Week 4 – A New Home

Tuesday – Friday

This week consists of notes sessions from 10am, then a full run of the show at 11:30 every day, lunch and more notes about that run in the afternoon. We are refining our roles and fine-tuning the show, trying out different approaches to sections of dialogue and locking in the best version of the production. We can all feel the show shifting and shaping underneath us – incredibly exciting!

As always, there were some fabulous highlights:

Our brilliant stage manager Ryan Tate has bestowed upon the nuns our official nickname, based on the fact that the very first number we sing is titled Dixit Dominus. Mother Abbess and her Abbettes we are no more – I present to you The Dixit Chicks. We need T-shirts and a tour bus!

Our gorgeous resident director Tanya Mitford (who also happens to be Gavin’s sister – fabulousness seems to run in the family!) gives me a note about the possibility that Mother Abbess could use more active arm gestures as she walks downstage in the wedding scene’s Alleluia section, describing it as “Mother Abbess can really get jiggy with it.” Sooooooo many possibilities, as I see a Sister Act-esque jazz/tap number unfold in my head.

One of our vocal warm-ups with our wonderful pianist Matthew Carey is a Mozart tune (tricky enough) with the following words:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Had a lovely little go-cart

He took it out without a word

And rode it all around Salzburg

But as he hurtled down the Strasse

His papa Leopold came after

He said “My boy, get off that toy.

Go home and write a symphony or two!”

It’s hilarious to sing, and we congratulate ourselves on mastering it, only to be told that there’s a second verse coming later … and then the possibility of singing it in rounds!

The named nuns have an early morning photo shoot, which we’re told will be waist-up in costume, so shoes don’t matter. I wear my standard silver glitter slip-ons, and am immediately dubbed Disco Nun by our cheeky wardrobe mistress Claire, who promptly confiscates the offending items when we find out that our feet will indeed be in the photo. I thought they’d add a touch of sass, but it was not to be.

I couldn’t figure out why my line “It’s not about your missing Vespers, Maria.” was eliciting snickers from a certain group of boys in the room … until they told me that they thought it sounded like Maria had been losing her motorbikes left, right and centre. This escalated into a scenario where Maria and the nuns had a chop-shop out the back of the abbey where they conducted dodgy upgrades on stolen bikes. This in turn seemed to tie in with the Sound of Music movie, where the nuns seemed to have the uncanny ability to sabotage the enemies’ cars. Coincidence? We think not!

I still cry every time the kids sing Sound of Music and hug their dad – they all play it so beautifully, and Cameron is more heartbreaking every time. DJ and I always glance across the rehearsal room and nod to each other as we dab our sooky, weeping eyes. Cam and Marina have been known to well up at this point too – bring your tissues, folks!

During the party scene, there is a very tense moment where Baron Elberfeld (Colin Dean) yells “I am not a German. I’m an Austrian!” when confronted with the possible Nazi Anschluss, causing an argument to ensue with Herr Zeller (Ant Harkin). On this day, however, he shouted “I am not an Austrian. I’m a German!”, causing Herr Zeller to grin and say “Oh, OK, then. Our work here is done. Come along then.”, and the whole cast to dissolve into hysterics.

As I emerge from Central Station tunnel on Thursday morning, I am struck with the hugest wave of gratitude that I am doing what I love for a living and that I am fortunate enough to be a part of this incredibly special show. The rush of feeling is so tangible that I just have to stop for a second and take it in. What a lucky life I have!

During the run on Thursday, the emotion takes a hold of me and I get very weepy during the Act 1 finale. The production and music teams have a long chat with me and I know that they’re completely right – I need to rein that in, because if I’m affected too deeply, the audience won’t be (they say it much more subtly than this!). It’s self-indulgent and not right for the character – the Mother Abbess has to be the strong one, guiding a frightened Maria to the right path and her true destiny. She is strong and wise and noble and magnificent. She is not weak or weepy, at least not in front of the woman she is trying to inspire to have strength. This is a huge challenge for me, as I find the words and inspiration inherent to the scene and song incredibly moving, so I have to find a way to act around that and keep my character, rather than letting my own personality slip through the cracks and be affected by it. I am reminded of something that Gale Edwards drummed into me (and I hear her voice often in my head when I’m creating roles): “I can still see Jacqui up there!!! We can’t see that! You have to get rid of her and let us see the character. Always the character.” She’s completely right. I know that part of my over-emotional state is due to being up all night with a sick toddler (The words no mother wants to hear: “Mummy, my bottom is squirting.”), but this will no doubt happen during performance, so I have to sort it out. I chat to my best friend Kanen Breen when I get home – he is the finest actor I know, an innately gifted artist whose creativity is legend. He gives me brilliant advice and I spend the evening wrapping my mind around that as I cuddle my little munchkin on the couch. I also chat on the phone with my beautifully generous friend and colleague, Dominica Matthews, whose advice is characteristically honest and right on the mark, and helps beyond measure. For the rest of the night, I look deeply into my own performance methods and processes (in between Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig and The Chipmunks – my little one rarely goes to sleep before 11pm) and sift through ideas of how I can achieve what I know I must to make the character true. I love/hate these times, where you come to a major crossroad in your performance and have to dig deep to discover how to take the right road. These processes are horrible and hideous and confronting, but also exhilarating and liberating as you let go of certain performance methods that weren’t working well enough and find something better. It’s terrifying and character building – part of what I love about this career is that you are always learning and refining and listening and building and growing as an artist. I’ve always loved a challenge!

We do our final studio run the next day and I steel myself from the very start. There are no tears – well, not until the final note of Act 1 – and the reaction is instantaneous. The scene is better. The song is better. The show will be better for it. I owe you a huge debt of gratitude, Gavin, Peter and Luke, for knowing that I could do better and not accepting any less. I thank you beyond words, Kane and Minnie, for your endless support and for helping me find my way.

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Up close and personal with Mother Abbess’ poster outside the theatre.

Saturday 5/12

First day in the Capitol Theatre.

I arrived at stage door to find Johanna Allen and Katie McKee, who insisted on taking me around to see my poster outside the theatre. Friends had sent me photos of it, but this was the first time I’d ever seen it in reality, and it was overwhelming to see my giant mug up there surrounded by a gold frame. It was like a dream and I was overcome by so many emotions – I wished I could go back in time to tell my younger self that one day this would happen (I also wish I could tell my teenage self that one day Cameron Daddo would be buying me a latte, but that’s another story!). I was incredibly excited and proud, but also felt a huge sense of responsibility towards this show and the people in it. The seasoned music theatre pros headed to the supermarket for provisions, and I spent the rest of the day wishing that I had – clever move!

Heading into to the theatre, I found that I was sharing my dressing room with living legend Lorraine Bayley (in a room recently vacated by living legend of another genre Trevor Ashley). What an honour, and what fun it’s going to be to spend time with this wonderful woman and share her incredible stories. The things she says in normal conversation – with no trace of ego or affectation – are extraordinary: “I wish I had a good photo of Sammy Davis Jnr handing me my Logie!”

Within this first day I had learned that, despite appearances, Lorraine is not to be messed with – she is a lethal weapon with two certificates in self-defence and can toss a six-foot man over her shoulder with ease. I intend to behave myself VERY well in our dressing room! I did ask if she’d bring her Logie in for me to pose with wishfully, and she asked which one, as she has three, plus a swag of other awards won over her illustrious career. I am in awe of this incredible woman, who challenges herself to always learn something new – banjo, self defence, piano accordion, tap dancing (from Tibor Rudas at The Tivoli), tennis (she very quickly became a master of the game and heads off to play in the World Masters Games next year). What an inspiration!

The very first thing taking pride of place on my dressing room table at Capitol Theatre is a vintage retro crucifix with a history.

My singing hero growing up in Ballarat was Janet Lowe, who had the most glorious voice I’d ever heard and sang all of the Climb Every Mountain/You’ll Never Walk Alone roles. I idolised her. We eventually worked together, and she was just as delightful in person as she was in voice.

When I got the Sound Of Music role, I received a package containing this crucifix and a note from Janet saying that this was the crucifix she wore around her neck in her first ever production of Sound of Music back in the 50’s (they couldn’t find a jewellery cross large enough to be seen clearly on stage, so she nabbed this in an op shop) and she was now passing it on to me for good luck.

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First day in the theatre – an excited Jacqui, Cameron and Lorraine outside The Capitol.

I am utterly honoured, and it will have pride of place on my dressing room during this tour – it’ll be the first thing packed in my suitcase every time!

The funny finale to Janet’s story was that she found the crucifix very late in rehearsals and it had its first outing on stage. What nobody had realized was that the Jesus on the cross was glow-in-the-dark, so when the snap blackout happened after Climb Ev’ry Mountain, the only thing to be seen on stage was an eerie, green, glowing, floating Jesus.

We tech the show today from 1-10:30pm. Tech weeks are notoriously slow and excruciating, and this is no different. I’m on quite a bit on the first day, as I’m in the first few scenes, but progress is not fast and it’s disheartening and exhausting to step back from a show we’ve run as a whole so many times, to pull apart scenes and pin them down technically. Lighting is set, positions on stage are nailed down, costumes and sound and props and spacings are tweaked, entrances and exits are re-evaluated now that we’re in the theatre space. It is overwhelming, but incredibly exciting.

As I leave the theatre, Lorraine’s parting piece of advice on hearing that I need to walk through a park to the station is: “Hold your keys between your fingers, jam them in the throat of anyone who comes near you, then kick them hard where it hurts and run away.” I told you – she is awesome!

Sunday 6/12

More teching. Anyone who’s ever done tech rehearsals knows what this entails. The slow, steady work continues as the cast reset positions, change entrances and exits, dodge moving furniture and flying pieces of set that have never been there before, negotiate the staircase (which was just drawn out in tape in the rehearsal room, but is now a real set of steps, demanding a whole new slew of negotiations with costumes, shoes, hem lengths and cautious downward glances.

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Sharing a dressing room with a living legend!

The set is beautiful. The costumes are gorgeous. My costume comes with its own challenges. The nuns all wear a wimple (a tight, white head covering which covers all of your hair and ears), with a heavy veil over that. All of this has a significant impact on our ability to hear, and also affects our sight-lines to the audience (the veils block our faces if we stand side-on, so we all have to angle out a little more that we did in rehearsals), so it takes a while for us all to readjust. Noises are all duller, music and dialogue from other characters harder to hear. We also have to mentally stay one step ahead to remember to angle out more and to hit the new positions set for us on stage for lighting cues and balance. It’s a brain-full of new information. I also have the disadvantage of having a tiny head. TINY. I famously have the smallest head in the opera company. Thus, my veil keeps sliding off and we will have to experiment with tape and buttons and Velcro (and possibly a nail gun if it comes to that) in the next few days so that we don’t have a Mother Abbess with a wonky, slipped veil (not the best, or most dignified, look).

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My very special retro crucifix with a history!

It’s a tough, long slog, but it’s on days like these (when you know there’s another week of them to come) that you are incredibly grateful for this beautiful cast and crew. There is not a cross word. There are no arguments. Everyone is respectful of their colleagues and knows that we’re all in this together, so we all try to help each other out and the atmosphere is incredibly supportive and positive. We can all feel it – not long to go now!

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