There are certain elements of theater life that I have enjoyed despite (or because of?) their oddity or tedium. I recognized the first one in college theatre productions – tech rehearsals. We would have to stay at the theater for hours, late into the night, doing a “cue to cue,” a technical rehearsal in which the performers move through the blocking, starting and stopping while the tech crew focuses lights, adjusts sets, etc.. It was a process that most of my colleagues found incredibly boring, and I’m sure I did, too, at times. But I remember standing in my spot on stage watching the activity around me and knowing that it was all part of the process. That the long night was a crucial factor to opening night success. (It also often ended with a late night trip to Waffle House…)
These days, at this level, the performers aren’t used at tech rehearsals. Members of the running crew or stage management take our places – standing, sitting, running around, or lying down in our stead while we sleep in our little beds (or, while we’re supposed to be sleeping…). I observed a bit of an Ainadamar tech rehearsal last summer. They were focusing the last 20 minutes of the opera, which Dawn Upshaw spent flat on her back, and sure enough, there was Jodie on the ground, taking Dawn’s place. I complimented her the next day on her mastery of the blocking! As much as I wouldn’t want to stay up until 4am doing cue-to-cue rehearsals here in Santa Fe, I sometimes miss that aspect of amateur theatre.
My other favorite quirk, however, would never work with a stand-in. “Quick changes” are costume changes that need to be made in far less time than one would prefer! If you have an elaborate costume or a wig to change, five minutes might constitute a quick change, or you can be dealing with a matter of seconds. In Carmen, there are about a dozen choristers who have 90 seconds to change from gypsies to fancy town folk, complete with wigs, hats, shoes, and clothes. Backstage is a sight! Talk about organized chaos. But we make it every time, with room to spare.
That’s one of the things I love about quick changes. You always start thinking, “What? 90 seconds? No way.” And maybe you miss the first one or two (only in rehearsal; that’s why we rehearse…), but by closing night you practically have time for a cocktail! It’s a little victory every night, one that the audience generally takes for granted. A little secret.
In Cendrillon, I have about 60 seconds to get out of my opening costume and into my ball gown. Everyone knew this would be a tight one from the very beginning, so the costume department devised the perfect solution. Both dresses have one big zipper down the back so, in theory, the change should go like this: run off stage, meet my dressers (C & S), unzip, drop the first dress, arms in the second, kick off my shoes, zip up, run onstage. I love it!
But, of course, that’s just the theory. In reality we’ve had a bit of trouble! Monday was the first dress rehearsal, and somehow, even though I had tried the dress on three days earlier, the ball gown was too small. Before you make any snide comments about all the enchiladas I’ve been eating, when I tried it on last, it was missing several layers at the waist. Through the baffling physics of costumery, when the waistband was finished, it got smaller. (I don’t get it either, but believe me, it’s true!) So even though we had enough time for the change, the back zipper couldn’t make it all the way up. After three attempts at the change, we ended up just sending me on with the dress unzipped. It was a challenge for me to exicute the intricate blocking while trying to hold up my dress - and keep singing! Rather hysterical, I have to say!
Last night, they had adjusted the fit, but there was trouble with the zipper itself. In order for this costume idea to work, they had to find separating zippers long enough for the entire length of the dress, about 60 inches. They ordered YKK “zipper by the yard,” but until it arrived, they improvised by ripping the zipper out of a child’s sleeping bag and installing it into the dress! Ingenuity at work, I tell you. The sleeping bag zipper couldn’t handle all the fabric sewed to and around it; it just didn’t have the heft. So for the scene last night, I made it on to stage in time, but was totally unzipped in the back. Another lesson in thinking on my feet! It wasn’t falling off of me though, since we at least got the hook and eye at the top done up.
For tomorrow’s final dress, I am completely confident that we will make it with time to spare. And if we don’t? Well, that’s why we rehearse.