On with the show; or, I've Never Been a Subplot Before

Prologue: two years before

A friend of mine from choir has a role in a show by Gilbert and Sullivan called Ruddigore. The local Gilbert and Sullivan troupe, called The Savoy Society, produces one every year (there are lots of groups devoted solely to G&S---usually one in every major city). It sounds like fun, so I make a mental note to try to go see it, but I never make it, for reasons I can no longer remember. This friend has a fine baritone voice, which tells me that I am not too good for Savoy. He also encourages me on more than one occasion by complimenting my voice, which leads me to think that maybe they are not too good for me. I ruminate, but never look into auditions.

April (2002)

I perform in the Musical Theatre category at Kiwanis. What fun this music is! Quite the change from my usual classical repertoire. I'm in the open class (ie over 20 years old), which few people bother with, while the younger classes are filled with teenage girls with Broadway lights dancing before their eyes. I come third out of three, although my family and voice teacher all tell me it's a matter of taste---that I am much better than the guy who did Phantom, and the comic singer who placed first. I suppose it's their duty to say so. Still, I know that my lack of acting and staging experience is my downfall, and wish I could do something about it.


Hmm ... I look at Savoy's website and find a friend's sister was the romantic lead in Savoy's show this year. If she can do it, maybe I can too ... as it turns out, they're doing The Sorcerer. They've never performed it before---apparently few G&S groups do. If it's less known, less people will be auditioning, which means the time may be ripe for me. A quick email to my friend from choir, who assures me I am more than qualified. Hmm. I make a mental note to get to the University library for the score.


Well, there are two Soprano leads. Aline's first song, "Happy Young Heart", sits a bit high for me, so never mind her role. What about this other one, Constance? She has a song in Act 1 that sounds very pretty and melancholic. And what's this? She gets a comic aria in Act 2. What a cute song! Oh, I'd so love to sing this song! "He's everything that I detest/ But if the truth must be confessed/ I love him very dearly!" Musically it seems like Constance is a pretty big part, although probably not the biggest. That's unusual for G&S, who usually give one aria (if that) to every lead, with the main soprano and tenor dominating musically.

My voice teacher and I take a look at the score, and she agrees with me that Constance is a better choice for me than Aline, musically speaking (she's really more of a mezzo role). My homework is to check out the libretto. I had nearly forgotten that I have a book of all of Gilbert and Sullivan's librettos, so I pull it out to read it. Constance has maybe eight lines, which is odd given all her singing. But who cares? I'm a singer, not an actor. Constance first suffers from unrequited love for the vicar, then falls in love with a deaf old man with one of those ear-horns because of a love potion. The story is quite cute, and I think I can pull off Constance's character.

That's settled--I should definitely try out for this! And if I don't get the role, no big deal. After all, I have no stage experience beyond the chorus of Hair in high school. I wouldn't expect them to hand a role to a newcomer.


Audition info is up on The Savoy Society website. As I thought, Constance's role is smaller than Aline's. That's okay by me! Oh man... she has to sing a high B, though. That's definitely higher than I've ever had to sing in performance. Oh well, I won't stress about it.


The open house is the Monday before the audition in mid-September. I already know I can't make it, so I call to schedule an audition and get more info about rehearsals (crucial since I'm pretty busy). Hmm, it seems the chorus rehearses Wednesdays. Why is everything on a Wednesday? I don't think I can handle giving up Bible study (which meets every second Wednesday) for a whole six months. On the other hand, this is something I really should do. I decide to audition anyway and see if my schedule can't be worked around.

Saturday, September 14: audition

I pop by my voice teachers' place to warm up before heading out. I've decided to sing an Italian classical standard that I performed at Kiwanis last spring. Everybody knows it, but suits the cheery atmosphere of G&S, and it's one of those songs that makes my voice sound effortless. There are three components to auditions for a role: solo, speaking, and group dance.

I arrive early and fill out the form. There isn't room on the sheet for all my musical experience, so I continue on the back. One of these days I need to make a music resumé! I list my availability, which is fine other than the Bible study thing. They take my picture to stick on the form so they can remember me afterward. I've never filled out a form that asks me how tall I am before, although it makes perfect sense when it comes to casting dance partners, etc.

I do not feel tremendously nervous. I would be more nervous if I had my heart set on the part, I guess. I chat with the others waiting, and look over my words. One of the other girls in the room looks tremendously familiar, but that's not uncommon --- the arts community is a small world. As it turns out, Mondays are chorus nights, and Wednesdays are lead nights. So if I'm in the chorus, no problem; if I have a part I'll have to miss some studies but I can handle that. Finally someone comes to bring me up to the church hall. I realize I'm really not nervous. I suppose I should enjoy this while it lasts.

I walk in and see four or five people sitting at a long table. The piano is off to one side, with an accompanist who can't be more than eighteen. The woman who escorted me upstairs hands them my form and introduces me, and tells me who them people are---the music director, choreographer, producer, and stage director. No pressure.

I hand my music to the accompanist and we confer briefly. I dislike singing without at least run-through with the accompanist, but I'm usually fine, and the accompaniment for this one is pretty simple. I stand back, and we begin. This song really is fun for me to sing, and it sounds great in this hall. As I finish my song, I nod to acknowledge their applause.

"Lovely," says the music director. "Why you're not a bit nervous, are you, Jennifer?" Score! I smile. She takes me up and down a few scales, and asks me to sing a scale ascending to that dratted high B, and hold it as long as I can. I do, and it's passable---not too pretty, but not glass-shattering either. She asks me to try it again, but softer. I manage, but again, it's not as good as it could be. I figure if I lose points anywhere, it'll be here.

Looking over my form, the music director says, "I see you've done a lot of singing!" There's an understatement. I've been pretty active in the music community in this city for about ten years now. It also helps that while I've never been on a dance stage, I have a lot of dancing to put in my resume---I've taken a lot of lessons for fun. I have little theatrical experience, but that's why there's a reading component.

They cannot find Constance's lines, so they ask me to read Aline's instead. I thank my stars that I've read the libretto, and recognize the conversation: it's her dialogue with the tenor about love without class boundaries. Like most of Gilbert's dialogue, it has its funny moments, which is good for me. I might be a ham, but I am not exactly a natural actress. I play it pretty straight, with a bit of the wide-eyed innocence of someone who doesn't know she's being funny.

They thank me and hand me some music to learn in the event that I am called back for further auditions; they also tell me to keep the lines I've just read. They send me back downstairs to wait for the dance portion of the audition. This will be done in groups rather than individually, as they are not looking for dance soloists. We all chat as we wait for the dance instructor; I discover that the girl who looks familiar is a girl from the choir I used to sing with. Yup---small world.

We learn a short dance routine. The instructor tells us that they are trying to gauge how gracefully we move, as well as (to some extent) how quickly we pick up the steps. I feel pretty comfortable with the steps---they're not enormously challenging. An older man in our group is having a hard time learning them, but he's nimble enough. We all go upstairs to perform our little dance. I'm not nervous about this either. Most of the leads do not have demanding dance requirements. Even the chorus probably won't have anything tremendously elaborate.

After this performance, we are all dismissed, and that girl from choir offers me a ride home. The next day, I get a phone call. They want me for call-backs! Wow! I try not to get too excited.

Monday, September 16: call-backs

Monday night, I arrive on time to find most of the other folks who have been called back are already assembled. Judging by the numbers, some casting decisions have already made, and those individuals were not asked for call-backs. I am introduced around; other than my friend's sister, I don't know any of them, although the nimble older man from my dance group is also there. I cannot possibly remember all these names, but the faces will at least look familiar once rehearsals start.

We go upstairs for a dry run of the choral music we'd been given. It's from the Act 1 finale; we're all singing excitedly about strawberry jam, eggs and ham, and buns. (Something tells me this show will be rife with "buns" jokes.) For a small group, perhaps a dozen, we sound quite good. The music director seems to agree, saying, "Here's one number you guys won't need to rehearse much!"

I cannot help noticing that there are three sopranos called back for two parts. I imagine this means they haven't quite made up their minds about one of us. My friend's sister is the no-brainer choice for Aline. She has a beautiful voice; trained enough that she could be doing more than amateur performing, if she chose. The other girl is younger than us; a very pretty blonde.

We are all asked to sing in quartets and trios so the directors can hear us individually, but still assess our blend. The blonde has a nice voice, but right around the high E it acquires a big wobble that I am not too fond of. Her voice is generally more showy than mine, but also more uneven.

Two tenors have been called. One of them is solid, and looks rather like the type I would expect them to cast for Dr. Daly (Constance's lead)---pale, friendly-looking, and on the thin side. The other is a very poor choral singer. He cannot hold his own part when standing next to a soprano. His voice gravitates toward the soprano part---even when the other tenor is next to him! I can tell he won't be cast in a role. He has a good enough voice, but probably hasn't sung in a choral setting before.

After we are done with this stand-up, sit-down exercise, which involves far more waiting than singing, we are dismissed for another directorial conference. Some minutes later, individuals are called upstairs to read for their roles. This begins a rather long wait for us, which is far more entertaining for everybody else, as they all seem to know each other. Periodically, one of the women comes into the room to tell us who is no longer needed for the evening. I go upstairs to read with the alto who is auditioning for Constance's mother. The judges seem to think we are quite cute. More waiting downstairs as various people are called to read. The young blonde soprano is sent home before she even has the chance to read. When we realize this, the other soprano and I look at each other, trying not to get too excited. Finally, the panel is done for the night and we are all sent home.

Less than an hour after I get home, I get a call from the producer. They want me to play Constance! I can't believe it! I was so sure they wouldn't offer a part to a new Savoy person. My stomach flips, and all of a sudden... I'm nervous! I get all the details on rehearsals, and hang up. I quickly call my mother, who is happy for me but doesn't quite get the magnitude of this event, and my voice teacher, who does get it, and is just thrilled to bits. She reminds me that some people audition unsuccessfully year after year, and I feel a brief twinge of anxiety---all of a sudden it's a bigger achievement than I thought. The next day, I email everybody whom I think would be interested in my news, and post excited posts at my net hangouts. The whole week, I am floating on a cloud.

My friends are happy for me, and probably bemused at my euphoria. A net pal says, "Just hoping life doesn't imitate art, cause I'd hate to see you up having unrequited love for a deaf old man with ear horns. In that case, I'd have to come up there and haul you off to the hospital ... LOL!!!! " My father sends me an email with "Congratulations" written over and over in the largest font available.

Wednesday, September 18

Since my first lesson after getting the part is today, I get my score for the show from the library. Aaaacccckkkk! I don't think I can sing three or four high Bs per show, four nights a week! Well, I certainly can't now, but hopefully I can by March. Nothing like necessity... I can sing that high but it ain't pretty. Also a little worried about trying to hold my own singing against the chorus; luckily, except for one number, my singing doubles Aline (the leads form a double quartet, which will be great fun! Love small ensemble singing). Since I am fairly sure that my friend's sister will be cast in her role, I know I can sort of fall back on her very solid high B, but maybe that's not such a good thing.



Monday, September 23

Our first rehearsal... popularly called the "stagger-through". It seems that getting a part is a bigger deal than I had thought, at least in the minds of fellow cast-members, judging from the large number of congratulations I receive from complete strangers. Constance's middle-aged vicar is indeed a middle-aged man--very well-cast, and a much better actor than I am. Constance's elderly notary can't be much over 35 though ... but it's a comic role, and he's such a cut-up that he really suits.

Here's a sample from the song I sing about him:
I know not why I love him so;
It is enchantment, surely!
He's dry and snuffy, deaf and slow,
Ill-tempered, weak and poorly!
He's ugly, and absurdly dressed,
And sixty-seven nearly,
He's everything that I detest,
But if the truth must be confessed,
I love him very dearly!

Notary: I caught that line, but for the rest, I did not hear it clearly.
Chorus: You very deaf old man, she loves you dearly!

Hee hee hee .... Some of us leads sing our music, and some beg to listen to the CD instead. The chorus also muddles through their numbers, excepting one number with an accent that they want us to listen to. We are also running our lines; they sound pretty funny since most of us are seeing them for the first time.

I find that for some reason, I have not been scheduled for ANY lead rehearsals... eek! I need SOME rehearsal time with them--I mean, I can learn the music no problem, but I wouldn't know what they wanted, and I don't have a free (to me) accompanist like the show does.

All the secondary leads except the Sorcerer (the man from my dance group during the first audition!) will be singing in the chorus; this includes me. I like this---if I weren't in the chorus I'd never have the chance to get to know most of the cast. They've got me singing alto in the chorus, though ... not sure that will work. I am sure I can get it all sorted out in the end.


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