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Last time I blogged, I had just returned from the ACP conference in San Diego. While that conference was very useful and a lot of fun to attend, it did compound the mania that was Production (or Hell) Week for the musical The Light in the Piazza.
“Hell week” is a strong phrase, but it caught on when I was in shows in high school, but there is some truth to it. Like Hell, it seems unending sometimes; unlike Hell, you usually end up with a performance that you’re really proud of.
The interminable part of “hell week” usually happens in the early part of the week, where you’re running tech rehearsals and trying to put everything together. Not only are there movement and lighting issues for tech designers and set grips, but the orchestra is learning tempos from the performers, and the performers have to finally set their patterns of performance.
Putting orchestra and actors together was especially tricky during Light in the Piazza. This year, the orchestra was onstage instead of down in the pit, but that meant that our director couldn’t see the performers. Timing, therefore, had to be reliable and exquisite. Sarah Pohl, who played Margaret the mother, mugs for the audience at a particular moment and there’s a “plunk” in the orchestra to accentuate it. When they were synced up, it was absolutely hilarious, but it was a fine thing to balance.
Production week also means wearing stage makeup every night for a whole week. And if you weren’t aware: stage make-up is heavy, oily and extreme. It makes for a fairly self-conscious walk back to the dorms, especially if you’re playing someone who needs age makeup.
During musicals and operas, actors also have to find the right endurance and care for their voices. Kelsey Easterday rocked the show every night hitting an “F” two octaves above middle C. Kelly Reed, Josh Powell, and Sarah Pohl all had upwards of 5 songs that they sang solo every night that covered a lot of range. It’s tough to keep your voice strong through basically six performances, especially when there’s crud going around campus.
Finally, there’s the additional stress of keeping up with everything else in college on top of the musical. I turned in a 19 pg. lab report on the day between our final dress rehearsal and our opening performance. Other people had tests to study for, papers to write.
But the stress of all of those things doesn’t quite match the exhilaration of watching Aiutami from backstage and hearing Kelsey hit the high ‘F.’ Even after working on the show for five weeks or more, I could still tear up when listening to Sarah sing “The Beauty is (reprise)” or Josh sing “Love to me.” To see all of the costumes, music, set…run together seamlessly into a story that resonates for people is infinitely more rewarding than a little less stress and a little more sleep.
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