September 8, 2018

Hello, Dolly! in rehearsal

It’s 4:15 AM, the beeper has gone off five times since midnight so I might as well accept the fact that there’s not going to be any sleep tonight. I would have a crazy call night on the only night I have off from the theater this week. Ah well, such is life. If I’m going to be up in the wee hours, I might as well do a little writing and updating on the last few weeks.

Where to start? Perhaps with Hello, Dolly! which is going rather well. We start tech at 10 tomorrow morning. This is the stage of the process that is both exciting and infuriating. Those who do not do theater have no idea of the enormous coordination of elements that have to come together to get a big musical put together. Sets, costumes, lights, props, actors, dancers, musicians… and if anything is out of place, things fall apart. I have my track more or less down in my head – lyrics learned, bass part in the harmonies down, dance steps down, lines mainly in the correct order. Now I have to add in the costume changes, making sure I’m not in the way of rolling set pieces, and figuring out how to fit into the nonexistent stage left wing with fifteen actors and the fly rail without being seen by the audience. The time with the show has been good to me. I’m hanging out with some old friends, have somewhere I need to be in the evenings, and the message of the show about reengaging with life is resonating.

Work is work. The current shape of my job is fairly structured with outpatient clinical work and that’s probably a good thing at the moment. I know where I need to be and what I need to do most of the time and structure is helpful to keep me moving forward. One thing leads to another in a weekly cycle and I’m able to operate effectively, even when I don’t really feel like it. There hasn’t been anything too unusual. The usual crazy patient/family stories but HIPPA prevents me from telling them here.

My slow clean out of the house is on hiatus until I get the show open. I leave around 7:30 in the morning and don’t get back until around 10:30 at night so I have neither time nor energy to do much around here. I did have a burst of steam that allowed me to get the laundry started. It was a necessity if I wanted to have clean underwear. The cats seem to be a bit put out by my absence. Anastasia, who usually sleeps on the bed with me has decamped to the media room. Archie and Oliver have been a bit more standoffish than usual.

I added them up the other day, and Dolly is my 15th musical on the Virginia Samford Theater stage since I started performing in Birmingham. A long run of servants, aristocrats, comic villains, and other supporting types. Someone asked me what my favorite role I’ve done there was. It’s a hard question to answer as it’s usually whatever I’m currently working on. However, looking back, the one I recall the most fondly is the one that’s most out of character for what I usually do – Herr Schultz in Cabaret. Dramatic/pathetic is not my usual wheelhouse and it was a part that made me stretch and go some uncomfortable places. I was 45 when I played it, and probably 20 years too young for the role and I hope I get to tackle it again when I am 60 something.

As Herr Schultz, with Carole Armistead as Fraulein Schneider. I don’t know who played the pineapple…

I’m trying to think of a story. The Virginia Samford brings up all sorts of memories of me and Tommy as we did so many projects there together, both onstage and off. It was responsible for his interest in wigs. That came from a production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in early 2012. Tommy was recovering from serious respiratory illness and I was in the cast playing the mayor. Our dear friend Kim Rollins Dometrovich was doing the costumes and was also in the cast so she had a very full plate. Tommy was off work due to his recent illness and hanging around backstage during the tech process and Kim, who needed help asked him if he could do some finger waves to the wigs for the opening 1930s sequence. He graciously agreed to be taught, found he had a knack for working with artificial hair, and a career was born. He settled contentedly into the wig room while I pranced around the stage in a hideous powder blue polyester leisure suit. He approached the wigs like he did everything in life that caught his interest – pulling in disparate skill sets and learning as much as possible about the subject until he mastered it. Which usually took him about six months. Within about a year, he was wig master for any number of local productions. He always told me that he approached theatrical wigs not as hair, but as sculpture with hair as the medium and he had a unique way of envisioning the finished product and knowing exactly what sort of curling or cutting technique was going to get him there. Watching something like the wigs for The Little Mermaid take shape in his studio was watching an artist at work. Sometimes I go out to his studio and just sit there for a few minutes. It’s pretty much as he left it. I just close my eyes and smell the old hairspray and shampoo and for a minute I can pretend he’s there with me working away at some new creation and asking me to help with the washing or brushing out. I’ll have to clean it out and pack it up eventually. But not today…

On stage in The Best Little Whorehouse with Julia Hixson and Jan Hunter

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