On August 13th, I auditioned for Westchester Broadway Theatre’s production of South Pacific. I sang “Almost Like Being In Love”, and was held afterward for dancing. I got through it and was kept to read a monologue. Others were held to do more singing and reading, but I wasn’t, so I had assumed that was it. Two weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to have been offered ensemble, as well as the role of Henry. This was huge … I was going to be in my first professional show. Not only was I going to get a great NY credit, I was also going to get EMC (Equity Member Candidate) points. Now that we are done with our first week of performances, I have had some time to reflect on this experience so far.This was probably the shortest rehearsal process I have ever had for a full length production. Rehearsals ran from September 15th through the 24th… just ten days, including tech! We had four rehearsals at the theater and three rehearsals in NYC to learn everything. Then we had one spacing rehearsal on our real set and two 12-hour tech rehearsals. The normal rehearsal days were eight hours, but we weren’t always used the whole time. The first two days in NYC were practically a waste, as we were in Smash Studios, which was really for musicians. Therefore, it was a space that we couldn’t do a lot of work in. We just ran our songs and did blocking on those days. We did a little dance clean-up, but there was only so much we could do. I actually got some down time on those days, which was nice. It gave all of us free time to work on lines/lyrics and blocking/choreography. The spaced repetition definitely helped me memorize everything quickly and easily. And it was important to get everything learned as quickly as possible. After all, this was no longer just a hobby; this was my job.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this production has been learning how understudies and swings work. There is an understudy chosen for each role, some of them with roles of their own. This is where the swing comes in. A swing learns all the tracks (this is the term for what one person/role does during a show) of the show, just in case he needs to step in and cover. He actually got five performances in our opening week when Bill, who plays Billis, got sick. His understudy, Felipe, covered the role for three days, and the swing covered for Felipe. It’s a fascinating domino effect. I think it’s usually ideal to have two swings, a man and a woman. Unfortunately, we only have one swing, so the ladies would have to accommodate being down one should an understudy have to take over. This covering system seems a little excessive at first glance, but it actually makes a lot of sense. They can cast people in the ensemble that have the look they want, and minimize their expense by casting swings to cover ensemble roles.
It was fun and a little awe-inspiring to work with a professional creative team. Charlie, the director, was witty and really easygoing. Not only has he directed for Broadway and elsewhere, he’s even performed on Broadway and been nominated for a Tony. He didn’t give me any ensemble stand-outs, which was a little sad, but I understood his reasoning. He didn’t want me to stand out as an ensemble member since I was playing Henry. I got two solo moments in “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame” and one line during the Follies, so that’s something! Michael, the choreographer, was far more intimidating. I think once he warms up to you, he’s fine. I’m still not sure if he liked me or not, but I just tried to do the best I could with the choreography so I wouldn’t upset him. He has also been on Broadway (he was actually in the Broadway cast of Evita as a breakout dancer) and choreographed a number of shows for Broadway and more. Charlie and Michael were a great team because of their rapport; I know that they have worked together a lot in the past. They played off each other well, discussed all their ideas openly, and passed the baton quickly and easily when they needed to. The musical director, Leo, has done work Off-Broadway and elsewhere. I thought it most interesting that he did a lot of work with Nunsense and its sequels and spin-offs. He has music directed them and even arranged the music. I’ll have to talk to him about it, since we did that show not too long ago. The team’s humor made rehearsal time fun. It’s so odd to me to hear the jokingly insulting banter being thrown back and forth. It did cross the line at times, and some snide comments were made. It’s fascinating to see people ride that tenuous line. But they also got things done and knew when stuff needed to be fixed. I am still envious of people’s ability to let go and really live in the moment. I am always guarded, and I am always censoring myself. I know that it is good to do that sometimes, but I think it also stops me from being present, and who knows… it might actually help my acting and make me a witty person!
We have a small cast, but talk about incredibly talented people! There are moments where I feel like I don’t belong. I have to remind myself that I do belong here, because there was obviously some reason I was cast. We guys don’t have to dance too much, but we have a great ensemble sound. Hearing their voices makes me wish I had started training a lot earlier. I definitely want to work myself up to their level. The women sound heavenly, and they are just fabulous to watch in the shower dance. I kind of wish I got to dance more in this show, but considering how intense Michael was with them when they were having trouble tightening up the dance, I think I may have dodged a bullet. I am not confident in my dancing skills after doing CROSSF8. Perhaps I’ll feel more comfortable after taking some dance in the city. The leads are all brilliant; I love watching them perform. A number of them have also done Broadway work, and it’s been wonderful getting to know them. Bill, playing Billis, was in Jekyll and Hyde on Broadway. He played the Newsboy, so it just took me by surprise that I’ve been listening to his voice in my car for years, and now I’m in a show with him. He’s a really great guy, and definitely a hard worker. George, who plays Emile, is so personable and down-to-earth. He comes around and tells jokes, and is always taking pictures. Not only was he a standby in the Scarlet Pimpernel on Broadway, he played El Gallo in the Broadway revival of The Fantasticks, so I feel honored to know I have played a part that he has.
I’m still getting used to the fact that this is my job. I am getting paid for performing my duties to the best of my ability. I always worked hard to avoid making mistakes before, but I feel a little more pressure now. I’m afraid that messing up could get me in trouble or, even worse, fired. For this show, I made myself a cheat sheet to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. I wrote down all my entrances, exits, and set moving. Now, I don’t need the sheet anymore, but I make sure I go through everything. After doing this for some time, I can imagine that things might start to slip your mind. The other thing that has been weird is the responsibility shift. I don’t touch or move anything unless I have been explicitly told to do so; it’s not my job to take care of it. I imagine I could also get in trouble if I try to help where I shouldn’t. It makes everything feel a little more business-like, but it’s also really liberation. It allows me to focus, and do the best job that I can do, without having to split my attention. However, I also see how this can spawn diva attitudes and people having a lack of respect for others that have to get things done. I try to appreciate each person and acknowledge what each person does to bring every performance to life. There are a lot of people working really hard to make sure everything goes exactly as it should.
This has been a fabulous experience for me. I now know what it feels like to be a working actor. It is also testing my own self-confidence as an actor. Just as I did at home, I find myself comparing myself to my fellow performers, only I consider everyone here to be at a much higher level. So now I am faced with the dilemma of believing in my own abilities and working to improve or just giving up. I am planning another blog post about that; I’m trying to keep all my thoughts from flowing together too much. For now, I know that I am really enjoying myself, and I am thrilled to be working with this talented group of people. Here’s to more adventures in the world of professional theatre. Soon I’ll be able to audition as an EMC member and get into EPA calls. The already gigantic arena is opening up even more.