Vocal warm up.
Physical warm up.
Get in costume.
Check make up.
The House is hot.
Five minutes to places.
On with the Show!
At last, the night the entire cast and crew have been thinking about through all these months of rehearsals. Opening night is here! However, before we can even hit the stage, there is so much that needs to take place.
1. We arrive a minimum of 90 minutes before the show. Some keeners have already been there for an hour or more, but everyone (cast, crew and orchestra) must arrive and sign in at this point.
2. If a special hairstyle is required, it’s attended to now. Each performer was given instructions for their hair (including facial hair) prior to the show by our hair designer Karen. Some cast members required significant work to their hair to have it look appropriate to the time period.
3. Next up, make up. Many of the cast were experienced performers, which meant that they were also comfortable applying their own make up. For a few of the main characters there were extra make up requirements and they spent time with our two make up artists, Reed and Stephanie, to get the proper look for their part. It was always amazing to me to see the young and vibrant Sheri become an older, grey, wrinkled version of Aunt Eller.
After a bit of practice, I was able to apply my foundation and powder, but couldn’t ever quite take to doing my own eyeliner or blush. Ladies, I fully understand why it takes so long to do make up now and will never complain about it again. :)
4. About 45 minutes before the show, “mic check” was called. Every performer had a wireless microphone that was controlled by our sound technician. Each one had to have the batteries checked and/or replaced, make sure it was turned on, fastened securely, and then working on stage. I went through a number of microphones the first few performances as one had a bad connection and one broke in the middle of the show. Although my third microphone was the lucky one and worked the rest of the shows, it was also a good reminder to project my voice loudly when speaking and singing.
During mic check, many of the cast would entertain the rest of the cast with snippets of songs from other shows, rousing speeches, or bits of humour. It was always interesting to see what each person came up with.
5. After mic check, we all went for our vocal warm up into a small storage room that had a piano in it. We couldn’t all fit in it, and many of us spilled out into the hallway. Our musical director Nicola would warm us up by having us sing some musical scales, tongue twisters (try singing the words “Little Wonder” more and more quickly, while staying in tune and in time with everyone else) or a verse or two of a song in the show that we needed to brush up our harmonies on.
One fun anecdote that was related to us later by the crew happened on the Preview night. We had a large crowd and many audience members had arrived at the theatre early. As we were warming up and singing a few verses, a crowd started to gather outside the door closest to where we were singing and they all stopped speaking to listen. I guess they wanted a preview of the Preview!
6. After vocal warm ups (and sometimes during mic check), most cast members would do a physical warm up of moving, stretching, and practicing some dance moves. It helped to get the blood flowing, and made sure that our muscles were limber and ready to go for the three-hour show. This was also the time that actors would check that their props were in place backstage and in working order.
7. With warm ups done, people would gather in the Green Room for a snack, a chat with a cast, crew or orchestra member, or to play games and complete puzzles. Others would finish putting their costumes on and relax in the dressing rooms. Still others would visit or pace the hallways trying to focus. Everyone had different techniques for getting ready for the show and to eliminate any nervousness.
8. An announcement would come over the backstage speakers from Amber, the stage manager. The House is hot! Audience members were filing in to the theatre, and any excess noise backstage should be curtailed.
9. Amber’s next announcement was “five minutes to places”. Cast members would do one final check of their make up and be “approved” by Reed or Stephanie, and then it was time for Places! Quietly, through the double doors between the off-stage area and the stage, people would find their place. Many would greet our backstage help (silently of course), and get ready to go on stage.
10. An announcement would play, the music from the orchestra would swell, and then before you knew it, Morgan was singing about what a beautiful morning it was and the musical was underway. On with the Show…this is it!
- Michael Berger
We’re getting sooo close to putting on the show! But first, we’ve got a couple of Dress Rehearsals to do. Dress rehearsals are vitally important. For some, it’s that one last chance to work out the kinks in a dance, for others, it’s making sure they are speaking loudly and clearly enough, and for others, it’s just getting used to working with a microphone.
For me, it was getting used to my costume. Parts of my costume didn’t arrive until the second dress rehearsal, or yes, even the night of the Preview show. Luckily, I knew what was coming, so it wasn’t a big adjustment to be in full costume. Unluckily for me, I played a farmer and not a cowboy, so I didn’t get to have chaps, cowboy boots, a holster and gun like the cowboys did. Other than that, I was happy to play a farmer.
The dress rehearsals were fun, but also strictly timed. We had to be off the stage at 11:00 pm sharp. That meant that the first night, immediately after we completed a song full of dance moves for the whole cast, we were hustled off the stage and into the dressing rooms immediately. Although an abrupt ending to the night, it helped focus us for the second dress rehearsal and set us up for the Preview night.
Here are a few photos from the dress rehearsals.
- Michael Berger
Photo: Sarah Sovereign Photography
Photo: Sarah Sovereign Photography
The day every theatre person dreads has arrived! It’s time for the Technical Run Through. Luckily for us, the day before our Tech Run, a group of performers volunteered to go to the Chilliwack Cultural Centre to work with the techies to do a Cue to Cue run. This involved them giving each cue that would require a change in lighting, sound, or backdrops. Always an onerous, yet vital, procedure, the Cue to Cue was complete when we started our Tech Run.
All actors were called to the stage, and all of the back stage help was at the ready as well. For over five hours, we ran through the play, starting and stopping…adjusting, changing, trying again. Changing our blocking, changing our prop placement, moving the flies in and out as necessary.
You’d think after five hours, we’d have it all down. Unfortunately not. Our Tech Run would have to extend into Tuesday night’s dress rehearsal as well, as we needed to complete the second act before we could begin the dress rehearsal. Our Tech Run was an exhausting night for everyone involved, but it’s done and now time to move on to the Dress Rehearsals.
- Michael Berger
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.