Through all of our rehearsals, when it came time to practice our singing, we were fortunate enough to have our musical director Nicola, or when she wasn’t available, our assistant musical director Rebecca play the piano for us. For a few rehearsals, both were unavailable, and we had to turn to a recorded musical score. The benefit of the live piano player is that they can stop and start easily, change tempo and rhythm, emphasize certain notes, etc. The computer version can not.
Whether intentionally or not, this lead to some changes in how we sang, as many people adjusted to the computer score, and when our musical directors returned, had to change again. All of this leads us towards the real musical treat though - our own orchestra! That’s right, we have a 14-piece orchestra that is accompanying us in the play.
The actors and orchestra first chance to meet is at the Sitzprobe. What’s a Sitzprobe? Translated from the German, it refers to a seated rehearsal. Essentially, the orchestra plays the various songs, and the actors sing along. It’s a chance to hear the songs as they might be done during the play, without worrying about other things like acting, costumes, props or scenery.
A rush of excitement ran through most of the actors when they heard the orchestra for the first time. Despite having only a handful of rehearsals under their belts, the musicians already sounded great. Each of our singers stepped up and sang their solos with gusto, and the group numbers were filled with passion. The resulting mix of singing and music was outstanding and bodes well for how things will soon be in the theatre.
As June turned to July, we also went from being able to use our scripts and musical scores to being “off book”. Slowly but surely, each scene was worked. Entrances and exits, tweaks to the wording, ideas on how to use props and moving of stage pieces for scene changes were all added. Each scene built upon the other, until we were ready to do a full run through of Act I.
Everyone gave it our best and it actually didn’t go too badly, for our first try. The next week, we ran through Act II and once again, we did fairly well. Of course, this was all leading up to a full run through of the entire play. We’ve run through it a number of times now, and it keeps getting better and better.
One hot Sunday evening, after we’d done a full run through during the afternoon, Emily advised us we’d be doing an "Italian Run Through" in the evening. What’s that? It’s a rehearsal where the actors deliver their lines and perform their actions as fast as they can. As you can imagine, it made for a fun and funny rehearsal, especially since everyone was also encourage to try completely new and different actions along with their lines. It was a great way to cap off a long day of rehearsals, and brought some pizzaz back into the following few rehearsals as well.
Props are an important part to any play. And it’s no less so than with ours. We need to believe that we’re in Oklahoma, so that you can believe we are too! One way that helps is to use props that help give us that Oklahoma feeling.
Normally, each play would have a prop master tasked with finding or creating the props needed for the play. Unfortunately, we were unable to find someone to take on this role directly, so it became a group effort (although driven by our director Emily and stage manager Amber).
Slowly but surely, props began to appear at our rehearsals. A fence and some benches. Some baskets for the box social. A couple of cowboy hats. A saddle and lasso. A “Little Wonder”. A table and chairs. Art post cards. A quilt. An old-time doll. Guns and holsters. Chaps. These are just a few of a whole list of items are needed for the production, and as each new prop is added, the actors take to it immediately. Each prop is worked into their lines, and becomes part of their character. And suddenly, it feels like we really are in Oklahoma!
Aye, but c’n y’ turn on the air conditioning?
One drawback of rehearsing during summer months is the heat. As many of you know, we had a record-breaking heat wave this summer. In June. Despite the fact that the St. Thomas Anglican church hall has relatively new air conditioning (and we thank them for that), putting 30+ bodies together in a room, and then asking them to act, sing, move and dance leads to some hot days and evenings. Many times our rehearsal space was over 30 degrees when we started rehearsal and didn’t cool down much by 10:00 pm.
Heat does strange things to people. Here is some photographic evidence of what are, no doubt, early cases of heat stroke.
Did I mention we have a lot of fun though?
A little-known part of acting in local theatre productions, is that a lot of fundraising has to go on, just to put on the show. Unfortunately, ticket sales alone are not enough to cover the expenses of producing a high-quality show in a great theatre like the one at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. We attract a number of fantastic sponsors, such as 89.5 The Drive, M.Y. Mini Storage, and Canex Building Supplies, but even with their support we must do fundraising every year.
So how does Secondary Characters raise money? Earlier in the year, we hosted our first ever Musical Movies Film Festival. Patrons of the Film Festival saw four great musical movies - from West Side Story to Grease. While we didn’t make much money on it this year, we did manage to put together a well-received film festival and learned lots of ideas for next year.
A few times a year, we sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Board members, family members and current/former cast members take turns at Walmart or Canadian Tire. While these are not big money makers, every little bit helps. Cast member Miles got into the spirit and helped sell a lot of doughnuts.
That left us with our largest and longest-running fundraiser - the Confectioner’s Cabaret! After a number of years at St. Thomas Anglican church’s hall, we moved to the Tzeachten Community Hall in June. Swinging saloon doors greeted attendees, and gingham tablecloths covered round tables of eight. A crowd of over 100 joined us for sweet treats, sweet sounds, and sweet deals on silent auction items. Thanks again to all of our silent auction sponsors for donating to our fundraiser.
The show itself featured a wide range of songs and song styles from previous shows, potential shows, and of course, both The Last 5 Years (our spotlight production) and Oklahoma! Most of the cast of Oklahoma was on hand and in addition to a number featuring just the ladies, and one featuring just the men, we closed the first half with the Oklahoma Reprise. It sent attendees off to the silent auction and to refill their dessert plates in a great mood.
We’ve got a few weeks of vocal rehearsals and dance rehearsals completed. Now it’s time to add in the acting (or blocking). Cast members walk through scenes, reading from their scripts, and try to find not only their voice, but the appropriate actions that should go with their lines.
Here is where our director Emily comes to the forefront. Although she’s responsible for directing the entire show, she is ably assisted by music director Nicola and choreographer Katrina. But Emily brings her own plans, thoughts, and wishes to the overall show. She’s clearly prepared in advance - from sketching out the set, to determining costumes, to researching the history of the play. It’s her vision that will be brought to life by the actors, musicians and crew.
The time spent on blocking is extremely important, as it’s key that the actors don’t accidentally upstage each other, speak over each other, enunciate clearly (while still using an Oklahoma accent) or even forget their cues. With up to 29 actors on the stage at once, it’s a carefully choreographed set of moves everyone needs to make, all while making sure the focus is on the people it should be. Every time that we do a scene, someone brings out one more little quirk, phrasing, or physical action that just adds to the play.
Each actor in the play has been tasked to think about their character. What brought them to Oklahoma? What kind of work do they do? What family or other relationships do they have with those on stage? How do they move? What do they think about other characters? All of these sorts of things and more go into determining the kind of character actors are portraying.
So spare a few moments to watch the background actors as well when you’re at the show. They’ve all been working on their characters to make them unique.
Now that vocals are underway, our choreographer Katrina had her first crack at us, because what’s musical theatre without dancing?
After reviewing the songs to determine which ones are best suited for dance numbers, Katrina chose Kansas City as the first one to work with. It also gives her a chance to determine the levels of dance experience amongst the men. Luckily, one of our key performers, Zach (who plays Will Parker) is up for the challenge. He’s able to do most of the steps that Katrina throws at him and does them with flair. The rest of the men exhibit varying degrees of "dance success”. The men are definitely the Dogs in the song lyric and in this blog’s title.
Next up are the ladies. It’s clear that more than a few of them have taken dance classes in the past, and once again, the ladies show the way when it comes to picking up the steps. Their work on Many a New Day looks great right from the start. And just as rightly, the women are smooth and lithe and act like the Cats in the song lyric and in this blog’s title.
And so the next few weeks are spent, alternating between singing and dancing, and occasionally doing both at once. Frequent starts and stops are needed at first, but as we repeat things more and more often (sometimes up to 12 times a night), the dancing becomes smoother and the singing complements it well.
In my first blog post, we experienced The Runthrough. With this blog post, let me introduce you to the Vocals.
For many people, Oklahoma is a play full of great music. For others, it’s a musical with some great writing. To me, it’s both. I love the songs in this play - all of them. Having grown up listening to the 1955 soundtrack to Oklahoma every Sunday (thanks Mom & Dad!), I thought I knew all the songs. It was only when we began practicing the vocals for the 29 songs in the show that I discovered there are a number that didn’t make it on to the soundtrack album. It was quite a discovery for me.
So how do we begin practicing vocals? Our group gathers at our rehearsal location - the St. Thomas Anglican church hall - for our first singing rehearsals the day after the Runthrough. The women already seem to know who is singing which parts, from Soprano to Altos, they’re sorted out and sounding great right off the bat. For the men….well, some of use are just finding our voices. Ranging from Tenors to Baritones to Bass, the men bring a mix of experience to the show. I’m a Tenor 2, which means that I sing a mix of melody and harmony.
For most people, including me, melody is easier. It’s typically what we’d sing if we were to sing a song on our own. Harmony requires us to drop down a couple of notes and complement the melody. This is a challenge for me when I first start, as it feels like I’m singing out of tune (and perhaps was anyway). Those high school music classes have helped me a little bit, as I also need to remember symbols such as flats and sharps, notations such as p, mf, and ff. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by trained singers who seem able to hit any note at any time, as you’re trying to make your voice come close to what’s written in the musical score.
Our musical director Nicola has an incredible musical ear. She can pick out people singing notes that are just off at twenty paces. She works us and works us until we’re right on and able to perform the songs as they are written. The challenge now is to do it without the music in front of us!
We're well into rehearsals for this summer’s production of Oklahoma. As a relative newcomer to musical theatre, I thought I’d share a behind-the-scenes look at what happens during the run-up to the show. Many of the things mentioned will be common knowledge to some theatre goers, but I know many people will be experiencing Oklahoma or even musical theatre for the first time when they come to the show. I hope I can share what I’m learning and experiencing. The opinions and experiences in these blog posts are mine (although I’m sure some of them are shared by others). Any errors are mine too!
Overture - The Readthrough
Our first night as a group happened in May. The director, musical director, stage manager, assistant stage managers, choreographer, and the entire cast got together. For some, it’s the first time they’ve met some of the cast members. For others, it’s like a reunion!
In my case, I was re-united with Morgan, Deanne, Lyndon, Karen, and Madeline - each of whom I shared the stage with in Secondary Character’s 2013 version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was great to see them again, catch up on each other’s lives, and reminisce about our past performance.
Our reunion was quickly cut short as the we got to the point of the evening - the read through. As a group, we read through the entire play, cover to cover. Even during this early stage, the fantastic writing by Rodgers & Hammerstein shone through. There were some great funny lines that I can’t wait to hear done before an audience.
- Michael Berger