Time: August 12, 2013
Place: Neighborhood Theatre Group
Role: Dwarf
Director: Faith Blevins
My Reflections


“What’s wrong with Narnia?!”

More or less, that was the email I got from the director. You see, I had posted some less-than-enthusiastic comments about Narnia once I heard it was the chosen musical. Now, they were not negative things, mind you, but I myself wasn’t too keen on the particular choice for the summer of 2013 at 3 Crosses. I reckon that I had figured it was going to be Les Mis or something along those lines, so Narnia didn’t have me falling out of my chair when I received the audition announcement.

And forsooth, I passed on the auditions. To be frank, my recollection of Narnia was that it really didn’t have many adult male roles anyway. Thus, there wouldn’t really be any parts to audition for in the first place. Case closed. Email filed away. Thoughts elsewhere.

And of course our story changes there.

A few weeks after auditions, I received an email saying the Dwarf actor had to exit the production (stage left perhaps?), and therefore the part needed filling. Dwarf? A dwarf, you say? Okay, that’s a little off the beaten path for me. However, I acquiesced. Let’s see where this little path to Narnia leads.

It led to…rehearsals, but not very many of them. That’s the bonus (caveat?) of doing shows at 3 Crosses–very few rehearsals. It also makes it more challenging. In the end, you have to have things ready to go. You actually have to study and memorize lines quickly. There’s not as much time to goof around. With Prince of Egypt, I could goof around. The script was half mine!

A dwarf, though. How exactly does someone become a dwarf?

As they are represented heavily in fantasy, I figured I’d base my guy off of that. I’m not short (hold the comments please, 5’8 is AVERAGE!), so that was a bit of an issue, but in the right stance, that could be addressed. I also ordered a dwarf nose off the internet. Yup. They sell them. They sell everything if you look hard enough. (You can even find happiness, but it’s not cheap. You’ll need money.)

When my nose came in the mail (a sentence rarely typed by mankind), I was quite pleased with it. I found it to work well when the photo night came. Being worried about it becoming too worn out, I even ordered a second one. It was nice to have a spare nose. Because one just never knows (nose).

Photo night was a really cool time. I don’t think we even rehearsed that night. In the theatre, the performances are certainly “the thing,” but for me, one of my favorite parts is tech week. For those in theatre, that’s an odd thing, I know, since it’s usually hectic and not even called tech week, but another more menacing name. But I like it because it allows for a great deal of fun without that much stress. Sure, you want to get it 100% right, but if it’s not, no audience will witness the chaos of forgetting three pages of lines. (For the record, I’ve never forgotten more than two.) So the show takes place, actors get to play, but the atmosphere is relaxed–aside from a director and/or music director going wild because a few cues are missed or added.

In the beginning (hah, you thought of Eden, right?) , I wanted to do a fun voice for the Dwarf, perhaps a Scottish or Irish accent. That changed when it was too hard to understand the lines, and the lines are not ones people already know by heart (see The Sound of Music). I guess it’s natural. Accents can be tough to understand–even it one’s native language. I was recently watching an Irish movie and nearly had to turn on subtitles to figure out what was taking place. Thus, the accented voice became the gravely voice. I could live with that.

I also had to ensure I wasn’t damaging vocal chords. I suppose when you’re 15 you don’t worry about such crazy things as protecting the voice, but fast forward in time, and you become a little more protective of such things. I did know a lady who lost most of her voice permanently and thought it was by overtaxing it during a time when it was already stressed. Certainly, it could have been genetics or other reasons, but I never forgot that story she told me. Those things we call “senses” — you know, eyes, ears, and such? Yeah, need to try and make them last a lifetimes. Careful, I therefore be. (Yoda? Maybe?)

For my costume, I guess there were a few ideas floating around from simple to complex. I voted for the elaborate dwarf prototype, with a long beard and plenty of hair. Luckily, that became the final product and it looked pretty darn good. I also ordered a fancy battle axe online. The Dwarf just needed an axe to be more menacing and the black plastic little trinket they showed to me at my first rehearsal had me running for the internet. True to form, I eventually ordered a second axe, fearing the first one might break. Yeah, I tend to be extra careful about these things. Note that I consider that to be prudence, not paranoia. There’s a difference, people!

As usual, it was a true joy to watch the sets go up. Each week, a new set piece would be put into action, and they were spectacular to observe. And like normal, I didn’t get to ever see the final product live since I was onstage at that time, but the photos suggested they were outstanding.

Speaking of photos, that’s where things get a little testy. I LOVE taking photos. I mean, it’s a great joy sharing them with others and helping promote the oeuvre d’art. But this time, the photo taking and posting were a lot more locked down. I even received an email asking me to take down a photo of a rehearsal in action. What?! Seriously? Er, okay. I agreed, as I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or fur. In a show with many animals, you have to be careful about such things.

Still, it was an odd rule, especially since we had been asked to do everything possible to promote Narnia. And photos just get attention so much better than regular text. On Facebook, you can post 12 messages a day for a month about a show, and then suddenly when you post just one photo, a bunch of responses come in, asking, “What show? Where? What’s that photo? I want to come!” That just doesn’t happen with texts. Photos. Get. Attention.

So was the photo rule just a White Witch nonsensical demand? No, I believe there were a few reasons. For starters, one is always concerned about copyrights, although it’s usually video that is the real problem. And if the posted photo is a photo and not a video, then that’s that. If theatre rights places start getting antsy over regular photos, then theatre is truly coming to an end.

Another reason may be more because photos may give away the story, although with Narnia, we all already know the general idea and outcome.

So it may have something to do with spoiling an artist’s work before he’s ready to show it off. If someone sees a painting too soon, he may think, “Hey! That’s terrible. It’s nothing more than just pencil lines and no paint at all!” Silly observer, the paint was still to come. That said, a lot of people are not daft and do understand that it’s a work in progress. But okay, yes, we don’t want to spoil things or suggest it’s not as polished as it’s going to be, and that is a fair request.

All that aside, if it’s not publicized and no one is aware the show is even taking place at all, then it’s a moot point. Therein lies the dilemma. Luckily, we were offered the chance to download free (and very professional photos) of the show, but those do come late in the process, and it’s hard for many friends and even family to pencil in the event at that late date. Personally, I side with allowing the photos to be taken by all, and shared accordingly. Plus, it’s so nice to have candids and impromptu shots of just fun and silly things that occur. For me, those pros outweigh the cons.

Nevertheless, in the end, it’s not my call. I agreed to policy. Actors agree to the guidelines. If one can’t do that, don’t do theatre. Or television, or heck, everything else.

As far as “challenges” go, they were light. Singing and dancing to “Turkish Delight” was not easy. Since I had the beard covering my face, it made the process of my voice reaching the mic a tad tough, although I only had the opening verse. And on the flip side, I could cut back on singing during the ensemble parts to avoid getting overworked. And no one would ever know … er, well, um. Yes, the crazy dancing in that number was a little insane. Actually, the cast had normal dancing with a good deal of swing (a workout in itself). For me, the director gave me some carte blanche to go a little wild and just do whatever the spirit dictated. It’s pretty much what usually happens sooner or later in each production I do there, so I guess this time, she just thought, “You know what, just go do what you’re eventually going to end up doing anyway.” Yay! But, this was actually a bit tougher than it sounds. Usually, I only get an 8-count or two for that, but to fill a whole song? I gave it a shot and tried to cover a plethora of dance moves. Not sure if it worked, but I was too worn out to care. My goal was to include some Michael Jackson, Elvis, Break Dance, 70’s Disco, Gangum…style? (Can’t spell that) and anything else that came to mind. Not sure I succeeded but I did try my best. Or almost my best.

Another challenge was making the transition from Train Station Warden to the Dwarf in time. It seemed like enough time in rehearsals, but once tech week came, it was apparent that the allotted time was pretty tight. It was the heart-attack inducing Wizard of Oz all over again. And it made me question why I didn’t try to get out of the Warden role earlier. I can see the reason it’s there–to tie the real life people to the fantasy characters, but the tradeoff is tough. And not just for me, but for several others as well. In the end, I suppose it just must be so. Still, as an audience member, know that those quick transitions take years off an actor’s life. I now expect the White Witch to live to about 46. Maybe 47 if she stays healthy and avoid Crack Cookies.

The crowds/audiences were great. I couldn’t tell if the comic bits were working too well, because, well, I had two layers of fur covering my ears. It also made it tough to hear cues sometimes.

My favorite part was the sleigh fixing scene. Our director simply said, “Make up some funny thigns to do,” and we were off. Together, I think we figured out a lot of humorous moments, although maybe it was too much, because we were later told to ease off the comedy later in the number. Easier said than done at that point. Hard to turn if off once the juices are flowing.

We had some relaxed and memorable moments as well. There’s place on the second floor which is usually considered the Green Room. It’s the music rehearsal space and big enough for most of the cast to hang out when not onstage. But there’s another fun area, and that’s the costume/makeup room downstairs. Inside there, you’ll usually find humorous conversations going on, or a madhouse of people racing to apply makeup, or get help attaching a giraffe’s head. Sometimes, you’ll see two actors engaged in a shoving war, akin to two mountain goats attempting to demonstrate prowess and might to all others in the area, despite numerous shouts of, “Hey, stop! You’re gonna get hurt!” But that’s testosterone. One risks injury for the glory. Yup. That’s what it’s all about: King of the mountain.

And heaven forbid if the other goat ever wins one particular match. He’ll rub it in for years to come.

Look, I was sick that day! Okay, sick!

I also take full credit for the split-unified Kayla. We had/have two Kayla’s and each was going to miss a weekend, but I figured together they would equate to one working and dancing Kayla, and encouraged both to audition (which, granted, I’m sure they would have done anyway, but don’t spoil my accolades). So yeah, in the end, many had no idea that we had the Kayla twins subbing out and splitting the role. Maybe even their dance partner had no idea.

I was even confused on more than one rehearsal.

“Hey, where’s? Why is she not? Um, how come…OHHH, yeah, that’s right.”

It’s hard to recall if anything big went awry (the bane of waiting too long to write these commentaries). Maybe if I can’t think of anything, then nothing big happened. I did forget my whip the final show, which was all too similar to me forgetting to place my “bash his head in” rock during Children of Eden. On second thought, I didn’t actually forget my whip, I had it on my person. I forgot to undo the velcro which keeps it in place. I did that every night before the scene started. When the scene began, it was too late then because I could not do it with my gloves on. And on the last night, I was stuck. The whip stayed on my belt. It wasn’t a huge problem, but a little frustrating. Those gloves were the bane of the Dwarf’s existence. During photo night, I used gardening gloves, which I though looked fine, but sure enough, more than one person pointed that out and said, “How come the Dwarf is wearing gardening gloves?” I mean, really? I garden all the time and even I cannot identify gardening gloves from fireman’s gloves (the final costume product). Get a life, people. Obsess about gardening attire less, and garden more!

Seriously, grow some berries. They’re such a nice treat in summer.

Oh yeah, regarding mistakes, how could I forget. I did flub a bit of my Turkish Delight lyrics on opening night, which was crazy considering how much I practiced beforehand. I doubt the audience knew, but I’m guessing the cast members had a good idea that things were a little amiss. I was even thinking to myself, “Good grief! How are you needing to improv through a song you just worked on five minutes ago?” (Yeah, a lot travels through the brain in times of “crisis.”) Henceforth, things went smoothly. But that was a wakeup call–to what I don’t know. I mean, one can only practice so much. Chris Issak has a song entitled, “Things Go Wrong,” and it’s a good reminder. You can practice nonstop and hope for the best, but sooner or later, we all need to accept that on occasion, like it or not, things will go wrong. Nature of live theatre.

Actually, I hate to say “wrong.” I often just say, “Things go differently than originally planned.” And in in the end, if the same story and message is getting across accordingly, then why fret about it? Viva la difference! Where we’re going, we don’t need no scripts!

In the end, I had a great time and am glad to have done the production. It was nice to have a change in the type of role I usually play. Would I repeat the role? Probably not. It was fun, like I said, but it’s more of something to do once, and let it go at that. I did keep the nose, but gave away the axe(s). Why the nose? I dunno. Hard to say. I guess I just assume that sooner or later, another production will come along where I need to be in disguise or look drastically different than my normal myself. I mean, really, it could happen… (wait for it)…

Who nose?

Next: It’s gonna rain … again.