We're up to week four, which holds some new challenges for our cast. Read on!
Tonight the cast learned how to dance like beautiful mermaids (and yes, mermaids CAN dance). The second act opener is a hilarious send up of old school jazz/vaudeville ridiculousness, and Anna Norris, our choreographer is here to teach the cast the dance number that will accompany it. This is made slightly more challenging by the fact that of our cast, only about half have any real dance experience.
They don’t have their mermaid costumes yet, obviously, but each costume features a “tail fin” fan that they will need to use for the choreography. With no fans available yet, we make do. “These will be your tails,” Anna says and passes out … wire coat hangers. As they work through the choreography, the actors have to keep track of where their tail is and use it as part of the dance.
For nearly three hours, they work through the song bit by bit, learning a few moves, then practicing them before adding something else onto the end. “We’re going to do this a thousand times, so if it’s just a question of getting it into your [muscle memory], we’re gonna do that,” Anna tells them. There are a few dubious looks, and as we go along a lot of questions.
It gets down to the wire, but by the end, they’ve learned the whole routine and make it through with only a few mistakes. Doc declares as we wrap up “This is the first dance routine I’ve ever learned completely the first time through.” Some of the others are feeling even more confident, a few less so. Luckily, we recorded the choreography so they can review it later.
We’re running Act One again, this time on the mainstage in the theatre. It’s the first time we’ve had the full stage to rehearse the show on (aside from yesterday’s dancing), and the first time we’ve introduced two of the rolling trunks that will be integral to the movement of Act One.
We start off with some vocal warm ups and touch ups of several pieces of music. Then we dive straight in. For the most part, things are going better than last week. There are a few pauses when we realize that we need to fill in some ensemble as doors and whatnot, and adding in some of the rope that will be used to create some of the scenes trips people up a few times. Overall though, we chug through.
At least until we get to the final scene of the act. Maybe it’s because this is the most complicated scene in the act. Or maybe it’s the combination of the new space, new props to get used to, being an actor short, and just overall tiredness, but the last scene becomes a confusing mess very quickly. Derek tries to get everyone to pull together, but once we get through the fight scene (the first time Dan Gray has gotten to do it), it all derails again. With no time left to fix it we decide to stop where we’re at and resume tomorrow and see if maybe looking over scripts will help.
Derek reminds them all that the success of this relies on them knowing their blocking and getting their blocking notes if they happen to miss a day. “We don’t have time to go backwards,” he tells them.
Picking up where we left off last night, we attempt the end of Act One again and it’s a much smoother ride this time. We’ve also temporarily taped out where the platforms and stairs will go on the stage to help with people sorting out their blocking. “I can’t walk there,” Mike Tamayo says at one point. “I’ll be crossing right in front of Bob while he has a line.”
“Bob is on a platform, eight feet off the stage,” Derek reminds him. “It won’t be a problem.” Our set isn’t due to load in until next week, and we’re getting to a point where complications are arising because of the lack of set. The few traffic jams we do have are often because we’re trying to remember if the scaffolding will be on or off at a given moment, or trying to remember that a person is standing on the platform overhead, while someone else exits below it.
We also try dialing things back a little and not running with some of the props. It lets them concentrate on getting movement into their head and not worrying too much about finding the ropes or water sheet. Act Two ends up running much smoother than the night before, and we're able to end on a high note.
We’re across town again tonight, in the gym again (a local dance company has the stage tonight and tomorrow at the theatre), and we’re running Act One. “Retain the mental images from last night and transport them to this space,” Derek tells them, wanting them to remember their successes from the previous rehearsal.
We start with warm ups, and begin our run. It’s much smoother than our first time through. There are a few stumbles, but for the most part we have none of the derailments of Tuesday’s rehearsal. Derek uses this as a time to start tweaking individual performances. “ Ken Catullo, playing the sailor, Alf, has to deliver a line, and Derek encourages him to make a bigger choice. “Fill this space with that line, shout it if you have to. Get downstage or do a fast-bowlegged run if you have to – whatever it is Alf does.” When Alf has to kiss Mrs. Bumbrake’s arm, Gomez Addams style, Derek adjusts it, “These should be juicy kisses, not dry. Mwah, mwah, mwah. There’s a rhythm.”
We take the time to get into the gritty details of the show tonight, rather than just the big moments, and things start to take on a neater shape. But there’s still room for improvement. At the end of rehearsal, we stop and do notes. For the non-theater readers out there: during the rehearsal the director doesn’t always stop for every adjustment that needs made. They often jot down notes, and then at the end of rehearsal, everyone sits down while the director goes through these. Notes can be incredibly specific (like Kenny and the arm kisses), or more general and meant for everyone. “We need to pick up the pace,” Derek tells them. “Pace is determined by line pick up – not delivery. Don’t talk faster, take the air out from between the lines.”
We’re running Act Two again tonight, and this time we add in Megan and Andrew to the mermaid dance that they missed on Monday and only watched on Wednesday. They do pretty well, but everything falls apart a little when we get to the back half of the number that the rest of the cast isn’t as familiar with. Overall though, Derek is pleased at their progress. We’ll work more on touching up the dance next week.
As we move on, we take a little time to work on the scene with the umbrellas, tweaking it a little. This is the first time we’ve seen this bit with everyone holding their umbrellas, and Jessy points out that the complicated choreography of moving the umbrellas when someone speaks isn’t strictly necessary. Derek agrees, after they run it one time with the umbrellas stationary. Everyone breathes a tiny sigh of relief after – it’s one less complicated thing that has to be memorized, and it still looks good from the audience.
We also continue to work on tweaking individual moments. Derek notes, in a group scene, “Michael’s character isn’t important unless [the rest of you] make him important. He’s telling the story of your people. Enjoy it!” If the group’s attention wanders away from Michael while he tells his story, the audience’s will, too. But if they stay engaged, listening and responding, it will make his character have more importance and the audience will believe that he is the leader of this group of characters.
At one point Derek stops us to talk to David Ko, who plays Prentiss, one of the three orphans. “I know you’re smart enough to be able to fake anything I ask you to, but I don’t want you to fake it. I want you to feel it. You’re waking up, find the truth in that. Maybe your mouth tastes funny, or you’ve been drooling on your pillow. Don’t just sit up and yawn and stretch to show us you’re waking up. I want you to actually wake up.” It’s the difference between “acting” and acting – subtle, but important.