I had never seen (or even heard of) before.  In strange keys.  I'm an OK-ish sight reader, and did fine with  Mr. Cellophane from Chicago and some Rogers and Hammerstein stuff,  but these auditions weren't my shining moment.  Really, Darin -- Chess?

I could tell the director, Andrew, was a little put out with me.
Andrew was a young man from Louisville, who had convinced the theater board that putting on this elaborate musical was a great idea -- he was looking to add some directing credits to his resume, and had performed in this show at another theater.  It was exciting!

Consequently, he cast his friends from Louisville in some of the major roles.  This, of course, surprised many of the JCCT regulars.  Hmmmm.

Well, on we forged.  Andrew had a CD of the show accompaniment, so I was only needed to run parts.  This in itself was tricky, as each song is long and complex, and changes keys many times.  Yikes.  So I downloaded the CD, watched YouTube videos of the show and plowed on as best I could through the month of November.

And then in December, Andrew quit.

He said that the 100+ mile round trip drive from Louisville to Jackson County (or "the middle of nowhere" as he called it on Facebook) for rehearsals was going to be cost prohibitive.  I get that, but Louisville and Brownstown have always been 59 miles apart.  Always.  Even when Andrew was pitching the show to the Board.  Even then.  But I digress ...

And the cast members from Louisville (all but our dear Wanda AKA Trix, the Aviatrix) quit with him.

I thought we were sunk.  I was sure it was over.  It was a gloomy meeting of those of us remaining, especially when Darin read Andrew's letter of resignation, in which he said that another reason he was leaving was that "the Jackson County cast wasn't in it 100%."

Oh, Andrew, darling, you were so wrong.

Darin stepped up to the plate -- he took on the job of director, even though he had been cast as the romantic lead role.  I told him I would do whatever I could to help him out, which I thought meant learning the entire score, since Andrew didn't leave the accompaniment CD with us.  Holy cats! I knew this meant that the next month or two would be spent exclusively at the piano, learning those difficult songs.  Good for my brain, traumatic for my spirit.

But then the Board agreed to purchase the beautiful fully-orchestrated score from MTI/RMS.  It was expensive, but so worth it -- jazzy rhythms, big brass, fantastic percussion -- 1000 times better anything I could have done on the piano.  Heavy sigh of relief.  The Sinfonia program allowed us to tailor the score for our actors -- speed up, slow down, change keys, vamp.  It was a lot to learn, and we spent many hours with the program to get it just right (or almost just right, anyway.)

Roles were re-cast, and I stepped into the part of Mrs. Tottendale, the rich, goofy, somewhat senile hostess of the big wedding, who, in 1928, still wore her Civil-war era hoop-skirted Fancy Dress.  (Our sweet friend, Bridey, stepped in a music director, thank goodness!)

There was so much to learn -- dialogue, songs, blocking.  (I didn't even know what blocking was!)  And dance steps.  Ugh.  Dance steps.

Oh, I'm a heck of a free-form dancer at wedding receptions -- let me do my own thing and I can dance the heels right off of my shoes (I did it, really!  At Lauren and Jake's wedding last November!  And the story of getting those heels replaced is definitely another blog post)  but the minute the DJ plays The Electric Slide or Cupid Shuffle or any of those popular group dances, I'm out of there -- I just can't do it.  I've tried Jazzercize and Zumba -- I just stink at those, too.  (But I might give Zumba one more shot, as my new pal, Kat, AKA The DC's Kitty, teaches at our gym.  She already knows what a poor dancer I am, as she was the choreographer for the show, and sweetly told me "not quite" many times when I just couldn't get the steps right!)

Choreographer Kitty Katty and her sweet real-life sister Kelli

I learned the steps.  I learned how to do the dances in a fancy dress.  I learned how to do my own stage makeup and secure my wig.  I learned how to do a spit take -- on a Methodist minister, no less!  I learned how to quash my pre-show jitters with a 1/2 shot of Makers, despite our director's warnings about alcohol, caffeine, heavy foods, etc.  Sorry pal -- this old lady needed a little something for her nerves!

I learned how fulfilling it is to do something new.  To meet new people and make new friends.  (See how excited I was?)
With my new good friend, Job
Good grief.  I look like Aunt Bea here.  Toot, toot tootsie!  

Best of all, I learned how delicious it is to make lemonade when you're handed a great big basket of lemons. Despite the major trials we all went through with this show, it was a great success, thanks to teamwork.  From the stage to the ticket sales to the props and sets and costumes, it's one big team, and the JCCT has an amazing team of people who really love and care for the theater, and for one another.  I am really proud to have joined that team, and really proud that we made it happen.  Together.  

Granted, being in a show is not as adventurous as climbing Kilimanjaro or hiking the Pacific Coast Trail (yes, we did just see Wild) or publishing your novel.

But for me, it was a great adventure.  Something new that I will treasure forever.

Peace.  And a big bouquet of roses.

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