Annie Director, Cyndi Atkins, had a stroke of genius. Instead of the usual mid-week rehearsal between shows, much of Union Street Players Annie cast will take their show on the road. The group will perform scenes and songs from the popular musical for residents at Pella’s Hilltop Manor this evening. Not only will it give the cast a much needed refresher, but will also be a welcome evening of entertainment for the residents.
I’ve written before about the very real phenomenon called an “actor’s nightmare.” It’s when you dream that someone grabs you in a panic and reminds you that you’re on. Suddenly you remember that you were cast in a play but you can’t remember what the play was, what role you’re playing, nor can you remember studying any of your lines. You are then thrust onto the stage as everyone looks at you waiting for you to deliver your line. If it’s a true actor’s nightmare you’ll realize at this point that you’re standing in your underwear.
During last night’s performance of Annie, I came close to experiencing a variation on an actor’s nightmare. In the second act, just before the grand finale, I run off stage for a costume change. I have to get out of my suit and into my tuxedo in 90 seconds. My wife Wendy is there waiting to help and we have the whole process down to a well rehearsed quick change.
Last night I made my sprint off stage and down the steps to the clothes racks in the back hallway. It was then that the actor’s nightmare set in. There was no tuxedo. There was no Wendy. In that moment, I realized I’d forgotten to set my tux backstage before the show. There are no adequate words to describe the sheer panic that sets in this moment of time, though ”terror” comes close (after a Warbucks-esque expletive).
Where’s Wendy? Did she forget, too?
Is she getting my tux?
Should I sprint for the dressing room? (No way. Not enough time.)
Should I just go on in my current costume? (Not an option, I’d peeled of my bow-tie as I ran off and it would take me more than 90 seconds to re-tie it)
In that moment, a dark, frizzy-haired figure came sprinting around the corner with a bulky bundle in hand. For you movie buffs, Joan Cusack‘s frantic run in the film Broadcast News flitted through my brain at that moment. Wendy dumped my tux on the floor and we began throwing on the pieces. My ears were perked to the song on stage. We were running out of time. Vest on. Button. Button. Button. Hurry Coat on.
“Where’s the bow tie?” I hear Wendy whisper. “I CAN’T FIND THE TIE!”
“I don’t know!! It was with the tux in the dressing room (back by the auditorium entrance)!!” I replied
“THERE’S NO BOW TIE!” she repeated. “Are you off stage again?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “Wait – YES! I have a few seconds off stage before the final scene!”
“I’ll get it!” Wendy exclaimed in a whisper.
I resigned myself. For now, I’ll have to go on stage in a tux without a bow tie. Warbucks will be a casual kind of formal tonight. We have no choice. Wendy sprinted off as I marched up the steps to the back stage door and remembered to tie my shoes.
I don’t know how she did it, but Wendy made a sprint worthy of Usain Bolt back to the dressing room. Just as the moment for my entrance arrived, she ran through the back stage entrance with my bow tie in hand. Fortunately, it was the kind that clips on. I was fully aware that everyone on stage was wondering where in the world I was as Wendy anxiously tried to get the tie hooked.
“THERE!” she cried.
I sprinted on stage before Wendy had a chance to straighten it. It was about four inches left of center. Think. How am I going to fix it? Fortunately, my first line is to direct everyone’s attention to the staircase where Annie emerges in her iconic red dress and curly hair. I simply turned my back to the audience raised my hand to the grand staircase and delivered my line. Knowing that everyone was looking for Annie, I reached up and yanked my tie in place.
Whew. Major crisis averted. Focus now.
I owe Wendy big-tim (and she knows it).
Besides that little potential tragedy, last night’s performance went really well. The crowd seemed livelier than Friday night’s audience. Hannah Emmert did a masterful job in her first performance as Annie.
Today’s matinee at 2:00 p.m. is nearly sold out. There are a few tickets left in the balcony. Get to the community center early (I’d suggest 1:20) if you want to get one of the remaining seats.
As for next weekends performances, the floor seats are nearly gone. Thursday remains your best hope for a seat on the main floor. Balcony seats are still available. Don’t worry. You won’t be disappointed with a balcony seat. The view is great and the younger key cast members are mic’d so you can hear all the lines.
Pictures from the Final Dress Rehearsal from Annie are now online at Union Street Players web albums. Click here to view.
Friday can technically be ruled a sell out, as there were precious few balcony seats left last night for the opening night of Annie. The official count is being listed as 277 delighted audience members who packed into the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium and gave a standing ovation to Rachel Peter and the rest of the cast on opening night.
The show went without any major glitches. There were the various and sundry mishaps that happen in almost any performance. A spilled tray of water here, a slipped line there. I especially thought it was cute when Annie called me “President Roosevelt” in the final scene before she caught herself. My favorite moment of the night was, however, when I was talking to the President on the phone with cigar in hand. When I slammed my hand on the desk, the cigar which has been drying out on stage for several weeks disintegrated into a puff of flying tobacco debris (Gotta remember to have Drake get that humidor fixed!).
Biggest cast ever?
Yesterday I encouraged people to count the number of cast members in Annie. Some people actually did. The cast of Annie numbers 78. Director Cyndi Atkins reminded me that it might have been 80 but a few actors had to drop out of the cast.
Special Guests in the Audience
In last nights audience were two board members of the Iowa Community Theater Association (ICTA) who came to town to judge the show for ICTA’s annual community theater awards. Stay tuned to www.unionstreetplayers.com for any further news on that front in the months ahead.
- Tonight will be opening night for Hannah Emmert who takes over the reins of the lead role. Break a leg, Hannah!
- USP is proud to offer the opportunity for people who have never been on stage before to get a taste of live theatre. Over 30 of the 78 cast members in Annie are making their USP stage debut, and many of them are on stage for the first time (or the first time in many years).
- Speaking of stage debuts, the youngest cast member of Annie is Madeline Kelly. Madeline, at 11 weeks old, isn’t even old enough to say she’s “cutting her teeth” on stage. Madeline is the daughter of Mat and Anne McCullough Kelly. Look for Madeline and her mom in the Hooverville chorus!
- Being in a USP show is also a family affair for many people. Glancing over the program you can find about 15 parent/child pairs on stage. There are more family couplings if you add siblings and spouses!
As of last night, there remain balacony seats available for both shows this weekend! We recommend you come to the Pella Community center a half-hour before curtain to purchase your ticket. The ticket table is located in the hallway right outside the auditorium.
Opening night has arrived at last. Last night was final dress rehearsal for Annie and, in typical fashion, it was rife with mishaps. I was hanging around after the rehearsal when director Cyndi Atkins talked through the evening with a handful of production crew. There was a clear consensus among the veterans: It is not unusual for the night before opening to be rough.
Sometimes, when a cast is sick of rehearsing and ready for an audience, they respond with low energy and lack of concentration. I can personally attest to my own issues last night. I struggled to remember lines that I’d never ever dropped. I was late on an entrance simply because I spaced it off back stage. Arggggghhhh.
Then there were the random occurrences that simply leave you scratching your bald head. Warbucks precious Degas painting fell off the wall and thunked loudly to the floor right in the middle of the sentimental song he sings to Annie. For the sake of propriety I won’t go into detail about our star canine, Maggie, who portrays Annie’s adopted stray, Sandy. Let’s just say Maggie felt a little frisky on stage last night. Nuff said.
Biggest Cast Ever?
After rehearsal we took a cast photo. It was amazing to see all the cast and crew on stage together. There has been some quiet debate among our USP stalwarts as to whether or not this is the largest cast we’ve had in a show. Let me provide more fodder to fuel the banter. Based on the credited cast members recorded in the program, here are some cast counts for other big USP shows (to cloud the issue, the count may include individual actors credited for multiple roles):
Music Man (2007): 77
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (2003): 64
Fiddler on the Roof (1998): 77
Music Man (1997): 70
Let the debate resume. I’ll let you make a head count when you get your program and find out how Annie compares.
It Takes a Village
If you’ve never been in or worked on a large stage production, you can’t possibly comprehend how similar it is to herding cats. There are so many moving parts that it takes a conscientious army of people to pull it off.
Last week I was running down the back hallway to make a quick costume change. All of Warbucks’ servants were huddled together in the hallway. Suzi Jones and Scott Burns were taking the initiative to drill their fellow servants and make sure they had their choreography right.
That’s how it works in a show this size. A director can’t manage every detail. Everyone has to take responsibility for themselves and their fellow cast and crew. Pitch in. Talk about it. Work it out. Make it better. If you don’t do it, no one will.
And, it’s not just cast and crew. A special shout out to parents who have gone above and beyond simple taxi duty to pitch in and wrangle our army of orphans. Huzzah!
There are plenty of General Admission balcony seats available this weekend, though the floor of the auditorium is virtually sold out. Balcony seats are $8.00 and are perfectly good seats for viewing the show. We recommend that you get to the Community Center early as the seating in the balcony is first-come-first-serve.
Finally, to all my fellow cast and crew members: Break a leg!