Thursday, June 18, 2009

On the Road: Theatre Thursday

Before I had a child, I did quite lot of children's theatre. Now that I have a child it seems I do almost exclusively plays that are inappropriate for kids. It seems backwards, but I did a lot of touring to schools with shows... and the daytime schedule isn't friendly to mothers. There also hasn't been much of this type of theatre in the places I've lived since The May Queen was born.

Less than a year out of college I got my first honest to goodness, regular paycheck acting job. It was a show that toured to middle schools and touted the evils of cigarettes. I played the oddball friend to the lead character... the bad influence girl who smoked and dropped out of track.
the bad girl with the cigarettes in her smiley face backpack. beware
I ended up doing two tours of this show, and have many memories of early morning call times as 7 of us (6 actors and one stage manager) piled into the large white van and drove off to cafetoriums throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Much talking, laughing, game playing and crossword puzzle solving happened in that van, but we all quickly learned the truth behind our stage manager's sage advice: van stories never translate to the uninitiated. Oh, we tried. We'd go home and regale our loved ones and roommates with the hilarity that ensued in the van that day...the bad directions from the school that got us lost, or the way we'd count the stoplights like the count from Sesame Street or the ransom note we had left for the stage manager's Xmen toy. If we were lucky we'd get a polite smile and a nod. Usually we got a blank stare. So we learned to keep the van stories to ourselves.

(I have van pictures, but I can't share them.
What happens in the van, stays in the van)
When we arrived at our destination we'd haul the set, lights and sound equipment out of the back of the van. The theatre prided itself in being professional, and we came with the stuff to prove it. We each had our job (mine was lights) and once everything was inside we set to task setting up. We could load in, set up and get ready to perform in less than an hour. We had to be flexible, because each stage was different. Sometimes the stage would be too small and we'd have to adjust and use less of the set. It was great practice in making it work.
One of the smallest stages we ever performed on. To get to this room we had to haul everything up 2 flights of stairs. We were grateful that everything wouldn't fit and therefore could stay in the parking lot! Notice that I am holding a blue Wolverine figure... I believe he had been returned by his kidnappers in exchange for some Dunkin' Donuts.

I went on to do yet another show with them, a show for elementary students that centered around Native American folklore. I played the mischievous Coyote. At one show at a small private school we performed on a raked (slanted) stage. We set up telegraphing poles to hang the backdrops from, and then we had this pulley system that went over the backdrops to raise and lower a pair of eyeballs (just go with it...) from a circular set piece. When the actor behind the scenes pulled the rope at the appointed time it threw off the delicate balance of the whole thing, and the set fell onto the two of us on stage, revealing the actor backstage frozen in a fabulous pose of arms stretched out in a futile gesture, eyes wide. There was nothing to do but stop the show and enlist the help of some teachers to get it back up and functional. Then we started again.
The eyeballs!!
We did one, two or sometimes three shows a day... often at two different schools. They were long exhausting days of physical labor and thinking on our feet. And, of course, performing.

I loved it.


Louise said...

How very fun! And I think it is appropriate that you did things for children then and not now. In my world, once you have children, there is ENOUGH to do with children--them personally, school volunteering, etc., that I for one would like the break to do something that has nothing to do with them. (I love my children. I just don't want to spend every second of my life in a child's world.)

Kat said...

Ah the good ole days. It sounds heavenly. Just traveling around doing what you love. Awesome. :)

Denguy said...

Hey, bad girls are so hot!

kaye said...

what fun, I like your theater thursday's

flutter said...

the eyeballs!

Woman in a Window said...

This reminds me of when I was teaching preschool and we had an acting group come in during the summer. They were so talented. About five or six of them. So close to each other. A wild bunch. I could feel their energy.

alejna said...

I meant to leave a comment before--I really enjoyed reading this. What great memories.

I'm particularly amused by the untranslatable van stories.