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.

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