Week 3 – I Love It When A Show Comes Together!

Monday-Wednesday

For the first few days of this week, we pull each scene apart, musically and dramatically, until every moment feels as natural and organic and true to our characters as possible.

There are some memorable highlights:

The kids proudly announce the names of each of their groups, which they made up themselves. The blue, purple and green groups have now become the Best Blue Bilbies, the Perfect Purple Parrots and the Great Green Gekkos. Gorgeous.

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Mother Abbess Climbing Ev’ry Mountain for the lighting of the Martin Place Christmas tree.

During the pre-wedding scene, the ‘named nuns’ are admiring Maria and putting on her veil, when she asks for permission to look at herself in a mirror (which she has conveniently brought in her suitcase). Sister Berthe (Dominica Matthews) is meant to look in the suitcase and produce the mirror, but our stand-in rehearsal suitcase is a sports bag full of gaffer tape. The nuns burst out laughing as Dom hauls out a roll of gaffer and inquires as to whether there might be a pair of pliers in there somewhere as well, and we all wonder just what exactly Maria has planned for her honeymoon!

Amy Lehpamer has the most immaculate pitch of any singer I have ever worked with. She is smack bang in the middle of the note. Every. Single. Time. It’s uncanny and I suspect she may have sold her soul to the devil of intonation.

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The Tree Lighting team. Amy, Stef, Jac and the Best Blue Bilbies, with our wonderful kids’ director Jonny.

Our publicist, Ian Phipps, is a miracle! He can make the impossible happen (conjure a taxi in two minutes in the heart of Sydney), and the publicity he has organised for this show is beyond fantastic. The cast are constantly being interviewed, having a photo shoot, singing at a special event, popping off to appear on telly, attending a media call … I’m thinking I might have to lock him in a cage and force him to be my personal publicist (Sing, my angel of PR, SING!!!). He’s everywhere at once, overseeing all of his events … I suspect there may be some cloning involved, but keep it under your hat!

I have a session with the dialect coach. It makes me INCREDIBLY happy that we have a dialect coach on board – I always think that a dodgy accent can ruin the most brilliant of performances, so I respect any company that cares enough about quality to ensure that the accents are legit and consistent. It’s a fascinating coaching, where I learn things that I never expected about the subtle British accent that I’m adopting. As usual with pronouncing any new language (which is how I’m treating it), there’ll be a vowel you get consistently wrong. When I started Italian, it was my ‘a’ vowel that was consistently too Australian (a flatter, less open sound), and with British, it’s my ‘oar’ sound. I kick myself yet again for not having learnt the phonetic alphabet early on – SUCH a brilliant tool for any singer! Luckily, my personal shorthand is by now very clear to me, so I know the bits I have to fix and how they should sound. Now I just have to work them into muscle memory.

Gavin has taken to calling Frau Schraeder ‘Shredder’, which we all find hysterical, especially when he calls her to a scene: “Could I have The Captain, Max and Shredder, please?” Marina’s goal for this show has been to make the Baroness warmer and more sympathetic – to make people like her. She has succeeded brilliantly – the scene where she has to leave is heartbreakingly played. No Shredder is she … but it’s still pretty funny.

I find out that what we call a ‘piano dress’ rehearsal in the opera (where you rehearse on stage but with piano rather than full orchestra) is called ‘keys from the pit’. I love this phrase!

There is a discussion about going from the scene with Herr Zeller, which I mishear as Hosanna and wonder if I’ve missed learning a bit of the wedding music.

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The cast who aren’t being used in any of the rehearsal rooms often line the passages outside, studying scripts and scores and practicing upcoming scenes.

Amy, the kids and I rehearse for our appearance at the lighting of the Christmas tree in Martin Place in between main room rehearsals. We have a run where I think the kids do brilliantly and clap my head off, but Jonny, their director, notices every single misstep and slightly dodgy note, and gives them precise notes with no dumbing it down. He is the perfect person to be directing the kids – a naturally warm and loveable spirit who doesn’t talk down to them or treat them with kid gloves. He is straightforward and honest and will tell them bluntly if they’re not up to scratch. They LOVE him. They listen with serious faces and you can see them running through bits with their brains and bodies before we run the number again, inspired to be their very best and to make him proud. Jonny rides a perfect line between adorable and stern, and the kids (and all of the adults as well) respect and adore him.

I finally get my real prop bible (after rehearsing with a ‘Good Food’ book with a sticker with ‘BIBLE’ written on it stuck on the front). I discover to my joy that the other casts of Sound of Music have had just as much difficulty memorising the Latin as me – the lyrics for the opening number are pasted in the ‘bible’ in large letters. It makes me feel better, and also feel a true camaraderie with ever Mother Abbess who has come before me.

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The prop bible with a cheeky cheat sheet of lyrics taped in.

Thursday

Today was a notes session at 10am, then a full run of the whole show at 11:30. Our first full run! We got from one end of the show to the other with surprisingly few hiccups and an impressive amount of magic. Running a show really gives it a context and makes every scene more poignant. There is a direction and a cohesion. It’s fantastic and exciting! The feeling of this show being something special is growing and everyone in the room is starting to comment on it. It’s an extraordinary cast – there are some huge names in this room, but there is not an ego in sight. Every single person is humble, generous and an utter delight to work with. The producers have got this casting SO right – not only is every single person an incredible talent, but the team is warm and glorious and there has not been a single cross or bitchy word. I can’t wait to tour with these guys!

The afternoon was a crazy time – we had a notes/clean up rehearsal going on in rehearsal room 1, cast members were popping out one by one to record a social media promo, The 7:30 Report were recording a segment with the Purple kids in rehearsal room 2, and Stefanie (Leisl) had to race out of that recording as soon as they finished to join Amy, me and the Blue kids as we grabbed a taxi to travel to Martin Place to sing at the lighting of the Christmas tree. We arrived for our sound check at 4:30 and then headed to a room to change into our costumes. It was my first time out in public in my habit, and I loved the strange looks I got – surely they were all thinking that I’m FAR too young to be a nun. Ahem. Time flew and before we knew it, we were side-stage ready to strut our stuff. The rain had been threatening all afternoon and two minutes before we went on, down it came. The kids were a bit worried, until Amy told them that it rains a lot in Salzburg and the von Trapp kids would be used to it – a stroke of genius – so they proudly braved the rain, just as their characters would. Amy and the kids performed a stupendous Do Re Mi, with the audience all singing along, then I was up for Climb Ev’ry Mountain. The timing was perfect, as the wind had picked up and as I reached the climax of the song my veil flew out behind me as if we had a wind machine – EPIC!

We finished with a group version of Deck The Halls – great fun! There was a gorgeous moment as the kids came off stage and Jonny (who none of us realised was in the audience) raced backstage to tell the kids how fabulous they were and they caught sight of him, screamed “Jonny!!!” and raced over to hug him. They really do absolutely adore him.

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The ‘named nuns’ – Johanna Allen (Sister Sophia), Dominica Matthews (Sister Berthe), Eleanor Blythman (Sister Margaretta) and Mother Abbess.

Friday 27/11

An early start for a photo shoot. God bless our divine Head of Makeup, David Jennings, for agreeing to zhuzh my hair and makeup, so that I could tumble out of bed looking like a banshee, throw myself through the shower and scramble out of Central Station tunnel with my customary bucket of latte (sidestepping a collection of caffeine-starved commuters and thanking Amy again for the order-ahead tip) to plonk myself in the makeup chair and have him work his magic. Within 15 minutes, I looked human – a near-miraculous feat!

Photo shoot done and dusted, we were all into the rehearsal room for a vocal warm up and to rehearse the final scene with all three sets of kids. They are incredibly professional and pick everything up in a jiffy, so we got a decent run of the scene with all three casts. My tired old brain is significantly less swift at picking things up than the kids, causing Gavin to remark after my attempt at a piece of re-blocking: “Well, you did something with that. Nothing like what I was after, but something.”

Off for a coffee break before running the show with some ‘special guests’ (producers) in the room. This is our first run in front of anyone from outside, so we’re all a tad nervous, but a run under pressure like this is invaluable, as it brings home which bits are working and running smoothly and which need further polishing. Today, I’m one of those bits that need polishing. I get to the big song and mis-time a move, and then make the totally rookie mistake of back-thinking about where I stuffed up and forward thinking about how I can negotiate my moves to get back on track and fix it. On stage, I treat these moments like roadkill and glance swiftly at them in the rear view mirror as they recede and I move along (hopefully) smoothly along with the rest of the scene, but I’m still in rehearsal mode, so I’m still analysing my performance and choosing the best ‘takes’. The song doesn’t stop – all the notes are there – but the magic of being completely in the moment is missing. I’m kicking myself, and feeling like I let the rest of the fabulous team down. I’ve never been one of those performers who has an innate confidence in myself and my performance. In fact, I’m the complete opposite, and performing in a rehearsal room tends to turn on what Marina calls my ‘paranoia gland’. As soon as someone on the production desk makes a note or whispers to someone else, I assume it’s about me being utterly awful. If the production crew go into a huddle after rehearsal, I’m sure it’s because I’m about to be sacked for being so horrifically terrible. When I’m on stage, it’s a different matter – I can lose myself in my character and live every second of it, but during rehearsals I’m a self-conscious, self-doubting bundle of insecurity – maybe it’s knowing that everyone sees my every misstep as I refine my role and try a million dodgy versions before settling on the one that speaks the loudest to me. Maybe it’s just me being a doofus. I debated whether to mention all that, as it’s a tad self-indulgent, but I’ve discovered over the last little while that a huge number of my fellow performers have been cursed with this self-doubt during rehearsals, and when I first mentioned it years ago, an ‘aha!’ moment of such relief went around the group as everyone realised that they weren’t alone. So, if anyone else out there is living with this, please know that you’re not crazy or weird – you’re probably in the majority, so just dig in and get on with it, knowing that the person next to you is probably feeling it too!

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Our fabulous rehearsal room at ABC, marked up with tape to represent the staircase in the von Trapp house. We rehearse on a flat floor with tape of different colours all over the floor to show steps, curtains, wings – all of the physical things we’ll encounter when we hit the theatre.

Today is the day that the gorgeous Jonny Bowles leaves us to head off to work on other shows in the UK. It’s surprising how difficult this is for us all – we’ve only been together for a short time, but the whole team is already beginning to feel like family, and Jonny has such a beautiful spirit and infectious personality that we all want to keep him here with us and will miss him enormously. There are hugs and tears – especially from the kids, who love him to bits. We’re all not-so-secretly hoping that he’ll pop back for a visit during the run of the show.

After 13 days straight with no day off, we are now changing over to theatre hours, meaning that instead of rehearsing Monday to Saturday 10-6, we’ll be called Tuesday-Sunday afternoons and evenings, in preparation for our show schedule. The bonus of this is that we get tomorrow and Monday off – two days in a row!!! If I didn’t have a toddler, I think I’d sleep for two days straight, but I can’t wait to sleep in and have time to play with my little boy!

Saturday 28/11

Vocal warm up, notes session (vocal and direction), and work through of many scenes, in preparation for another run of the show in the afternoon. Cameron, Marina and David James (DJ) are running their scene when there’s a huge outburst – DJ, who is loud enough at his quietest moments, has come a cropper on one of his ‘Jonah’ lines. I call them that because they are unlucky and frustrating and annoying. You know – those lines that you can never seem to get your mouth around, no matter how many times you repeat them. Yep. One of them. It’s a simple enough phrase: “One thing is sure … ”, but his brain is rejecting it. He has unsuccessfully attempted it several times in the middle of a rather tense scene, and has reacted to this by squealing “Well, I may as well just hop around the floor like a frog!!!” whilst proceeding to do just that. It’s been a long week, and we’ve all had more than a handful of these utterly frustrating moments, so this is the best possible thing that could have happened. We all cack ourselves in warm camaraderie and DJ marshalls his resources and pulls the scene off without a hitch. It’s a testament to this company that we all feel free to completely stuff up (in fact, Gavin encourages us to experiment as widely as we can with our roles rather than just settling on the first/easiest version, which is brilliant), secure in the knowledge that the team will laugh with us and not at us.

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The cast enjoying a well-deserved drink together after a huge week. (Photo: Stefanie Jones)

We have another full run of the show in the afternoon, with producers present, and this time I’m back living inside the scene, bawling my eyes out in both the Act 1 and Act 2 finales (which is tricky because I sing in both, but being such a wuss, I have long since learnt to sing through sobs). The whole company shares a quick drink to celebrate how far we’ve come … and the prospect of two days off. Two whole days!!! See you on Tuesday!

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