Emotionally, I'm still on a high. Physically, my body is killing me.
Saturday night was the final performance of Annie and the last nine weeks have been absolutely fantastic. The cast and crew of the show worked so well together. While I've never questioned my decision to move back to Albert Lea, being a part of this production just kept reinforcing it.
I was so flattered by the number of family and friends who came to see me. And the rumor that my apartment currently resembles a florist shop is mostly true. One of the kids asked me why I got so many bouquets of flowers. I wanted to say, "When it's your first time back on stage after a 24-year absence, you'll get flowers, too." But I realized an 11-year-old wouldn't understand that. So, I just kept it simple, "I have great people in my life."
Naturally when you do Annie, half of the cast is made up of kids. Being a non-procreator, it was an adjustment for me. I love kids, but I also find that herds of young'uns tend to be unruly. And, at times, I felt like I was channeling my character more than I normally would when trying to keep order. (As if that was possible) But it was also a chance for me to get to know a great group of kids who have a passion for music and theater. I'm looking forward to watching them grow up. It took me a four weeks to figure out their real names, but I will remember them for a very long time.
During the three dress rehearsals leading up to final dress, I think I called "line," at least one time each. (Calling 'line' at rehearsal means that someone will prompt you with your line) It stressed me out thinking that I might be on stage during a performance and forget a line.
But I didn't. And let me be clear, I didn't forget a line. I did, however, forget a prop. During performance #2, in the very first scene, my character is supposed to pull a flask out and take a swig, at which point, Molly (one of the orphans) looks inquisitively at me. As I reached into my pocket, I realized that I had left the flask off stage. I kept calm while looking into this child's face, who was waiting for me to do my thing. A thousand thoughts crossed my mind and I just decided I would skip it and move on to the next line. The other girls had looks on their faces like, "what the heck??"
Fast forward one week to the same scene. I never forgot the flask again - I gave the girls permission to check me every night - but I got distracted on stage. The front row of seats is very, very close to the stage. And most nights, I would know someone in the front row, but it's never bothered me. Until that night. As I stood on the edge of the stage taking the (pretend) swig from the flask, I was suddenly looking eye-to-eye was my friend Jill and her family. It completely threw me and I started to move to the next line before finishing the first one. I back-tracked and finished it, but not exactly the way that it was supposed to be.
I love theater and musicals in particular, but doing community theater gives its participants an amazing opportunity to create lifelong friendships and to contribute to the community's quality of life.
Opening night for "Annie" is just two days away. (insert expletive) The reality is starting to hit home.
I've started my traditional internal stress mechanism of having no appetite and being nearly nauseous before the show, and then ready to frighten Old Country Buffet patrons by the end of the show. Although I'm older now and I better rationalize why I shouldn't be stressed, it's still there. I'm grateful for the fabulous supply of Ativan left over from the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
I'm comfortable with the songs and dances now - and a shout-out to the physical therapists at Mayo Clinic Health System's HealthReach for excellent work on getting my knee to behave. I'm loving my costumes which is good since I made two of them myself and all three pairs of shoes that I wear in the show are my own.
The hair was a concern because, with my short style, there isn't always a lot you can do with it. I wasn't keen on wearing a wig as I'm already "glowing" on stage with the costume and the hot lights. The solution we came up was using my own hair with lots of back-combing and layers of hairspray. If I had any gray (showing), I would look a little like Cruella DeVille.
The biggest concern is just remembering the damn lines. At last night's rehearsal, I dropped one line that could be considered important to another line later in the show. "You! Your days are numbered." It's a line that I have to say to a six-old girl who knows every line of the show. You don't drop a line with a kid and not expect to hear about it later.
Then there's the screaming. I don't just raise my voice to the kids and do a little shouting. I have two scenes in the show that I have to scream. And as coincidences go, they are the same scenes in which I have to sing. Heck, one scream is in the middle of a song! The music director talked to me last night about what I should be doing to make sure I still have a voice by the second week of the show - no caffeine drinks, lots of room-temperature water and appropriately warming up the voice. I was also told that I need to talk more in my head voice than I do. (I've been guilty of that for years!)
When people ask me if I'm an Alto or a Soprano, I give them the quick answer, "Alto." But that's really not the truth and it certainly isn't the full story. Any qualified vocal coach will listen to me sing and pronounce me a Soprano. So, technically ... yes, I'm a Soprano. And yes, when I have the proper warm-up and remember breath support, I can hit those silly high notes. But I consider myself a recovering soprano. I had the privilege of singing with the Cathedral Choir of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis for about 12 years. And for the first four years, I sang Soprano. Honestly, sometimes being a Soprano is boring. You usually sing the melody, so picking up a new piece of music isn't as much work for you. Occasionally, you would be given unnaturally high, soaring notes to sing and the listeners would oo and ah, but that was sort of the extent of 'work.' But then there is the diva personality that many Sopranos possess (or maybe it possess them). While I love my Soprano sisters, I have low Diva tolerance. AND if you put lots of Sopranos together, sometimes a diva-mob-mentality shows up. I hit maximum overload after four years with the choir and asked (begged) the choir director to allow me to join the Altos. I wanted the challenge of singing one of the inner voices. The next choir season, at the first rehearsal when everyone stands up to introduce themselves, I identified myself as a 'recovering soprano.' Some friends were ticked off at me for going to the other side and I was no longer invited to gatherings. While I supposed that was meant to snub me, it just proved my point. On the flip side, my Alto sisters welcomed me warmly into the fold. So why am I bringing this all up now? At last night's Annie rehearsal, I had to be the stand-in for the role of Grace. I thought I was just doing the lines, but then when the music started, it was, "Sing!" And since the role of Grace is really meant for a Soprano, I had some nasty flashbacks. I guess I experienced a moment of PSSD - Post-Soprano-Stress-Disorder. I'm sure I just need to channel middle C for an hour or so to re-find my center.
There's nothing to make you feel old than to have your dance partner/choreographer mention that he wasn't even born the last time you did a show. (My last ACT show The King & I was 1990 and Dylan, the choreographer, is 20.)
Don't get me wrong, I love doing it and I WILL do it. But I'm sure it is this reason that I have to ice my right knee each night after rehearsal.
Most people, after seeing my uber-smooth dance moves, are shocked to learn that the full extent of my dance training consists of one year of ballet class in high school and the tap dance lessons I received when I did Anything Goes in 1988. Oh, and having a best friend who was a dancer and taught me the five basic ballet positions.
My understanding of choreography comes from ice skating - carriage, extension, timing, footwork, etc. So each time Dylan uses a dance term, I ask him to demonstrate it and my skating brain converts it to something I understand. Not everything converts, so I have to make up names for moves that provide me with a visual cue, such as the 'crab crawl.' And I'm sure my knee would be happier if I was gliding on ice instead of hopping up and down on 2" heels.
The dance number is 'Easy Street' and there are three of us - Dylan who is playing Rooster, Cheyenne (Lily) and me (Miss Hannigan) - who are singing and dancing. 'Easy Street' is also the only song/dance that Dylan does in the show, so it's Dylan's single opportunity to show his stuff. (Can't blame him) However, I keep watching the other songs in the show to see if he's giving the other actors choreography beyond moving from one side of the stage to the other. (The orphans 'Hard Knock Life' doesn't count - their average age is like 9.)
So, now you have to come to the show. Why? Because now you're curious to see my 'crab crawl.'
Way back in Spring 2013, when I was trying to make my decision about moving back to my hometown, I had a conversation with one of my best friends, Jessie. (Going Home)
In weighing all the pros and cons, the tipping point came when we talked about being involved with the community theater again. That's when it became a no-brainer. The two of us, having been friends since 1988 when we met during the Albert Lea Community Theater production of Anything Goes, toasted the obvious decision.
I didn't, however, go knock on the stage door right away. In fact, my first audition was last month (ten months after moving back) and I had told very few people that I was going to try out. The role I wanted was Miss Hannigan in the musical, Annie.
The toughest part of the audition is always walking through the door and, this one was made tough by the fact it had been over 25 years since my last audition. I must have done okay since on Memorial Day I got the call that I had the part.
The next evening was the first read through and a good portion of time was spent going through introductions. When I introduced myself, I told them how my first role in an ACT production was an orphan in Oliver in 1972 and that my last play was the King & I in 1990. I explained that I had moved back to Albert Lea after a 20-year temporary absence, but that 'this place was one of the reasons I moved back.' I had missed it.
We're about three weeks into rehearsals and we open in less than a month (July 17). It had been so long since I had to memorize lines, I googled it. (heck, the last time I had to memorize lines there was no Google to google.)
You know what's been great? It's been 20+ years, but I'm not a stranger. Figuring out the costumes has made me smile more than a couple of time. Mostly because of the three people I've been able to work with - Barb Lang, Rosalie Truax and Glen Parsons. Three people who have known me for years and years - Barb since I was a toddler and Glen was my fifth grade teacher.
Fact: Of the 313 million people in the United States, only one thousand and three of those American citizens are U.S. Figure Skating Judges. That's just 0.0003% of the entire population. Because we're a small group, there is a sense of family among figure skating officials due to the hours and hours we spend together, our shared experiences in the officials' room (what happens in the officials' room, stays in the officials' room), and our love of the sport. I've been a judge since 1996 and in those 17 years, I have made many, many friends from all over the country. I was only a few years into my judging career when, as I looked around an officials' room and saw the span of generations, I began to wonder what it was going to be like when the senior generation started to pass away. You don't want to think about that stuff, but I am Irish and thoughts like that are part of my genetic make-up. If I consider all U.S. officials family, I think of the Minnesota officials as my immediate family. We have watched as some of our officials have battled cancer and others fade away because of Alzheimer's disease and old age. We had time to say goodbye and many of them had the opportunity to say goodbye to us. But my Minnesota family recently suffered a loss that we weren't prepared for when Marlys Larson passed away. I had just been at a competition in Madison, Wis., with Marlys three weeks earlier and she was healthy. There is nothing that stands out from that day that would have made me think her days were numbered. Since I knew that her mom had lived past the age of 100, I was pretty sure Marlys would outlive me. But one week later, Marlys suffered aortic dissection while in Iowa for a dog show (more on that topic later). She had surgery and seemed to have come out of the surgery fine. I was thinking, 'well, she'll rally back from this.' Then five days after the surgery, she started having strokes and I went from thinking that 'she'll rally back from this' to 'it might take her a bit longer to rally back from this.' The next day, I learned that they had found bleeding in her brain and all they could do was to make her comfortable until the end. I, as well as many others in our family, were not ready to accept that she wouldn't survive this. She passed away early morning on October 5th. Since I hadn't grown up in the Twin Cities, I didn't know of Marlys before I started judging except that she was the mother of one of the coaches at my club. In getting to know Marlys, I discovered she was a dog lover and showed dogs. My immediate assumption was prejudiced by painting Marlys as an 'Edina housewife' and I figured she showed poodles or some fancy breed. I was floored when I learned that Marlys' dog of choice was the slobbery Saint Bernard. It was her passion outside of figure skating and I always enjoyed hearing stories of Axel and Linus. As we said goodbye to her this past Saturday at the Lakewood Memorial Chapel in Minneapolis. we were surrounded by beautiful mosaics of four strong women (Love, Hope, Memory (in the photo) and Faith) and it seemed very appropriate for a celebration of Marlys' life. If there was one word that describes Marlys, it is strength. Now, just like in blood families, Marlys and I argued about a lot of topics and there were many times that we drove each other crazy. We shared the "blunt talking gene." But we also had many times when worked very well together. During her first term as President of Twin City Figure Skating Association, I served as the secretary. During those four years, I spent more time with Marlys than I did with my own mother. And as much as we argued, I never lost respect for her as a judge. She knew the rulebook inside and out and she was the one person you wanted to be around when the judges' exam was out. (it was open book, so we weren't cheating) Marlys was also a monitor for new judges and she was always generous with her time. Equally so, Marlys provided skaters and coaches with great feedback and many sought out her opinion. These judges and skaters will be part of her legacy to the skating community. She is going to be missed.