I spend Easter like any other Sunday: Several hours at school to prepare for the coming week, grocery shopping, and relaxing. This is my last day of relative calm, so I make the most of it.
It’s the first day of our abbreviated “tech week”, the rehearsals where sets, sound, and lights are added in to the mix. We’ve already been using the first two, but tonight is the first night with the new lights. Kevin, our light guy, has things mostly set up when I arrive for rehearsal, and finishes up while the rest of the cast filters in and George takes care of announcements. We change into costumes and get started. Tech rehearsals take a long time: While the lighting has been thought about before, this is the first time it gets used, so there’s a lot of stopping and starting as cues are finalized and programmed into the computer that controls the system. In our case, the actors also have to get used to dodging the lighting equipment as we enter and exit the stage area; a couple of things have to be reworked to accomodate the new layout. Tonight’s also the first night with nearly-complete costumes, and with the brothers that need it passing the third mic around. All in all, it’s a long night, and I’m more than ready to fall into bed when it’s done.
My students keep asking questions about the show, including where and when it’s happening. A couple of weeks ago, I printed out the flyer George created and hung it on the wall outside my classroom door. Now, with opening night approaching fast, several students are happily telling me when they’re coming to see the show.
Our official opening night is two days away. Tonight is our one and only dress rehearsal; tomorrow night will be, in George’s words, “dress rehearsal with an audience”, as he’s invited the local clergy and their family members to attend. Tonight we finally have all of costumes and props. Things run relatively smoothly, although a few entrances and exits have to be reworked. We also discover that, at least for this weekend, intermission will run closer to 20 minutes than the traditional 15, as “Levi” needs time to complete his transformation into “Pharaoh” (patterned after Elvis Presley).
While we know it won’t be a large crowd, tonight is still the first time we’ll perform for an audience. I’ve been fighting nerves all day, and it looks like I’m not the only one; the kids, especially, are more keyed-up than usual. Once we’re all in costumes and sound check has been taken care of, George and Dr. T gather us in the greenroom for group warm-ups. Then we wait. I pace restlessly around the green room, mind racing, wondering and worrying about how tonight will go and what it will mean for the rest of the run. Finally, it’s time for our “curtain”. We hear the overture start, and quietly begin moving in to position for our entrances. As Elena begins singing the Prologue, I check my mic one more time to make sure it’s ready. My heart stops when I see a red light: The batteries have died! No time to fix it now, so I enter and sing “Any Dream Will Do” without it. (Thank goodness we practiced for so long without the mic; I know I can make myself heard.) The song finishes, the audience applauds. I exit a little faster than normal and make a beeline for the booth (the area where Dr. T, Kevin, and Bea are sitting to run lights, sound, and supervise the show). In whispers, I ask for fresh batteries and quickly swap them out, all while singing along with the next song. I finish just in time to make my entrance back on to the stage. And the show goes on.
The first thing George does on opening night is sit us down for notes from last night’s performance. Some props and costumes weren’t where they should have been, some entrances and exits weren’t as smooth as they could have been. Starting tonight, we’ll put fresh batteries in the mics before every performance, so that we don’t have another situation like last night. After notes, we run a couple of spots to check things over before adjourning to the greenroom to finish getting ready and wait. Rather than pacing restlessly, I pull out my phone, plug in my headphones, and start the pre-show playlist I made this morning. When I did theatre in high school, we always had music playing in the dressing room, and it also dominated a very specific set of pre-show traditions passed down from year to year. I neither want to nor can recreate all of those, but one in particular is easy enough to keep going on my own: Listening and dancing to the full version of Don McLean’s “American Pie”. Between that and the other songs on the playlist, I am able to burn off enough of the pre-show jitters that I am substantially calmer and more focused when the overture begins.
As opening nights go, it could go better. While I have no issues with my mic, Elena’s headset mic snaps, crackles, and pops so much during the first act that she switches to a handheld after intermission. Costumes and props are in their correct places, and entrances and exits go more smoothly than last night. As the show goes on, though, we’re not sure how we’re doing, because the audience is very quiet. They’ve applauded a couple of times, but not always where we expect, and a lot of our jokes and gags are met by silence or quiet giggles. But the applause at the end is nice and loud, and when we meet-and-greet in the lobby afterwards everyone says how much they enjoyed it.
From the beginning, this second official show is better than our previous two. Elena has a mic that doesn’t add its own sound effects. The audience applauds after “Any Dream Will Do”, and at the end of nearly every other song. When I walk through the audience to show off my coat, several of my students are very eager to see it. Laughter can be heard frequently. The audience fawns over Pharaoh almost as much as his retinue. We get a standing ovation at the end. Meet-and-greet for me starts when one of my students runs into the lobby and barrels into me for a hug, gushing over how much she loved it. Several other students also come to say hi. One says, “Mr. CJ, Pharaoh is a GIANT.” (Phil is 6′ 6″.)
I laugh and agree. “Do you want to meet him?”
“No!” the student quickly ducks behind his mom. She and I laugh.
The high from last night’s show makes it a little easier to deal with the fact that we don’t have much of an audience for our matinee today. (Blame the absolutely gorgeous weather for that.) More seats are filled for the evening performance. Regardless, both audiences enjoy the show, and we continue to get many compliments after our bows. We can’t meet as long with people after the evening show, because we have to strike, that is, pack up all of our sets, costumes, and lights. We talked about what goes in whose vehicles already, so organized chaos descends as we change and pack up while the Barn’s pastor and members of his congregation get things set up for services tomorrow morning.
For the most part, I’ve gotten over my nerves about changing in the green room with everyone. But there’s a moment on Saturday… Someone says something to me as I’m getting dressed, and I don’t pull a shirt on right away. When I turn back around, I catch one of the “brothers” looking at me. She turns away when we make eye contact, and never brings it up, but I have to wonder if she saw my scars, and what she’s thinking if she did….
Another Sunday morning at school. I succeed in getting in and out quickly, and have a few hours to unwind at my place before I head over to Stage A, our home for the coming week, for load in. It’s exactly what it sounds like: We need to bring in and set up everything we just took out of the Barn. The priority is helping Kevin unload and set up the lights, but I also unload the two trunks of costumes from my car, help black out windows, get the new greenroom ready, and help George and Kira unload their vehicles. By the time we leave, our crew of seven has everything ready for our next rehearsal.
For a variety of reasons, we have tonight off from everything show-related. Instead, I spend the evening getting things done around the apartment and crossing my fingers that the tickle I feel at the back of my throat isn’t a sign of impending sickness. Just in case, I manage to fit in two doses of Zicam before bedtime.
Glad I started the meds last night; I definitely have a cold. I make it through school and crash on my couch for an hour or so before heading to round two of tech week. It’s not quite a disaster, but it’s not far off. Cues are missed, lyrics forgotten, we have issues with sets and lights…. By the end of the night, we’re all ready to go home.
Thankfully, last night’s issues appear to have sorted themselves out. Good thing, too; tonight’s dress rehearsal is being recorded. I’m excited to have something to show friends and family who can’t come to see the show in person, I just wish I felt and sounded better. Oh well.
I hate colds. The Zicam definitely helps, but my current schedule doesn’t allow me to get as much rest as I should. Thankfully, my students and I have come up with ways to make sure I don’t have to raise my voice too much during the day, and they’ve gotten a lot better at asking one another for help so I don’t have to run around the room as much. Several kids have spent the week talking about the show, asking questions and saying how much fun they had. Others tell me that they’ll be at a performance this weekend. One of the kids asks why I seem extra nervous today; after all, didn’t the show go well this last week? I explain that, yes, that’s true, but I still have to focus on doing a good job each and every night. I also mention that this weekend I have a lot of friends and family coming from out of town to see the show, and I don’t want to disappoint them. Another student overhears this and says, “You won’t!”
Opening night at Stage A is probably our smoothest show to date. When I check my phone at intermission, I find a message from Dad: He’s arrived! I call him after the show so that we can finalize plans for tomorrow.
All week, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast for Nunap and the surrounding area. Lucas, Andy, and Kelly are supposed to fly out this morning. If they can get as far as the Hub, they’ll likely make it to Seward with no problem. (Flights between the Hub and Anchorage are more likely to be on schedule.) As I well know, however, getting out of the village can sometimes be problematic. Thankfully, I get a text from Lucas around lunchtime: a picture of the three of them sitting in the Alaska Airlines terminal at the Hub, waiting for the flight to Anchorage. They’ll be here!
As we discussed last night, Dad meets me at school this afternoon just before dismissal. I show him around, introducing him to a fair number of the staff and a couple of students. I’ve got several errands to run, so we agree to meet back at my apartment. We spend the next couple of hours catching up before I have to head for the church. The cast does sound check and group warm ups and are gathered back in the green room when we hear the amazing news: Tonight’s show is sold out! Our performance tonight is on par with last Friday’s, and the audience responds accordingly. Several students rush me again in the lobby afterwards. I finally get a chance to talk to Dad on the ride back to my apartment. He has a great story for me: When act 2 started, he overheard a student say, “Mr. CJ got left in jail!” (Joseph ends act 1 and starts act 2 in prison.) We discuss the show (he loves it) and plans for meeting up with the gang from Nunap tomorrow morning.
I’m a little nervous as Dad and I head for the restaurant this morning. This will be the first time a person from home has met people from my Alaska life. I have no reason to think this won’t go well, but… As soon as we enter the building and I see four smiling faces (Lucas, Andy, Kelly, and Geri, my mentor during my second year) my happiness overpowers the nerves. I get hugs from everyone, introduce Dad, and we settle in for our meal. I worried over nothing, as Dad fits right in. Laughter frequently punctuates our conversation. Afterwards, we wander around town, enjoying the beautiful day. Eventually, I have to leave for the church; Dad agrees to get everyone there in time for the show. My nerves resurface as I get changed and do sound check, staying as quiet as possible to save my voice. I’ve been making jokes for the last week that today’s show will be the “CJ Fan Club performance”. Not only are Dad and the gang from Nunap here, but another friend is coming from across the peninsula, and D and her family are going to be here, too. I have a sudden vision of these people being the only audience members for this afternoon; I know they wouldn’t mind, but I find the idea mildly terrifying.
The show starts, and I see my prediction sort of came true: Aside from all of my friends and family, there’s only a handful of other people scattered among the pews. Fortunately, everyone seems to be having a good time. After bows, I do a quick meet-and-greet in the lobby before meeting with my huge group in front of the stage. Everyone loved it! Hugs are exchanged, photos are taken, and then (sadly) most of these people have to hit the road.
The evening show has a bigger audience than this afternoon, although not as big as last night. By the end, I’m running on fumes, and I know my voice doesn’t sound its best. Once more, the organized chaos of strike descends once the show ends. Dad and several other family members pitch in. Before long, the church looks like it normally does. Costumes, set pieces, and lights are in the appropriate vehicles; the foot locker I loaned to the production has been loaded in to Dad’s car for the ride back to my place. Just like that, the show is done.
This Sunday, I don’t go to school. Instead, Dad and I hang out for a few hours before he heads to Alyeska for a mini ski vacation. I collapse for the afternoon, but go to a cast party in the evening. Not everyone’s there, but it’s still nice to get together with folks and talk about the show.
I spend today as a lump on the couch, congratulating myself for my foresight in scheduling this day off from work.
Between shows on Saturday, we received our DVDs of the recorded dress rehearsal. I watched mine the other night; amazingly, I don’t sound ill at all. As a special treat for my students, I bring the DVD to school and play it this afternoon. Surprisingly, even those that saw the show in person (about half) are still riveted. They enjoy pointing things out to their classmates. Everyone loves asking me questions about what it was like. About halfway through, one student runs up to me and proudly hands me a piece of notebook paper. On it, she’s drawn a portrait of me as Joseph. Later, when the show is done and its time to go home, all of the kids tell me how much they loved the show.
When I get home that night, I hang the portrait on my fridge. I still can’t believe the show is done. I can hardly wait to see what we’re doing next year.