Saturday, November 22, 2008

There's a place for us: A Reflection on West Side

Hello there blog readers. Anais and I have some West Side post-show reflections for you. I'll go first while Anais gathers her thoughts.

All throughout the rehearsal process, and especially during the final dress rehearsals, the anticipation of how people would react to the show was always on my mind. Since we made such a bold turn away from the traditional West Side I was very curious as to what people were going to think of it. I spent a great deal of time preparing my friends and family for what they were about to see. I warned them that they were going to see violence, blood, and some sexual promiscuity. I was mostly concerend about two things: 1.) People seeing the show who normally don't like West Side because of dancing gang members and 2.) Friends and family seeing me do some not so nice things on stage. As for the first group, I found that most people's reaction was a new found respect for the show. They found our take on the show to be much more realistic and believable. They could appreciate the gangs for what they actually are: gangs. These audience members were able to understand that these guys do not have a good life at home or on the streets. So, in terms of a more realistic production that an audience can understand: goal achieved.

My second concern was a little harder for me to deal with. What I am referring to is the taunting scene in Act II that we turned into a rather violent and hateful rape scene. In the movie and in other productions, my character, Baby John, is picked up by the Jets and put on top of Anita. In ours, Baby John is pressured into raping Anita by his friend A-rab. I knew it was going to be difficult for people I know watch me do something like this and I was prepared for their reactions. Most of the girls in the cast told me that they were not able to watch this scene because they found it so disturbing. So, I thought to myself "If my friends are having a hard time with it I wonder what my mom is going to think." Overall, my mom wasn't too thrilled that she had to watch her baby boy do something so heinous, but she understood the point that we were trying to make with the scene. By that point in the show, everyone is driven to their limits and hatred takes over their thoughts and actions. As for my other friends, I was told that some of them were brought to tears at having to see something so horrible happen. In one sense, I hate that they had to see me do something like that; but on the other hand, if it makes that much of an impact on them and gets them thinking about their lives and the world they live in then we have done our jobs as artists. Yes, it's hard sometimes, but in the long run it was all worth it.

I now turn it over to Anais...

Enough about yourself Matt.

As I reflect upon my time here so far at BSC, I seem to always find myself wondering where time went as we embark upon the closing show of productions. West Side Story was no different in that aspect. However, the exprience as a whole was something more than different-it was extraordinary. I just read that out loud to Matt and realized how SOAP net it sounded but I whole-heartedly mean it. I think many of us were intimidated at first. As time flew by I watched pure passion and determination pour out of everyone involved. The determination particularly poured out in a place that was not previously explored by many in the cast AKA: the dancing.

Being the little dancer girl that I am, I really had no idea what to expect choreography wise. Abe Reybold, the choreographer, brought to life what was the realistic depiction of West Side Story with his clever use of movement. I don't know if it was Abe's many "Let's go freaks," comments or perhaps his professional push to everything he did, but he turned many of the guys into the confident movers that I'm not sure they knew they were. There is nothing more rewarding than watching the picture come to life week by week. I remember the first time I watched T"he Prologue" and "Jet Song". My exact thoughts: "We CAN do this." Perhaps the hardest part for many may have been giving the dance steps (while counting in their heads) their own style and character while throwing in some fight choreography and not to mention singing. It's a lot to take on all at once. In time, it was gracefully achieved by all- those Jets really were Jets all the way...LET'S HEAR IT FOR THE BOYS.

Both of us went into this process feeling rather intimidated by the daunting process this production was going to be. It wasn't an easy a matter of fact it became very difficult at times. It's hard to not let everything going on in your life affect you once you go into a theatre to perform. This fall semester has been a tough one to get through, but somehow we all stuck to it and pulled off one incredible show. So, if there was ever any doubt that we wouldn't be able to make it through this show then those doubts have completely shattered.

Your best friends,

Matt and Anais

Monday, October 13, 2008

ZED Rehearsals

My wings for the Lasso act.

I entered the rehearsal process a few months later than everyone else. The cast had several weeks in Montreal but because I was hired late as a replacement, my first day was in Tokyo (May 28) when everything was already in full swing. I was very tired because I don't sleep well on planes and had been wide awake at 5am on my first day. There was a lot of information to process; names, staff positions, storyboard, the biggest set I've ever seen, and more French than I've heard since my class at Southern. The working language is English, but the real working language is French :)
I had received some impromptu character instruction at my audition in Montreal, so had been thinking along those lines as I studied the songs before arriving. My character, called Abraka, is a magician of the Earth and Francois Girard our director (The Red Violin, and Silk) wanted something strong and mysterious. He kept alluding to a "slight of hand" kind of mischief that made Abraka something impressive but slightly unnerving. I had envisioned some sort of wizard's costume and a few cool flight cues (I was asked several times if I was afraid of heights).
When I sat down with Francois and his assistant directors at my first rehearsal, things had seemingly changed a bit. No wizard costume but cool flight cues, one of which took me to the top of the space at 15 ft per second (the flight cues have been cut since, but they were really fun for a few weeks). He gave me the rundown of the show's concept which is based around the Tarot world and follows the white fool "Zed" on a journey of discovery. Abraka had become a king in this world and ruled over the Earth. I was curious to see if the change in title would affect the overall image of the character since it's hard to be the powerful, noble King Arthur and the mysterious Merlin simultaneously. That fact became the hurdle of this process for me.
We tried several things over the next few weeks to find something solid for Abraka. I had started blocking rehearsals by responding to the space. It was a huge set and I knew that anything too subtle would just get swallowed so I tried to make clean, noticeable choices with my voice and body. Instead of just turning a head, I'd turn my stance, hand motions became arm motions, and I was making good use of the massive cape I wear in the show. Something to know about me is that I'm more of an outside actor first. I like to work on the things that an audience can see of my character and then connect it for myself later. Rodrigue (a former Cirque performer in Love and Varekai) had been helping me develop the character through movement. I spent several mornings in the lobby of the theater twirling in the cape, finding things that drew attention, moves that made use of the costume. The hard part was that with so much fabric, twists of the torso or shifted leg positions didn't read. I was forced to concentrate on my arms, head, and twist the costume to mimic my stance underneath it.

After Rodrigue and I were satisfied with our initial results, a blocking rehearsal came up as a chance to try some of our material. Afterwards Francois promptly told me to "stop dancing" and to concentrate more on the mystery. The best laid plans :)............Rodrigue still insisted that the movement was solid and fit very well so we worked on a middle ground and eventually found it. A lot of the character revolves around the act I'm involved in. With time it has moved from a response to different tricks and positions to a commanding, authoritative conjuring. That familiarity with the flow of my stagemates gives the illusion that Abraka is the cause of the action. This creates a lot of power already, so I could then search for some nice moments to infuse a little mischief and mystery. Francois gave me a nice general outline of places to walk the space as a lurking figure biding time until "invoking" the next bit of grandeur. We have found a nice balance so that Abraka adds as much as he can to each act without being a distraction. I found something unexpected in laughter, actually. My first number is part of the Chinese Lasso act. These are young guys doing flips through ropes and it's a very upbeat, fun number so the first introduction for Abraka has to match that. I found mischief in a playful, younger king at the beginning of the story. It works to use the magic of the act for Abraka's amusement, therefore having control and trickery together.

Beyond character work, I witnessed a different way to put a show together. We would spend several hours on a single number or section even though the act itself had all it's pieces already. It was kind of like constant tech rehearsal since light, rigging, and sound cues were being programmed and tested during blocking time. I remember several days not doing much singing or acting because I was a moving prop in a costume for the lighting designer. It took a lot of patience because we seemed to always hurry up and wait for someone else. The language translation among french, english, and japanese slowed things a bit, too. The upside was that we spotted problems right away. The show is a technical giant with more lights than I could ever count, a huge ball in the center ceiling that transforms into a trapeze net when lowered, two parallel pendulums that come in from over the audience to create the highwire setting, a stage full of traps, and a center lift/revolve that can be loaded with several cartridges that serve the needs of each act. There were some technical performance aspects that were different too. I had never used in-ear monitors for a stage show before so the added channel chatter and music directly from a band mix instead of wing and house monitor speakers made focusing a little more difficult but I have found it to be necessary since our bandleader takes visual cues from the acrobats to start certain musical sections so that everything fits nicely no matter what pace the act takes.
Improvisation is another huge part of the process that I've been adapting to. It can be a little stressful but it forces everyone involved to find something solid in the moment and then build on that as a permanent part of the act. The one time I'll never forget is another lobby rehearsal in the beginning when we were trying to develop the character I play during the juggling act. The scene is set up as a fire section and the character of Kernoon (a god of the underworld) rises from underneath the stage and commands fire jugglers and characters that line two stories of the set with torches. I was asked to step into Kernoon (who only appears in this number) after an acrobat was injured in a bike accident. He and I were similar in size and since I was singing the act anyway, they asked me to handle and all. So during this improv lobby rehearsal(without fire then), I was walking around in foot-high boots, fire-pots strapped to each hand, and a 60 pound costume. The director said "go" as the composer started the music (which is in very odd time) and three or four more creative team members watch as I try desperately to all of the sudden get inside this character and make up fitting movement and remember the gibberish text I'd been handed earlier that week. Apparently things went well cause Francois drew on that experiment a lot when forming the number with me onstage. Right now I make that number up every night :) It obviously has a basic structure and I have a library of melodic and rhythmic forms that I've probably done at some point, but I take the feeling of the act, interact with the characters around me, and use the heat of the two fire torches in my hands to try to organically create something hellish.
Most of what I sing in the show is written by a wonderful composer, Rene Dupere. There are small points in each act, though, that need short accents or brief sung passages that I was given the liberty to put together myself. The trapeze and banquine acts contain a good bit, and Rene and Francois even let me come up with a variation on one of Rene's melodies to use as the second half of the bow music vocals!!! Johanna Lillvik, the female vocalist, was given the same liberty and came up with a great harmony line for those bows.
Even though the show is open to the public now I feel we're still continuing to build on our rehearsal objective. This show will evolve a lot through the next few months and I can' t wait to see what emerges.

You can check out some initial footage on YouTube or the ZED website. The japanese version of the ZED site has a few clips under MOVIE. A lot of the singing isn't me since we haven't done a proper audio recording of the show for media purposes yet, so they used stock stuff, but the YouTube clip from the press conference in June is me during the Banquine act.

As always, questions are welcome. Take care guys!


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Something Great Is Coming: Putting "West Side" Together

Aftermath of The Rumble

Tony (Michael Seward)

The Sharks

Jets vs. Sharks

Michael Flowers intervenes between the two gangs

When I was handed the rehearsal schedule for West Side Story exactly four weeks ago my first thoughts sounded something like this: "Wow, we have a really long time to rehearse" or "I have plenty of time to learn the rest of the dance for 'Cool'" or "November is a long ways away." Now my thoughts sound something like this: "Holy crap, where did the last four weeks go?" or "We open in four weeks!" or my personal favorite "Do I ever stop dancing?!?" Yes indeed, the past four weeks have absolutely flown by...and we haven't even worked on Act II yet.

We began the arduous eight week rehearsal process with music rehearsals. This is the part I wasn't too worried about. I've seen the movie I don't know how many times and how could you ever forget Bernstein's brilliant arrangements or Sondheim's timeless lyrics. Our music conductor, J. Lynn Thompson, expected nothing but the best, even on our first night of rehearsal. I think jumping right in to the music was quite a shock for a few of the cast members who had never been in a musical before. Right now, we're rehearsing just with our piano accompanist, Katie Holmes. I think we're all in for a very nice surprise when a 25 piece orchestra joins us several days before the show. Just the thought of an orchestra playing this music live sends shivers down my spine. I'm told that there is nothing like singing over an orchestra.

When did I become a dancer? Apparently four weeks ago. I'm postitive that I've never been so sore and have never pulled so many muscles in my life. Our choreographer, Abe Reybold, is as professional as they come and he expects the exact same thing out of us. Although we are not doing the original Jerome Robbins choreography we're still pushing our dance and movement skills to higher levels. Way back in April of this year, Abe taught our department about one minute of the choreography for "Cool" so that a.) Abe could get a feel for what he had to work with and b.) we would know this part of the dance for the audition. After not having done this dance in four weeks I was rather surprised that I remembered it when it came time to stage "Cool." It's a good thing I did because we had about three or so more minutes of the dance to learn. We spent two rehearsal nights (that's three hours per night) working on the rest of "Cool"...that's six hours of rehearsal time just for one number! Granted, it is one of the more complicated numbers in the show, but that just goes to show that just because we are not doing the original choreography doesn't mean we are slouching in the dance department.

Michael Flowers, our director and fight choreographer, has gone out of his way to make all the fight scenes in the show look as realistic as possible. Michael envisioned West Side quite differently than you might have seen before in another stage production and the movie. Michael wanted our production to have a rough, dirty, and grungy feel to it. Nothing is really bright, bouncy, or pretty anymore (except maybe "I Feel Pretty"...ahem). This idea has carried over into every aspect of the production, such as the set design, costumes, character development, dance choreography and of course the fight choreography. Although we the actors are very safe during our fight scenes the audience will be far from easy. We have also put in a great deal of time working on our fight combat. There are two scenes in the show where almost everything is stage combat: the Prolouge and The Rumble. We spent two nights of rehearsal each on these two scenes. That's 12 hours so far of work just on fight combat. Our goal for these fights is to, while being extremely safe, make the audience believe that we are really beating/killing our partner. Oh yes, there will be blood, switchblade knives, guns, bats, fists, knees...I could go on and on.

On top of remembering music, all of the dances, and the fight choreography we have to act too! Can you believe it? I dare say that we have talked about and developed our characters so much that they might actually be real people. I can't really talk about other characters, so I'll tell you about mine. I'm playing the role of Baby John. Baby John is a member of the Jet gang. If you've ever seen the movie then you know that Baby John is portrayed as a blonde haired, blue eyed, rather wimpy young fellow. It would be so easy for me to just take that sterotype and run with it; but not with this production. Michael's concept does not have any room for this kind of character. This forced me to see Baby John in an entirely different light. Before I had even read the script, I saw Baby John as the youngest member of the Jets, probably around 16 years old. Then, as I began reading the script one of the first descriptions of him is that he is the youngest member of the Jets. As I continued reading, I never really found much justification for why Baby John should be played as a young and wimpy kid. I saw him more as a troubled young man who feels the need to prove himself because of his age. Would some wimpy kid ever be allowed into a gang in the first place? Probably not. As can be seen by some of my fight choreography, my character doesn't have any trouble taking care of himself in tough situations. I think his name is John, but because he is the youngest member of the gang he is labled with the nickname of Baby John. He probably really hates being called that and that just makes him try to prove himself all the more vehemently. He is just a kid, though, and in Act II we begin to see his true nature surface after the Rumble.

This is the kind of thought and time commitment that has gone into this production of West Side Story. Intense? You bet. Moving? Absolutely. Life changing? You tell me...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An L.A. Perspective

A photo from "Educating Rita"


I’m Brie. Long story made short about me:
I graduated from BSC in 2005 with my BA in Theatre. I did technical theatre, design, and stage management while I was there, but I took a few acting classes as well. When I graduated I started working for the Birmingham Children’s Theatre as their Tour Stage Manager, which I did for two years. In the summers I taught arts, crafts, and technical theatre at the theatre workshops that were for students of ages 5-18. I also was did stage management for Dane Peterson’s Theatre Series, and designed lights for A Streetcar Named Desire at the Virginia Samford Theatre. That’s the short version of my BSC career and life right after college without giving you my resume.

What am I doing now you ask? Cause that’s the important part right?
As of today I am living in Los Angeles (Burbank actually) where I work for Warner Bros. I never in my life thought I would move to the west coast, but love has a crazy way of making you do things you wouldn’t think you would ever do. I moved to L.A. so that I could help my fiancé while he is in graduate school for film editing at the American Film Institute. Two weeks after I moved, I landed a temp job at Warner Bros. (Thanks to a great recommendation from Rebecca Harris who went to make-up school out here, and is a 2004 BSC grad.) The woman whose job I was filling in for decided not to come back and I applied and got the job; I still think no one else applied, but hey, I got it so what’s the difference? So my official job is the Contract Coordinator for Warner Bros. Pictures Industrial Labor Relations. I work in a small legal-type office where I do a lot of filing. My favorite part about my job, other than working on the studio lot, is that I get to research SAG background actor claims. When I get a claim for an upgrade to principal from background, I get to watch the dailies (the film footage) and see takes or parts of a film that hasn’t been released or will never be seen by any audience. I never thought I would ever work in an office, “Give me a theatre with no windows and some tools and I was at home!” But theatre doesn’t always pay the bills so I’m working a “real” job right now.

A few months after I moved to L.A., I was getting depressed and stir crazy and I realized it was because I missed theatre so much; theatre is my passion and I just love doing it. I stumbled upon a theatre that is just two blocks from where I live. When I say stumbled I mean stumbled. There are no signs on the outside of the building which is attached to a parking deck near the mall. My fiancé and I were parking and I noticed a billboard with theatre-like information on it; sure enough upon walking up to the doors it was a theatre. I of course googled The Colony Theatre the minute I got home to find out about this hidden theatre in the heart of Burbank. I emailed, and emailed, and emailed the volunteer email address until finally someone responded. I asked if they needed any ushers for their next show, “The Immigrant: The Musical” and they said yes. I asked to usher of course because I wanted to make sure this would be a place I would be proud to work or volunteer for. The show turned out to be okay, but I’m pretty sure it was because the music for the show isn’t all that good, but the performers and the technical aspects of the show were wonderful and all of the staff members I met were very nice.

I met the artistic director of The Colony, Barbara Beckly, whose resume is very impressive, and she asked me to meet with her. She told me a lot about herself and the theatre company and seemed impressed with my background. After that, I got a phone call from the in-house stage manager to see if I would be interested in running the light board for the next show “Trying”. Boy was I; I was so happy these people were so kind and accepted me into their home/theatre.

“Trying”—What an amazing two person play!! It also received many, many Los Angeles stage awards. I actually ran the light board for the re-run of the show which they did a year after they first opened it. It starred Alan Mandell who is an amazing actor and stage legend; he toured France and Germany with the original productions of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Endgame, directed by Beckett himself! I also came to the realization that there are about six people in the world when I met the director for the show, Cameron Watson, who went to Montevallo and knows a handful or Birmingham artists. One of his biggest credits to date is a movie he wrote, directed, and produced called Our Very Own starring Allison Janney. Even more incredible than meeting Alan Mandell and Cameron was when I met Jared A. Sayeg. Jared was the lighting designer for “Trying” and after reading his bio I was blown away by all he’s done. He’s worked on and off Broadway, in Los Angeles, and in London. He designs lights for museums, ballets, operas, restaurants, and theatre. He is also the youngest member ever to join the United Scenic Artist Local 839. I was just blown away by the talent that this one small space held…and still am.

Another “it’s a small world” moment happened when I was asked to stage manager a staged reading of a new musical at The Colony that The Academy for New Musical Theatre created. When I was at the ANMT I saw a poster with Vulcan on it, and mentioned to one of the actors who also worked there that that’s in Birmingham. She said, “Yeah, we created Miss Vulcan 1939 for Red Mountain Theatre Company.” I could not have been more floored by what she said.

Right now I am working on “Educating Rita” at The Colony doing quick changes backstage for Rebecca Mozo who also co-starred in “Trying”. This is the first time in America that the updated version of the play is being done. Again, it lacks nothing in the way of talent.

I would like to say that although I am amazed everyday by some of the talented people that I meet out here, I also realize that there are more opportunities to network and meet other artists like myself in big cities where cultural differences thrive. I do look back at all that I did in Birmingham and I feel as though I had just started coming in to my own in that city, and here, I’m an unknown who has to work twice as hard to get people to notice the work that I do. But I guess that’s a big part of starting over in a new city. I was given all the right building blocks to take whatever the theatre and the people in the theatre can throw at me from the teachers and my peers at BSC and I’m so thankful of that. I wouldn’t be able to confidently knock on a theatre’s door and ask “What can I do?” if it wasn’t for the fact that I know I can do it.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and now that you’re updated on me…the posts will be a lot shorter I’m sure.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I've just finished my first full week of shows and I thought I'd start to bring you up to speed on what led up to it.

Back in August of last year I started touring with the 1st National of "The Wedding Singer" Broadway musical. I was cast as featured ensemble and "Billy Idol". I spent the year with some eventually great friends, and while I had plenty to do in the show, I was itching for something bigger. Not necessarily the company size or status but my specific duties as a performer. I never got the opportunity to go on as a cover for any of the principles and was kind of just professionally waiting for tour to be over in June. Sometime in March, I decided to make sure all my resumes and online stuff were up to date while I had some down time. The need to contribute more made me get my ducks in a row, and I updated a vague resume on Backstage with new information, and audio/video clips. I did that across the board, with my website, and with my repertoire.

Sometime in mid April, we were in Pittsburgh with the show and I think on a Thursday night I was back in my hotel room with my roommate checking email and, thumbing past a few Facebook notices, I saw "Cirque Du Soleil" in a subject line. Immediately curious I opened it thinking I had received a notice for an open call or something since I hadn't ever submitted anything to them. The message was from their Senior Talent Scout in Montreal telling me that she thought I might be right for a new project in Japan and wanted to know a) if I was interested and b) if I wouldn't mind playing email tag with some recordings of the music for the new show to "verify" what she saw and heard on the internet of me. She told me that she needed someone soon and to try to expedite the process as much as possible. Over the next few days I recorded two audition clips from music she sent me from the new show. I was spending time in between Wedding Singer shows in the bathroom of my hotel room with a small mic and my laptop. I do record my own music already and was writing on the road so I was surprisingly prepared for this. It turns out she came across my information on Backstage while searching for tenors who had harness and flight experience. My current character was originally designed to fly and I had worked with Paul Rubin (head of the Wicked flight design crew) while I was working on "The Miracle" in Tennessee two years ago.

The next week we changed cities and started a two-week sitdown in Dallas. Waiting impatiently to hear back from Cirque, I finally got a call on Wednesday inviting me to audition in Montreal for the composer, director, and artistic director of the show. Luckily, a two-week sitdown meant that I had the next Monday off and not another show till Tuesday night. Cirque flew me to Montreal very early Monday (a long flight on 45 minutes of overexcited sleep). I arrived early evening, took a taxi to their training facility, and did my best for some VIPs. I could tell they really wanted me to be right for the job and that there was a time constraint. I didn't officially get an offer until I was back in Dallas, but the scout gave me a hint or two while I was up there :)

There were logistical things to work out amidst my overwhelming elation at the opportunity. I had to give The Wedding Singer proper notice and Cirque had given me just enough time to do so, and be home with my family for a few days. Three weeks later, I left some teary people while being teary myself on my last night on tour, saw friends in NY (few more tears there), and finally a last leg at home (and as you might imagine....).

Honesty I didn't completely freak out about living in a really foreign country where I hadn't ever even dreamed of until the flight overseas. It was too late then, and I'm glad. I had not been in control of the events that led to my situation so I decided to keep to that thread.

The big point was that all I could do was be prepared. Stuff just drops out of the sky sometimes and it's about how you meet it. Keep preparing yourselves. Keep working, gain that experience, learn as much as you can, find what you can give and give it.

I've left out some details for the sake of your eye strain but always feel free to ask questions.

Later folks,

Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Summer Theatre Gig

Here I am in the pink dress and Christina stands beside me doing the infamous "TEXAS" pose!

It has been a little bit over three months since I left BSC to move to Texas for the summer to begin my first professional theatre job. I am starting to pack, yet again, and make the fifteen-hour drive back to Birmingham to start my junior year. I feel like I have been in Texas forever, and at the same time, I feel like I just got here. It has truly been an amazing, eye-opening experience and I am glad to say that my first job was such a professional and intensive way to spend my summer.

The summer after my freshman year I decided to move back home and get a job as a waitress. Although moving home had its perks, I knew that it would be my last summer at home. Fast forward to spring of last year. There was a group of BSC students and professors heading to Chattanooga for the SETC convention. Christina, Brent, Michael, and I had all passed the pre-screening auditions in Montgomery to qualify to audition in front of about 70+ companies for summer jobs. Out of about 850 who auditioned, I received the number 14! We auditioned in groups of 25, so that meant that I would be in the very first audition group. Although that was a bit intimidating, I was happy to know that I would be auditioning before my nerves got the best of me. I got up there and I did my ninety second package. I felt pretty good about how the audition went, but because it was my first time at SETC, I wasn’t sure how I would compare to the other qualifiers auditioning. I had to wait for two more groups to audition until I could go in the callback room to see what callbacks I had received. Those forty-five minutes were some of the most arduous of my life. Eventually, I stepped into the room and saw that I had received twelve callbacks! I was pumped! My day started at 5:00 A.M. and I had auditions scheduled until 1:00 A.M. It was one of the most exhausting, yet most satisfying days of my life.

It was quite a whirlwind experience, and I wasn’t sure what company that I wanted to work for yet. One company really stuck out to me. I felt an immediate connection with the director and marketing personnel. They were really down to earth and seemed like people that I would want to work under. Another thing about this company was that it was the farthest company away (distance wise) than any of the others. The company was called “Texas: A Musical Drama” and it was an outdoor theatre located in Palo Duro Canyon, TX. I had never been to Texas before, but I am always up for trying new things: so I thought, “Why not?”

It took about a week for offers to come my way. I was getting really anxious until Dave, the director of Texas, called and offered me the understudy to the lead “Elsie” and also a spot as an ensemble/dancer. I asked Dave if I could have a day or so to think it over. I ended up getting another offer during that time period, but ultimately I decided to go with Texas.

In the end, Brent and Christina also decided to take jobs with Texas! We found it so coincidental that three out of four of us BSC folk ended up working at the same place! Christina was taking a job as a dancer and Brent got offered the role Chief Quannah Parker. Christina and I decided to take our own cars and follow each other all the way to Texas. We were going to be on slightly different schedules, and therefore figured that we needed our own cars. As we drove through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and then Texas, it got noticeably flatter and dryer. I knew that it was going to be a big atmosphere change, and I was right!

We started rehearsals in mid-May. We rehearsed for four weeks straight from 1:00 P.M. until 11:00 P.M. every day of the week, without a day off. Because I was a chorus member and also a dancer, I would go from vocal rehearsals to dance rehearsals. Often I would miss out on a new dance combination because I was in a music rehearsal and would have to learn it by myself later. I’m not sure that I have ever been so exhausted in my life. We began our season, with shows nightly Tuesday through Sunday with Monday being our “dark night”.

Palo Duro Canyon is the location of the theatre. It is a 1,800 seat theatre in the second biggest canyon in the United States. It really does take my breath away every time I drive to work. However, there are some downsides to working in an outdoor theatre; this mostly has to do with the weather. Sometimes we would perform in 115 degree temperatures. Not to mention, the girls are wearing tights, bloomers, petticoats, and long sleeve blouses and long skirts. It easily adds ten pounds in clothing. Another downside is the rain. And when it rains in Texas: it pours! Performing in the rain definitely adds another element to the performance that I had never experienced before. It’s especially strange since the show makes many references to Texas being so “dry.”

I’ve had the opportunity to play the lead role of Elsie six times this summer. The first time came as quite a surprise and came pretty early in the season. The lead ending up going on a trip and got stuck in Houston because of bad weather; I got a two hour notice that I would be going on as Elsie that night. Luckily, I had gotten to do her scenes once or twice during rehearsal. Although it rained during my first performance, I was quite proud of myself for performing the role on so little rehearsal time. Another day, later in the season, she was out of town again. During this time they were filming the promo and commercials for the upcoming promotional year. I was filmed as Elsie for the promo that they are going to use for the next couple of years!

Although the cast and crew definitely work hard during performance and rehearsal times, we also had our fun outside of the theatre. When I first came here, I thought that most of the cast would be from the Panhandle of Texas, and although some were from here, there were cast mates from all over the country including Massachusetts, Delaware, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, New York and of course Alabama! I feel like I have made connections with people from all over the country, which will be beneficial to me when I get out on my own. The theatre-world is a small, small world, and I think you finally realize that when you get to a place such as this. For example, when I was in high school, I toured a school called Christopher-Newport University, which is located in Virginia. I ended up touring a dorm room that was occupied by a dancer that I once again met here! It is such a small world!

The summer is coming to end, and I completely satisfied with my first professional summer stock experience. With dance classes and shows six days a week, I feel confident that I am in the best shape of my life. I had also never been an understudy before, and I learned the art of spontaneity, always being ready to go on at the last minute. I also grew up quite a bit; I had to pay for my own apartment, food, and gas all summer long. Even though sometimes I would complain about sweating in the 100 degree weather, all in all it was an experience for which I wouldn’t change a thing. I recommend Texas: The Musical or any summer theatre experience to any person who is considering a job in theatre. It was a life affirming experience that I had so often dreamed about as a young girl.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Einstein's Dreams at the Edinburgh Fringe

Happy Summer! A warm welcome to Kevin Faraci to our BSC Theatre Program blogging community. I know you will really enjoy Kevin as a regular blogger, as he writes about his experiences this season with Cirque Du Soleil in Tokyo.

Today an update on a new Edinburgh adventure. Mountain Brook High School is currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival under the auspices of the American High School Theatre Festival. As a faculty member at BSC, I was very privileged to collaborate with the company on a stage adaptation of Alan Lightman's wonderful novel, Einstein's Dreams (with the generous permission of the author). Here's how the production is described on the Fringe site:
"In this theatre/movement piece, Albert Einstein's dreams come alive on stage as he probes the theoretical realms of time, the adventure of creativity, and the glory of possibility."
You can read more about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on the American High School Web site at

The Mountain Brook company worked on the production over the entire spring term, and presented their show at Children's Dance Foundation in May. I know their outstanding production is having an enthusiastic reception in Scotland! I'm uploading a couple of photos of the production taken at home this summer. Einstein's Dreams opened on August 4th and plays through August 8th at the Church Hill Theatre.

Many will recall that just one year ago BSC debuted its contemporary adaptation of Miss Julie at the Fringe last summer. We're excited to announce that an article on what we learned about producing at the Fringe written by the Miss Julie Company will published in the fall issue of Southern Theatre Magazine.

Even though students do not come back to campus for the fall term until later this August, our faculty and staff are already gearing our first production, West Side Story. There'll be lots to tell about our WSS story adventures on future blogs.

Hope that you all are having a great summer. Please let us hear from you!
Alan Litsey, Professor of Theatre

Friday, August 1, 2008


Hello everybody,

My name is Kevin Faraci and I'm a BSC '02 Alum. Since I graduated 'Southern I've kept in contact with professors, staff, and students as friends and advisors. I've now been invited to open that contact up to the current community so that I can share some experiences I've had since leaving the Hilltop. Having never really blogged before I'm unsure where to start, but telling you all a little more about me might spurn questions and get a nice ball rolling.
I hold a BA in Musical Theatre and have been working as a performer since graduation. Jobs ranged from stage work and musicals to sketch comedy, cruise ships and "acoustic guitar bar guy" stuff. I've been based out of NYC for the past 5 years but at the moment I'm living in Tokyo singing for Cirque Du Soleil. Definitely the best opportunity of my life so far. I'm in the creation/rehearsal process for the new show "Zed" which opens in a brand-new Cirque theatre built on the Tokyo Disneyland property on October 1st. I'm working with some amazing people who make me want to be better and better everyday. The job feels truly world-class and is making me step up to a very big plate.
I'd like to share pictures and video with you, but for now everything is a little secretive from Cirque's standpoint as you might imagine. It doesn't stop me from sharing general knowledge and answering questions about what I've experienced in theatre thus far.
I'll prepare some stories and discoveries for a next post. I wish you all a strong start to a new year. Feel free to contact me through my website and we can start some blog dialogue.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Time goes by and dreams go dry...


Hello again faithful blog readers out there!Let's have a little second semester chat, shall we?

These past few months have been far from relaxing. In fact, there were many days when I found myself running around in this state of panic trying to accomplish the next thing on my daily goals list. As I sit back and reflect upon what the months have actually been to me, they have proven to be so much more than accomplishments of the the silly goals list. They have been a threshold of experience I will look back on with many fond memories.
I think back to the first day of Merrily We Roll Along in class ( for those of you that don't know we met M,W 2-4:50 to rehearse) and remember just wondering exactly how the finished product was going to be. I think I can speak for everyone, including Michael Flowers, by saying that we were just unsure. It started as a "we'll see how this goes" project. We were handling every aspect of the show-lights,costumes,props and not to mention actually performing were all our responsibilities. For all of February we had night rehearsals as well as in class music rehearsals. At first the INSANE amount of words,lyrics and what seemed like even jibber-jabber-nonsense in the score at the time was overwhelming. Michael stressed how important outside preparation was over and over. There were days that we would run songs in a certain act and not come back to them for a month. I wondered what it would be like the first time we were all off-book in March. A huge challenge was just being prepared daily to be in the game with something we had not really fully jumped into in a while. In short, I feel like it took an extremely long time for the mechanics to sink in.
As off-book time merrily rolled itself along, I think it is okay to say that we were all playing it safe for quite a while. The show actually did not start to feel real until about two weeks prior to opening night. I think repetition was key. Actually, I take that back I KNOW repetition was key. It was exciting to see how the show flowed and what everyone worked on with their character/s. Some had more to work with than others. It was nice to see and feel an ensemble coming together. Little moments began to develop and I started to see exactly why Michael wanted to take on this particular show. I began to appreciate the beauty in the simplicity of the production as a whole.
Time, which seemed to be a consistent theme throughout the show,went by and opening night was upon us. We had a solid run of six shows. With the exception of a couple shows, we could not have asked for better audiences as a whole. After Thursday nights performance, we all appreciated the beauty of live theatre even more. WHY? You ask... A little keyboard malfunction...DRAMA! Okay, seriously, a majority of the second half of the show was done completely a capella. It was handled very gracefully, and actually made it that much more rewarding to have finished yet another show. I enjoyed hearing people's responses to the show--especially the student body's. I think they genuinely enjoyed it more than we all anticipated. Since the show is done backwards in time, I was curious to see just how responsive and into it people would be.
After thinking about reasons why people appreciated it so much, I came to the conclusion that I think the majority of audience members our age loved the honesty of the story. It is dreams. It is passion. It is what happens when one lets go of them. No single soul can predict exactly where they will be in years to come. It's scary, but we just don't know. So, for me, I can say being absorbed in the show was something I learned tremendously from and as Michael has referred to it- "a cautionary tale" that I hope touched as many people as possible.

Let's face it onstage and off- "...all of these moments I'll never replace..." (thank you, Foo Fighters for that lyrical wisdom). Until next time-Happy Summer!


Italy: A Retrospective

Well, I promised you a post about my trip to Italy and here it is. It's only about four months late, but better now than never, right? I didn't expect to have as little time as I had during the spring semester. So, Italy...

As you may recall from my previous post about the trip, we stayed and studied at the Accademia dell'Arte in Arezzo, Italy. By we, I refer to myself, Shelby Bowling, Leslie Brown, Christina Johnson, Stefan Neeley, Sarah Schiesz, and Skyler Vallo accompanied by Dr. Jackie Leary-Warsaw of the Music Department. Here is a picture of what the Villa Godiola looks like:
Jealous yet? Oh, just wait. And the view from the Villa:This is literally what we were surrounded by. It is breathtaking. And honestly pictures can't even come close to doing it justice. There is no substitute for the real thing; these are just mechanical reproductions...a term we came to use a lot in our Philosophy of Art and Performance class.
It can easily be said by everyone in our group that Philosophy of Art and Performance was our favorite class. The director and founder of the Accademia, Scott McGehee, taught us this class. We were given the readings for the class before we arrived. Each class period, we would sit in these ridiculously comfortable sofas and chairs, drink our morning or afternoon tea, and discuss philosophy for two hours. Not to say that is was always light and cheerful subject matter. The things we talked about were actually quite a bleak insight into our art. Our discussions ranged from arguing if anything can be original anymore to how our society has come to accept mechanical reproductions of the real thing as the real thing. So, what we all came away from the class asking ourselves was "If art is dying, or dead in some people's opinion, then why do we do what we do?" What I found amazing is that we kept talking about this stuff even when we weren't in class. It affected us all so much; and I still think about it to this day. I think that question is one that should always be on your radar as an artist of any kind. If you don't know why you're doing whatever is you do, you're probably should find something else to do...especially if you're in theatre. The payoff from theatre isn't that great even if you know why you're doing it. Like I said, pretty harsh stuff, right?
Our other favorite class was Stage Movement with world famous dancer Giorgio Rossi. We were all going into the class thinking stage movement in terms of stage combat because that is what stage movement is here at BSC. But this class was focused on how you use your entire body and connect it to your performance. This class was truly an experience unlike any other. We did countless movement exercises that taught us how to use our whole body to work with itself and not have any part of your body working against you. It was one of the most powerful, yet humbling, feelings I've ever experienced. As Giorgio would say "You have to be the biggest sun and the most humble man." Giorgio was full of wonderful little sayings like that. He was also very interested to learn other English words from us to add to his very heavily accented speech. His favorite word that we taught him was probably "hug." :) On the last day of class, he asked for all of our email addresses to keep in contact with us and kissed us all on both cheeks...the standard Italian greeting or farewell. A week after we got back he sent us all a picture of him and his son.
Our Alexander Technique class was only for two days, but it was set up so that we would do group work for one part of it and have individual lessons for the other. The individual lessons were absolutely the most helpful . Our instructor, a tiny woman from England who I can't for the life of me remember her name, observed our sitting, standing, and walking habits to determine what we could do to better use our body for performing and even for everyday life. For example, she noticed that my right arm hung a little lower than the left and said that that was the reason why I've had neck problems all of my life. She gave us the proper techniques to fix our problems and it was up to us to work on them. What we fix about our everyday body use would also fix those bad performing habits that we all have. I guess this is a good example of the old saying "Art imitates life."
Our Italian class...was taught in Italian. No English. None of us had ever studied Italian language outside of vocal pieces. This made the class quite challenging. Leslie and I had taken several years of Spanish and since the two languages are very similar we used our knowledge of that to help us understand a lot of the Italian. Although, the instructor would frequently tell us "No español" and laugh at us. We had Italian everyday and we learned most of the basic things we needed to know to get around in restaurants, train stations, shops, etc. On the day that we went to Florence, we saw our instructor at the train station and just started bombarding her with all of the vocabulary words we had learned the day before. She looked at us like we were crazy, but we had a good laugh about it.
Jackie was our Voice class instructor. We met twice as a group and twice for individual lessons. I think it can safely be said that our second group lesson was everyone's favorite. Jackie made us close our eyes and think about a song we were working on or have already worked on. She asked us questions to help us find out who it was we were singing to, what they looked like, and what the point of the song was boiled down to one sentence. What this did for us was connect us with our piece. Never before have I felt that I knew everything about this one song. It allowed us to really know the person who was singing, the actual character, and let them live inside of us. It's really a beautiful way to think about a song. I don't think I'll ever again have to question why a character decides to sing these words, rather than speak them.
I could write a novel about our adventures outside of class, so I'll just give you some of the highlights. In our free time away from class we would walk the 15 minute trek into the town of Arezzo and would sightsee, shop, eat, sightsee, shop, eat, and eat some more (we had a lot of gelato and cappuccino). On our first free Saturday we took a train to Florence and spent the day there sightseeing, shopping, eating...what else? Then the second week we left early Friday morning and took a train to Rome. We took a tour of Rome on Friday and visited the Colisseum, ancient Rome, the Pantheon, and other cool sights. On Saturday we took a tour of Vatican City. Some of us even got to attend a mass at St. Peter's Basilica. One! Then on Sunday morning we began our trip back to the States. I'm not going to sugar coat it...I'd rather be in the hills of Tuscany than smoggy Birmingham anyday.
Luckily for you, they are doing this trip again next year...and hopefully for years after that. You don't need to leave college without having traveled abroad; and what better way to travel abroad than to study your art form, right? I say that if you want to experience something that you will never forget, you need to start planning your interim now. Don't miss out on this opportunity.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Less Is More for "Merrily We Roll Along"

"How did you get to be here?" - the lyric from Stephen Sondheim and George Furth's Merrily We Roll Along that haunts me still, even after closing the show almost two weeks ago now...

No matter how many times I heard/sang this during the show (which was a lot!), it meant something to me, especially toward the end of the whole process. But what I seriously ask this question about is the production itself. It started off as one thing and we ended with something completely different.

A few days before spring semester began, Michael Flowers, the Department Chair and director of the show, sent me an email giving me the news that not only was I going to be in the show, I was going to be the Props Crew Head for the show as well. My first thought: "Oh wow, Michael must really trust me to be able to do two things at once. This is awesome. What a great opportunity!" My second thought: "Oh my God! The props list is four pages long!" Needless to say, I was a little daunted at the size of the props list...well over 100 props. And this was also going to be a scaled down, minimalist version of the show. During my first meeting with Michael, we discussed the time periods of the show and what all the props should look like. I was beginning to be a little more concerned. The good thing was that I had from February to April 21st to get all of the props ready. I had a crew of 8 to help me gather the props. That sounds like a dream to have 8 people on props crew, right? But guess what, the 8 people were also in the show, one of them playing "Frank", the lead character in the musical. So I guess you're wondering if there is any relief, a light at the end of the tunnel...well there is. As we began the rehearsal process, Michael started to come to the realization that in his effort to simplify things, he had actually made things much more complicated. For example, in the first scene we were going to start with an overstuffed chair, a lamp, a phone, a rug, a bottle, a glass, a bookshelf, two scripts, and two pictures. Keep in mind that this is in Theatre One, a very small blackbox theatre we had transformed to be in-the-round, and the stage was going to have to be cleared within a matter of seconds. As you might have guessed, it wasn't working out so well. As a matter of fact, most of the scenes in the show had tons of props, but we only have so much time (muscially) to get everything off and set up for the next scene. So Michael and I started talking and he came to the conclusion that we were going to cut back...way back. The first scene with all of that stuff came down to using only four black cubes. These cubes became the basic "furniture" used in almost every scene of the play. There were a few other real furniture pieces like a small rolling bar and two round tables, but for the most part everthing became extremely minimalist...much to my happiness and sanity. We even got rid of using any liquids in the show. If we drank something or poured something into a glass there was nothing there. It was just so much easier not to deal with actual liquids during performances.

What we all discovered about scaling back the production is that it doesn't take away anything from the show. We found that it wasn't necessary to have huge, elaborate sets with over 100 props. People have imaginations, right? Is it too much to ask for people to use their imaginations when they come to the theatre? From the reaction that we got from the audience (which was resoundingly positive every night) no one seemed to have a problem with the fact that there was nothing in the glasses that we were drinking out of. No one seemed to have a problem seeing the same four cubes used over and over again to suggest different locations. If we, the actors, believed in it then the audience shouldn't have any trouble suspending their disbelief. Oh sure, a Broadway show with a huge, elaborate set is quite impressive, but is it necessary? Does it create more of a spectacle to be ooh'd and ahh'd over rather than a story to be told? With Merrily..., the toning down of prop usage allowed the story to have utmost priority. The audience could spend all of their energy focusing on the characters and their relationships with each other; which is what theatre is supposed to be about anyway, isn't it? We live in an age where everything is done for us. We don't have to work to imagine anything. Have you seen an action movie lately? We sit there and are spoonfed entertainment that doesn't require us to engage it in the least bit. And unfortunately, most Broadway musicals have become this sort of entertainment. We pay over $100 for a ticket, are dazzled by brilliant special effects, and leave the theatre saying "Well wasn't that nice." And that's about where it the theatre lobby. But why wouldn't you want to see something that you can take home with you, keep talking about even after you have left the lobby. Do you really need all the flash or can you do without it in exhange for some food for thought? You decide...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Let's Get Crazy

Spurge and Anais here, long time no see

Basically, we just needed the hype of interim to die down before we could gather our thoughts and make a blog. This was our second interim, but the first without half of our department aka friends. A slew of people went to Italy, and after a while, something felt like it was missing. Needless to say, we were glad to have them back. However, we were so busy that I don't think we realized just how much we missed them until we saw them again. We're so used to having that constant support group. Regardless of what show we're doing and who's in it, we're always an ensemble. I stage managed Marry Me A Little, so I had the privilege of watching Our Town. I was more than excited to see how talented the people I work with on a daily basis are. We don't have to be nervous about our performances; we know we're going to put on a good show. I will admit, though, it was a little surreal to see a BSC performance from an audience's point-of-view.

It's Anais's turn...

As Spurge previously stated, sorry for the wait on this profound blog you are currently reading. Interim...where do I start? I think we were all a bit curious to see just how working on and building for two shows would play out. There is something so beautiful about the simplicity that is Our Town. In short, I think we all made connections and discoveries of characters that we grew depths from. It was an experience. Brent really helped our dialect work. From something that we first all felt quite silly doing, it became second nature in weeks. There were days that were more overwhelming than others. As usual, time flew, and before we knew it our friends had all returned, the sets were being striked, and we were all, regardless of where we were, walking away from January having learned a bit more to add to our journey.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Oh, February!

Ginny and Amanda here. We just wanted to keep all you faithful readers out there tuned into what's going on in our humble home, the BSC theatre. After the excitement of Taming of the Shrew, the student-directed one-acts, and the two productions during interim, it may seem like things have been pretty quiet around here. Nope! This semester is one of the busiest that the two of us have ever had!

After we closed Our Town, both of us dove right into new productions. I (Amanda) am working on our spring musical, Sondheim and Furth's Merrily We Roll Along, which opens at the end of April. This production is a little different from most of our other ones. We are putting it together through a class, technically called Seminar in Theatre. That means that instead of coming to rehearsal every night, we meet to rehearse as a class in the afternoon twice a week. During this month, we have also had night rehearsals four days a week, in order to learn our music and our staging. We've all been in rehearsal a lot over the past few weeks! Starting next week, though, we will only meet during our class time, which leaves the theatre open for the other productions going on this semester, the Spring Dance Concert next week, and the two operas, The Telephone and The Consul, which take place in April.

Also coming up is our annual trip to SETC, the Southeastern Theatre Conference, in Chattanooga. Several BSC students are going to professional auditions at the conference, and others are going to attend seminars, make job contacts, and interview for technical positions. I am attending the conference as a part of our Miss Julie project. The students and professors who worked on that show and went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer/fall are leading a seminar about our experience. I'm excited about telling other theatre-people how we took our original production overseas!

Ginny here has also been pretty busy this semester. She's on the props crew for the operas, and she's taking a couple of important theatre classes. One of these is Intermediate Acting, which is a pretty challenging and intense acting class. Her first project was to find someone interesting, interview her and ask her to tell a story, and then try to act out her story. Ginny chose a girl who was really different from herself. She had to really figure out how to use her body and her voice to become someone else. That's not very easy! With that first project complete, now the intermediate acting class is ready to move onto scene work. We'll have to wait and see how that goes!

The other class is one that both of us are taking, Introduction to Stagecraft. This class is a mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors as well as theatre majors and non-theatre majors. We just finished our first two projects today. First, we had to design our own theatres. It was pretty fun, because we got to pretend that we had no budget, so we could create whatever we wanted. Ginny's group designed an off-Broadway style theatre house called the "Way the Heck Off Broadway Theate." My group created a 750-seat combination proscenium/thrust theatre called "The Runkefeller Center." Fun! We also just finished a sewing project, where we learned how to do basic sewing- you know, like sewing a button and making stage drops. That lesson would have been helpful when I had to sew what seemed like countless prop money bags for our production of Urinetown last year!

We also just had our Theatre Scholarship Day last Saturday, when we got to meet lots of prospective theatre students when they came to audition for Theatre and Musical Theatre scholarships. It was great to meet those kids, who came from all over the place, even if they were a bit nervous!

Ok, that's plenty long enough for now, don't you think? I feel like I've been typing for decades! We'll check in again later!

- Amanda and Ginny

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Birmingham-Southern College senior selected as student director for Kennedy Center regional festival

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Birmingham-Southern College senior Leslie Brown has been selected as a student director for the Region IV Festival of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Brown, a theatre arts major from Lower Burrell, Pa.; is one of six students selected to direct student-written short plays from the eight southeastern states that make up Region IV. The regional festival will take place at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C., Feb. 5-10.

The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival is a national theater program involving more than 18,000 students from colleges and universities nationwide. The year-round program has served as a catalyst in improving the quality of college theater in the U.S. Through its state, regional and national festivals, it honors excellence of overall production and offers student artists individual recognition through awards and scholarships in playwriting, acting, criticism, directing, and design.

Brown is the daughter of Donna Jordan of Glenshaw, Pa., and Scott Brown of Montgomery. - Linda Hallmark

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Our Town Rehearsal

Rehearsals, work on lighting, scenic construction, costume design, sound and more for BSC's Winter Repertory season. Thirty-four students are involved in producing Our Town and Marry Me a Little, which open January 24th and 25th in the College Theatre.