Ladies and gentlemen, let the games begin. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown has finished previews.
Before the official opening night of a musical, there are public performances where tickets are sold and an audience is able to see the show. Though the production is still a work in progress, the creative team uses previews to gauge the impartial audiences’ reaction and see what’s working in the show and what is not. We rehearse and make changes during the day then implement those changes that evening when the curtain goes up. It's a very “on your toes” experience. Actors have to remember new lines, new blocking, new choreography, and new costume changes all in a matter of hours before being thrown to the lions of New York City.
The opening number now tells a story representing everyday life in Madrid. Naturally (wink, wink), roller skaters were added — two male roller skaters I must cover. I do not roller-skate. They didn't ask us if we could roller-skate at the audition. If they did, someone else would be writing this column about WotV and I could very well be playing the role of Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof at the Saskatchewan County fair.
In the number, the two men on wheels have to bob and weave in and out of the “citizens of Madrid” as they walk through the city streets. Since my roller skating abilities are shaky at best and the act of propelling myself in the direction that I am choreographed to skate is a crapshoot, I can only imagine the headlines now: “Roller Skater Rampage! Broadway’s Best Rolled Over by Ample-Bosomed Chorine, John Carroll.” Roller skating reminds me of an audition I once went to where the choreographer asked me if I spun plates. Spun plates as in holding a long stick while spinning dinnerware on the end of it. No, I do not spin plates. I don't know, maybe it's me. Maybe I've made poor choices along the way, like to study at the Juilliard School instead of Ringling Brothers. Some performers have a section on their résumé called "special skills." Under this heading would be such things as "roller skater," "plate spinner," or any other odd thing the person might feel will help them land the job. I don't do anything out of the ordinary that would fit under such a category, and if I did, I would save it for the boudoir. I once knew a person who put "toe waving" on their resume under special skills. This person could manipulate their phalanges in such a way that it looked like they were waving hello to you. I wonder how many people booked a job for such a thing. You know, legend has it, in the end, it was between Meryl Streep and Ruth Buzzi for the title role in Sophie's Choice.
Sometimes it all comes down to toe waving.
I have come to the conclusion that I entered the wonderful world of WotV with preconceived notions of what the creative process should be. I have never swung a show before and was not exactly mentally prepared to be sitting and watching rather than physically doing. By the time the dress rehearsal rolled around, I was at the height of my mental frenzy. While the other cast members were onstage for the first time in their costumes, doing the choreography, making their way through this brand-new show, I watched from the audience, notating their staging and choreography, fulfilling my dance captain obligations for the choreographer. It was a bit of a blow to the old ego.
See, I'm not a passive person. I'm not one to just "sit this one out.” It’s in my DNA to want to create and be all up in it. I want to dance my face off and be wrapped up in the whirlwind that is the creative process. Instead I've found myself sitting on the sidelines working on patience ... ugh, too time-consuming.
Then it hit me, a la Whitney Houston. "All at Once." There I stood at the back of the Belasco Theatre waiting for the curtain to go up. To my right was Christopher Gattelli, the show’s choreographer, and Bart Sher, the show’s director. To my left was David Yazbek, the show’s composer, and Jeffrey Lane, the show’s librettist. Here I am with a stranglehold on how this whole experience should be, and right smack in front of me is the amazing way it is.
Not many people get to see the first public performance of a brand-new Broadway show standing sandwiched in between the people who created it. I was seeing it, hearing it, and living it through with them. There was Bart jumping up and down when the audience would be laughing their heads off. There was David literally sitting in the aisle of the theater writing down music notes. Who was pacing up and down the back of the theater practically wearing down the carpet? Who was stoic and didn't budge an inch the whole show? A lady never tells.
While I'm not an every night onstage performer, my job has kicked into high gear. When Christopher has notes for the dancers, it's my job to give those corrections. If there are problems onstage with performers doing the choreography, I'm the one they come to help work things out. If a dance rehearsal needs to be called or an audition needs to be held, I'm involved. It’s dawned on me that the last thing the dance captain is, is passive. Not only do I have to know numerous roles to perform onstage, I also have varied managerial responsibilities. While I'm not onstage every night, this is my journey. This is my creative process.
It’s said the creative process is a lot like giving birth. If what they mean by that is that it's painful, messy, and, at times, it just plain stinks, then I suppose that old adage is correct. This whole experience has been a dream come true, but it has not been all glamorous. In moments it has been gritty, intimidating. and stressful. However, on the flip side of that proverbial coin, it has been enlightening, cathartic, and magical. It has been a wild ride from inception to birth.
So, if you happen to find yourself in New York City, walking through the theater district, throw on some scrubs, stop by the Belasco Theatre, and watch us push out a Broadway show! Women on the Verge is full of life and all about the process.
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