This story is a little sappy. Go with me here!
Besides being a choreographer, I am also a performer. I have a B.F.A in Musical Theater from Emerson College in Boston MA. While I was in school, I never really saw myself becoming a theater educator or choreographer. Sadly, I think a little part of me thought I would rarely be out of work as a performer just because I wanted it badly enough so I never bothered to think about any other career path. Well, that pipe dream ended real fast. However, my inability to book a performing gig led me to find a passion for teaching and choreographing I never knew I had. So in some ways, I am thankful to everyone in the world for not casting me in their shows because now I found something else I love too.
In the fall, an opportunity presented itself for me to perform in a professional, local production of CATS as a role I have always dreamed of playing. This being my second professional performing job since graduation, I was over the moon exciting. The best part was that the rehearsal process and show fell at a time when I only had to miss a few rehearsals for the youth theater.
My kids were all pumped for me and supportive, as I always knew they would be when this situation came up. At this particular time, the older group of kids (my favorite group of kids) were doing Spring Awakening. A show that made me extremely uncomfortable to watch them perform but also gave me some of my proudest moments as a teacher. I watched a lot of them become adults during that show and it is an experience that made me adore them more than I already did. The show was also the best youth theater show I have choreographed but I will never tell them that.
The entire weekend of Spring Awakening I was in performances for CATS. Then it was Christmas and CATS closed the weekend directly before the New Year. As much as all the kids jabbered on about coming to see the show, I knew they wouldn’t. I secretly wanted them to be there, to show them that I can be a performer as well as a choreographer but I never expected any of them to get their parent to drive them to the show, spend the money to see the show etc.
I work with lots of different directors and musical directors. Not to mention set designers, lighting designers, costume designers, producers, stage managers what have you. But in the summer of 2010, some miraculous being swooped down from the heavens and put me with the greatest, most fun, well oil machine youth theater trifecta of happiness. Director, Music Director and Choreographer all blending together to form what I call, the dream team.
I had worked with the director before, this red-headed bundle of spunk and energy who is an outstanding performer as well as director. we shall call her ‘A’. I had also worked with the musical director before, a positive, warm, spiky haired, Berklee college of music Alum who we shall call ‘T’. While I knew and admired both of their work and personalities, all 3 of us had never worked together on the same project. Every summer, I look forward to the dream team. This upcoming summer will be our 3rd together.
‘T’ and I are best friends. We are so close that many people think we are dating and on many occasions we have been able to convince some of the kids we are married. It doesn’t help that I call him my husband and he calls me his wife. It doesn’t help that anytime I can’t find him I ask ‘Where is my husband?. It doesn’t help that we come in the same car to work, that we are always seen together everywhere and that I like to hug him because he’s cute. It also doesn’t help that I think it’s funny when the kids think we are actually together. For the record: We are NOT.
This past spring I was able to cross a huge ‘to do’ off my bucket list, which was to choreograph an MTI Junior premiere. The middle school in my home town snagged the rights to the premier of Hairspray Jr. Being a big fan of the MTI junior collection and the show, I was excited for the project.
With every project comes it’s challenges. With Hairspray, came a load of casting challenges. Firstly, there is an entire African American ensemble. Well, The school district is racially diverse and had a large number of African American students who were interested in the production.CHECK! Secondly, the lead has to be overweight. So, I learned how to build a fat suit. CHECK! Thirdly, The show is written for a large ensemble. No problem, 140 kids auditioned and we cast them all. DOUBLE CHECK. Lastly, there is a cross dressing character. A man (or in this case a boy) dressed as a women, a mother to be exact. This is middle school, one of the worst times in every kids life, especially the boys and even more so, the boys in theater. With the bullying stories you hear about now a days and yes, even some of the bullying I lived through in my middle schools days, I was nervous that casting any boy as Edna in the show would be a self-confidence, bully attracting doom sentence.
Will we find someone?
This story is one of my all time, top five, favorite stories from being a theater educator/choreographer, so it seems only fitting that it begins the blog.
In the summer of 2009, I was choreographing a production of Beauty and the Beast Jr. I was overly excited about this production because Beauty and the Beast is my all time favorite musical and one I knew the kids would enjoy just as much as I would. It is rare that the kids and I share a love for the same musicals. When you are working with a non-audition summer program, you really never know what you are going to get. It did not take us, myself and the director, a lot of time to realize that we had a cornucopia of talent and experience. We had a handful of strong, older kids who were all eligible for principal roles and then a much larger handful (a 6’4 man sized handful) of newer, shy, inexperienced kids who were trying theater, or at least theater of this caliber, for the first time. Also, it’s Beauty and the Beast! Kids come out of the wood work for Disney shows.
Naturally, the fight for Belle was bloody. Thankfully, we had enough strong men to fill out all the male roles in the show and obviously, those more inexperienced, yet endearing kids, ended up in the very important ensemble. Now, there are some shows were you can get away with a lack luster ensemble. Annie (except for the orphans) Thoroughly Modern Millie, The Drowsy Chaperone… Beauty and the Beast is NOT one of those shows. Ideally, we would have loved to have a sprinkle of ringers in the ensemble to help show the newbies that it is okay to sing loud, to make big mistakes, to stand out, to be in the light. Unfortunately, no such luck. The ensemble was indeed a beginner group, standing up against ALL STAR principle performers.