Musical Theatre: A Director's Passion
My Introduction to Musical Theatre
I have loved musical theatre since I was a little girl.
I remember my first exposure to theatre at a church function. It was simple really. Many of the church members were performing various numbers from different musicals. My number was “Hello Dolly”.
I didn’t sing it because I was only 4. However, my role was extremely important.
My mother dressed me up in this frilly pink dress with a pink parasol and a big pink hat. (Did I mention my mother loved pink on me? Ha… you should have seen my room for the first 12 years of my life.. another story, another time.)
Anyhow, the audience was to sing the entire song of “Hello Dolly” as I strutted back and forth on the stage twirling my parasol over my shoulder. I had to remember two things: to smile and to twirl! There I was, with mother in the wings yelling “Smile baby! TWIRL Baby!” I was magnificent! I was also hooked! This birth of a monster followed me throughout the next fifteen years of my life as I became very involved with musical theatre in high school and within the community.
Working it, Directing it, Loving it
While living in Hawaii, I developed my skills in all aspects of the theatre, both on stage as an actress and behind the scenes as prop manager, make up specialist, scene and stage tech, lighting tech, and costuming. Becoming a director was and still is the highlight of my career. I was able to spread my wings a little more when I moved to New York and directed a couple of shows. Then in 2002 I made my way back to California where my directing took off.
Getting yourself involved with a community playhouse or theatre group is the best way to expand your horizon as an actor, stage hand and/or director. I was commissioned as musical director for the show “Copacabana” which opened the doors to direct shows. It was an amazing show with wonderful talented actors. Many from that production would go on to follow me and act in my future shows.
Ever since I had the opportunity to direct, I would be blessed with the most talented people both on the stage and behind.
I love directing community theatre because it allows me to open doors for so many people who have always wanted to act or participate in a production, but were afraid to audition.
With my shows, I never turn anyone away. There is always a place for someone. Everyone who has ever worked with me knows that there are no egos, no stars, no leads, only players. I request that everyone wear black at rehearsals so no one stands out. And, the most important thing I always instill in my actors and crew is that without those behind the scenes, there would be no show. I always had the upmost respect with my company.
Spreading His Wings
Every show I have directed brings a profound experience to my book of memoirs. I started this book several years ago as I discovered how much I gained from those whom I'd meet and work with along the way.
One of my most memorable shows I produced and directed was Rogers and Hammerstein’s, “South Pacific.” With a cast and crew of sixty-eight, this award winning show would sell out to audiences for nine performances.
One week before auditions I was approached by a young woman who was a guidance counselor at a local boy’s reform school. This school was for young men who would manage to get themselves into trouble due to the lack of discipline, friendship, families, or just plain someone who didn’t care.
She told me of a young boy who was in one of her groups who loved to sing and act and showed interest in auditioning for my show. She went on to explain that she would be at all the rehearsals to monitor him and to make sure he wouldn’t take off.
Of course, I was a little apprehensive, but as I stated earlier, “I never turn anyone away.” I told her to bring him to auditions and tell him to have a song prepared a acapella and be ready to do a cold reading.
The night of auditions came and approximately fifty-five people showed up.
Pictures were taken; audition forms were passed out, filled out, and handed back in. I then began to divide everyone into five groups of ten. One group was all men who were potential sailors. There they were, all lined up. Short, tall, fat, thin, hairy, bald, black, white, old and young. It was a great variety and I was so excited. As I began the cold readings, I noticed a very tall, handsome, young African American boy sitting behind, okay, “hiding” behind the other men. The first group of five men was called up to do the first reading. They did a great job and I was very excited to see what else I was going to hear. The next group of five came up and Demar was in this group. The moment I saw his face, I could see fear and sweat take over. I asked them all to take off their shirts. Now, Demar was the only one that didn’t show quite as much fear. HE was in shape! The others?.....well….not so much. It was important for me to take the focus off Demar so that he felt like any other guy in that room!
During the reading, I quickly discovered that Demar was illiterate. He had the reading ability of a second grader. I quickly turned to a friend of mine who was cast as my “Stewpot” to help him with his lines. Ken quickly obeyed and took Demar under his wing for the remainder of the show.
Demar had a so-so audition due to his nervousness. However, I saw something in Demar and I knew in my heart and gut he would become a great asset to the show.
Demar was cast as one of my sailors. I took liberty of license and created a few lines for Demar to have in the show. Ken worked with his blocking and memorization of lines. Steve, who was cast as my “Billis” would teach Demar the dance steps. When they weren’t rehearsing, they would sit on the wings or in the green room and tell jokes or talk about things that interest Demar.
Six weeks went by and I noticed a change in Demar during “Hell Week.” He was no longer sitting behind the others, his lines were perfect. In fact, he had to help Ken and Steve out with their lines a few times. His dance steps were rhythmic and this young man was “Smiling.”
On opening night, Demar came to me and shook my hand then gave me the warmest hug and with a tear in his eye, he said, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me this opportunity. I want you to know that I will be taking a reading course so I can attend college next year. Thank you for believing in me.”
My heart melted and I knew I (we) had touched a young life and gave him hope. To this day, he is living in Los Angeles and continues to perform in community theatre.