Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More chorus practice

Word to the wise: Don't try to hold an E-flat note in bass baritone after two beers in a smoky bar.

Two kids wanted to know if I'd been running a marathon. Director told me to stop crying, be a man, and bring it up to falsetto level. The room was spinning and my palms were sweating, but I managed to blurt out the words in a singing voice that makes a torture victim sound like Maria Callas: "He's just an ordinary not so very nary wary!"

"That's two beats on the last syllable," called the chorus director. "No passing out until then. Get up and get ready to sing the square dancing number."

I may be in over my head.

Play Practice: Day 2

Yesterday, I got to get up on an empty stage, surrounded by fellow faculty, and block lines. Tremendous experience, blocking lines. It's a lot like acting out your favorite scene in a movie, as long as you substitute "acting out" with "taking directions" and "your favorite scene" with "some play you never heard of and already can't stand."

We're doing Dogpatch County. (Actually, we're not, but I'm superstitous about putting in the play name.) My part is The Colonel. I've got all of two lines, and I can spare everyone yea suspsense and give them right now:
"Hey everyone, this is a matter of top security!"
"Gentlemen, there's debriefing right down the road." (exit)
God, that's all so far. That may even be the entire corpus of my performance. My Nana Vrabel could pull it off, and she's been dead for seven years.

Since I hadn't (and haven't yet) read the play, I decided to picture my colonel interpretation along the lines of R. Lee Emery in Full Metal Jacket, or maybe Sam Eliot in The Hulk. Curses, I found out belatedly, are not allowed in a high school production, so I had to throw out improvisations like "Hey numbnuts, this is major security" and "If God had wanted your ass down the road for debriefing, he'd have miracled it there."

The Director (a personal friend of mine, and if she ever read this, she will perhaps forgive my acerbic take on the evening) did her best to settle down everyone to get to work. Fat chance. If you've ever seen a bunch of teachers hanging around in street clothes on a stage with the opportunity to act like the adolescents they all discipline day in and day out yet are secretly jealous of for being young with opportunities, then you've seen the world's oldest, most rebellious and logorrheic street gang ever.

I was no exception. After twenty minutes on stage, I could already feel improvised lines ready to vomit themselves up and waste everybody's time.

"Okay, Colonel," she finally called out to me after twenty minutes arranging for the Town Wives' entrance on stage to offer their husbands up for some sort of chemical concoction that would turn them into Ultra Hunks. "You're going to enter here."

"I want to be an Ultra Hunk," I whined.

"No, we're stressing mimesis in this production. Stand here and act like you have a backbone."

I stood, and did my best to comply. "What's my motivation?"

Director looked at me austerely, and I could almost read her mind: For Christ's sake, you've got two lousy lines and you're asking me for motivation? I've got about all I can handle keeping Jackie from hitting on every male teacher in the room, and three parents have their toddlers running amok in my scene shop. I've got your motivation right here...Fortunately, with one-third of the cast still paying attention to her, she had to clip her response. "You're a colonel. You're in the military. Sound arrogant and officious. You know. Just be you."

Good comeback, I had to admit.

"Now you're going to walk over to Nancy and tell the men behind her, humbly, about the debriefing."

No way. G.L. is not humble.

"Then you step back and let her take the scene over."

Uh-uh, baby. G.L. does not step back to relinquish control.

"Now, okay?" Director barked at me, pulling a face that probably had her freshmen scurrying for their books and homework.

Well, maybe in a pinch I can fake humility and submission. I scooted over and meekly did as I was told.

We went through the scene, and I did my best to sound officious, military, in control, domineering. Director, meanwhile, was fixated on the more vexing task of getting one of the castmembers to simulate choking to death on a bottle of moonshine.

"Iraq was our greatest effort yet," I boasted, trying to establish character. "We've actually won the war already, but most of the left-wing just hasn't allowed us to tell you yet."

A chorus of catcalls and curses followed me. I swallowed, flipping pages of the script I'd stolen from the lead frantically. "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew." I managed to ad-lib a clenched fist at the end of my statement.

"Just do the fucking line," snarled a recent Divorcee (playing Southern Belle #3, no less). "My babysitter charges $5.50 an hour."

I stepped back up to the plate and tried to arrange metric regularity in my line: "Gentlemen, there's debriefing right down the road."

Director removed her pince nez and massaged her eyebrows wearily. "Why do I feel," she asked quietly, "like you're counting your lines?"

"Sixteen words; 78 letters. Come on, I can totally play the Ultra Hunk."

"What if I throw in a six pack? Would that be enough to get you back on track?"

I frowned, insulted. Who the hell did she think she was, thinking she could buy me off so cheap?

"I'll let you drink it opening night."

Oh. In that case...

We finished ten minutes later. I am now an Employed Stage Performer. And with that six pack on the way, I'll be a Functioning Alcoholic Stage Performer. Steppenwolf entourage, eat your collective hearts out.

Of course, next step is memorizing those lines. But first things first.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Play Practice: Day 1

Back in 1986 or so, I was in a musical called "Off the Wall." Or "Up the Wall" or "On the Wall" or some damn thing, I really don't remember. It was a conglomerate of skits and songs designed to clue the modern audience into the perils and perks of being a young adult in the eighties. The extent of my involvement, to be honest, went little farther than background chorus and two lines:
"But really, what's with kids today?"
"I think I hear him coming!"
Who he was, I have no idea any more. I don't think I ever did. Actually, I have no idea what the play was about. I spent most of the time staring out the window and daydreaming about being Batman.

I went to my first chorus practice in almost twenty years tonight, with many more to come. We're doing a production of a musical where both faculty and students get to match vocal and acting talents in an effort to draw butts into the seats and raise money for charity. At least, that's what Jenny told me--it could be very well that she was lying and just wanted to get me in the chorus to make a jerk of myself.

I can't speak for the wide suburban audience we're currently pandering to, but I know of at least three friends and a few family members who will show up just to ensure themselves that I wasn't feeding them a load of shit about not being able to make the bar that night. "Nope, going to be busy singing 'She's Gonna Be the Bride'" must not have sounded like a realistic excuse. Go figure.

I'm not going to mention the title of the production--figure it out yourself--except to mention that my character is "The Colonel." With speaking parts. So I expect that will be my new cool nickname, replacing the embarassing "Puddles" nickname that's haunted me since summer camp, seventh grade.

Side note: Mick is married. Just found out. God help us all.