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Smoke, Mirrors and 'Hairspray'

A backstage look as MoorArts' "Hairspray" comes together.

My mother always told me that the best way to stay young was to hang around with young people. She also called me an idiot on more than one occasion, so I’m happy to report that I am following her advice by surrounding myself with young performers AND feeling idiotic as we prepare for MoorArts' Hairspray.  

Set to open on July 8 for six performances, the cast is in mad rehearsal mode with less than a month to go. Being the oldest cast member (again!) gives me an insight into a process that might be of interest to sane readers who have never been in a theatrical production. Henceforth, my look behind the scenes of a community theater production, edited to protect the innocent, the divas and the teenagers who never, ever stop talking.

May 24, 2011 - The First Read Through

Anyone who does not believe in global warming should be here in the high school auditorium tonight, where the temperature can only be described as tropical, minus the beach, the ocean and the fun. This is serious. Tonight is “first read through,” when the cast is assembled for the very first time, to go through the script. This is always a strange night because most of the actors don’t know each other, or perhaps only know a few people from other shows they’ve done together. Alliances have not yet been formed. Everyone is at the top of his or her game, as if to say, “See how fabulous I am?” I am no exception. I try very hard to make everyone laugh. Those that don’t laugh will be charmed at a later date. I hope.

May 30 - Tuning Up

We’re singing through some of the songs, trying to learn our parts. The sopranos are bunched up on the right side of the choral room, with the second sopranos next to them, then the altos, tenors and basses. Most of the cast members have had voice lessons for years. In Moorestown, some voice lessons begin in utero. I have never had a voice lesson in my life. This is not a good thing; it is just the reality of the time I grew up in. Nobody got voice lessons; there were no tournament teams or organized sports outside of school, no Suzuki violin classes or bullying seminars. Fortunately (?), being a child of the '60s, I learned to harmonize from John, Paul, George and Ringo and can usually pick out my part. When I ask my son, who is one of the Council Kids, to help me with my part, he shrugs as if to say ‘You can’t read music? What is wrong with you anyway?’ Yes, I gave birth to this ingrate and will punish him with at dinnertime with nothing but Brussels sprouts.

June 7 - Missing Gene, Missing Steps

What was I thinking?

I am sitting in the high school auditorium watching Renee, the choreographer, trying to teach the same dance number over and over again. She is the kind of lithe, graceful person who gives me heartburn and a severe case of envy. I can’t move like that. I can barely remember why I walked into a room, let alone learn intricate dance steps for many different songs. I am going to keep reminding myself that my character is a really lousy dancer, thus justifying my inability to remember my left foot from my right, or to differentiate between a “grapevine” and a “Susie Q.” I am hoping that someone will wise up and stick me way in the back of any dance number I need to be in. Being short will help with this, as I seem to be about the same size of most of the teenagers in the cast. Why, oh why, am I lacking the ‘dance step’ gene?

June 9 - Welcome to the '60s

“Costuming a Show on a Shoe-String” by Brittany Wardzinski. Fortunately, she has some seasoned ‘thrifters’ in the cast and crew, who like nothing better than to scour the racks at local thrift stores, looking for '60's garb. Brittany is doing a fabulous job. It is so much fun to see the shirtwaists and pedal pushers. And what will Edna Turnblad wear? A man traditionally plays the role: not just a man pretending to be a woman but a man wholeheartedly embodying a woman. No easy task, but Brad Kenney is doing a phenomenal job in his 48DDD brassier, some well-placed padding and a tatty housecoat. Also deserving of recognition is David Halin, who plays Wilbur Turnblad in the show. David also styles and creates the many, many wigs needed for the show AND helps constructs the sets. Does this guy ever sleep?

The great fun of costuming a show set in the '60s is that the clothing of that era was not as cringe-worthy as '70's garb or the sci-fi-like shoulder pads of the '80s. We’re still wearing pedal pushers (capris), pencil skirts and Keds sneakers. Some things never change.

June 11 - Baltimore Rises in Moorestown

Today is not only the day of MoorArts’ huge tent sale at Fred Binter’s house, but it is also the day that most of the set pieces will get loaded onto the high school auditorium stage. The Hairspray sets are coming from the very generous Ritz Theatre in Oaklyn and Lenape Regional High School. Mike Menaquale’s job, along with the other MoorArts officers, spouses and cast/crew members, is to haul the stuff from various garages around town and somehow try to fit the set pieces into the small doorways of the school. EEK! The doors are too small to accommodate the huge sets. Some pieces will need to be disassembled before they can re-assembled. Once again, the temperature inside the school is equatorially hot. It has been a very long day, but just seeing some of the sets on stage is a shot of much needed excitement. 

June 18 - Two Halves Come Together

Our first rehearsal with the pit orchestra is today.  They have been rehearsing separately in the band room as we rehearse on stage. They sound fabulous, but now the process of marrying the actions on stage to the music coming from the pit begins, and it isn’t pretty. The rehearsal stops and starts while musicians and actors learn to coexist. Finally, finally, we begin to run the show. Hey! This is way better than I thought it was. How cool is that? We actually have a solid show. It’s funny and looks great. Everyone has stepped up their game. Seventeen days and counting! Moorestown, here we come!

Sarah June 28, 2011 at 02:07 AM
It's very entertaining to see how the show's coming along from a cast member's perspective! A tip for all the actors: always be nice to the costume people!
Franklin Mason June 28, 2011 at 01:24 PM
CAN'T WAIT TO SEE THIS!
Marsia Mason June 28, 2011 at 04:13 PM
How about this one? "Always be nice to everyone on the tech crew and in the pit."

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