Understudying on the Fly

Okay, so I’ll admit, I’ve been a bad blogger for the past year or so. I’ve definitely been distracted. I blame my boyfriend. I also blame Star Wars…just cuz. And having a cute dog…Toby is cute

Essentially, I can’t be a good blogger when I’m distracted by good things around me.

Although, there’s much to talk about. So here I sit, drinking my freshly ground and brewed vanilla-coconut coffee, burning a vanilla-peppermint candle, and my vanilla-colored dog snuggled on my running pants behind me, forcing myself to focus and write.

So, first off, 2013 ended pretty busy after most of a year going by with nothing. I played Christine Colgate in the ARTS production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels which was followed by Bruce Kimmel’s Pure Imagination musical review and then got cast in Musical Theatre West’s production of The Music Man.

But this is the story of how I ended up doing Pure Imagination.

So I got a Facebook message from Karen, someone who I worked with my first year in California and hadn’t seen since, and she asked me if I could cover one of the sopranos in Bruce Kimmel’s show Pure Imagination for Pacific Resident Theatre. Karen thought of me through another girl named Jen, who I hadn’t seen in four years either. A truly small world, the acting biz is. The show was a musical review of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse songs, so I knew I could handle the style.

I had two full weeks of memorizing 70 pages of music and movement and one rough rehearsal. No problem, right? I’m a fast memorizer. And Newley & Bricusse songs, let me TELL you, are extremely wordy. I mean, lyrics that don’t repeat themselves…as in you can’t just fall back and relax into the “chorus” of the song…because there ISN’T one. Very Stephen Sondheim-esque. Not to mention one of the most stressful songs was “Typically English” where I had to switch from English to German to Russian to American and back to English again, fast and furious-like with words that a tongue could easily trip and fall on. The kind of song where IF you did mess up, there would be no time to stop and fix and cover or fake. You would just have to mumble your way until you grabbed back on. A very fun song. Two weeks of learning and one rough rehearsal made for a very nerve-wracking song.

But was I gonna let anyone know how nervous I was? HELL no. I said yes to this understudying experience and I wasn’t going to even blink a nervous glint!

But oh was I…oh man was I.

Ever since I had a nightmare audition come true, where I started singing a song I had had memorized since 4th grade, but somehow horribly forgot all the words to, I’ve been shakily uncertain of my brain memory capacity.

So, I guess you could say this show was my ticket to personal redemption. If I can remember ALL of this, I can fly again so to speak.

I had my rehearsal, the Tuesday before my Thursday opening performance. I had slip ups and mild mistakes, but that was okay. I wanted to go blank on this day. If there was ever a mess up, it needed to be during rehearsal.

I should also mention that I’m a really bad perfectionist. The kind that will rip myself apart before anyone has the blinking chance to. Like the it’s okay you don’t need to tell me that sucked…I already know it…trying to fix now… While the other person says I didn’t realize it did…oh wait, maybe that one part And I go YEAH I KNOW…I TOLD YOU!

Etc.

So Thursday comes around and I have a callback for The Music Man which I can’t get to because I have to be at the theater for Pure Imagination and I’m bummed because it was my FIRST callback for a production company that I’d been trying to get into for 4 years. How I finagled my callback situation is another bloggery to be told…

I’m at the theater quickly going through every song and movement in my head an hour before “curtain.” This was a make it or break situation. If you mess up you die moment. There’s no turning back. You can’t cry to mommy. Can’t run and hide behind the curtains. This is a true Understudy feeling and my first Understudy experience. I’ve had people understudy ME before, and now I get how they’ve felt.

Thank God everyone I was working with was super nice and supporting. Even the soprano I was covering for had left me an encouraging little note on the dressing table which made me feel a little better. Nobody knew, mind you, just HOW sick to my stomach I was. I was either going to throw up or shat my pants…either way, I was bad-gassy. Being that I’ve never been nervous before a performance, ‘twas a new feeling indeed.

Then it was time.

Stage Manager announces “places,” lights go out, we move to our positions on stage, lights go up and the singing begins.

My brain had never been more aware of every movement and key change and lyric and tempo and emotional expression I think ever in my life. There were times where it felt like my legs were as stiff as a robot. I really hoped that I was the only one that noticed that. I kept telling myself, remember or die, remember or die. I would look out into the audience, but I didn’t see anything except the script in my head. It was “Typically English” time, and I prayed to God that I could somehow remember everything, at the same time the memory of my nightmare audition pushing itself into my head trying to sabotage my courage. Amazingly I did remember, without one stumble or stutter. I swear that’s a miracle in of itself. And then the next song and the next came and went without a fumble. Before I knew it, the show was over, I was bowing, smiling, and thanking God that I lived through it all.

Number 1, my boyfriend, took me out for drinks that night. I felt so elated I could barely have one. I think I continued to shake all night…considering the amount of energy I just utilized to survive the show.

It was one of those experiences that was awesome…but you wouldn’t want to do again. Cuz I don’t know if I COULD do it again. I’m still amazed that I lived through it. I’m writing this shaking inside just thinking about it.

I think it’s a testament to the human brain. Man, the things it can do when you put your mind to it…

Anyhow, you actors who understudy all the time…my hat’s off to you!

To see what Bruce Kimmel thought of all this, follow this link here http://christannarowader.com/news/

Me singing Love Has the Longest Memory

Sami and I had an awesome duet in the show called "Where Would You Be Without Me"

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~ by Christanna Rowader on January 24, 2014.

One Response to “Understudying on the Fly”

  1. It was a great show and you were amazing in it!!!

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