Week by week we track the behind the scenes goings on in the upcoming production of the sound of music with cast member Jacqui Dark (Mother Abbess).
The Sound Of Music – Letters From The Convent/ Diary of a Mountaineer/ Diary Of a Nun On a Mountain
Day 1 – Monday November 9, 2015
It’s been a while since I felt like the new kid in school.
Today I woke up early, tummy teeming with butterflies, and headed off to a rehearsal space I’d never seen to meet a bunch of folk I’d never met before, knowing that this unfamiliar, tentative group of strangers would soon become my second family. My head was full of words and music and trepidation. And excitement. Most of all, excitement.
A large, strong latte in hand, I approached the rehearsal room (ridiculously early) and was dazzled by the Sound Of Music posters taped everywhere. My inner monologue began and went something like this: “Gulp. Oh boy. Here we go. Deep breaths, DEEP breaths. BREATHE, for God’s sake!!! No! Don’t blaspheme – you’re the Mother Abbess! Have some dignity. GULP! OK, you’re OK, you’ve got this – you’ve sung The Ring, for God’s sake! STOP blaspheming – you have to pretend that you’re not a heathen for the next few months. I can’t pull that off. You’re right, you can’t. Well, at least keep your potty mouth clean in rehearsals. Especially when the kids are in the room. Holy hell, how does my dialogue go? Do I have to do it from memory today? I thought I knew it, but it’s flown out of my head. OH NO! If I have to do it from memory, I’ll dissolve in a puddle of pathetic nerves and all will be lost. Calm. CALM, damn you! Breathe! I have confidence in confidence aloooooone …… oh help. Breathe. Remember, you love challenging yourself. LOVE it! This is how you grow. You thrive on this feeling. You live for it. Yes, you do. YES, YOU DO!!! Shut UP – you DO!” Or something like that. It was not pretty.
My latte and I swept into the room and were confronted with a veritable who’s who of incredible talent – Cameron Daddo, Amy Lehpamer, Marina Prior, Lorraine Bayley, Johanna Allen, Dominica Matthews … all performers I have admired for many years, and now we’re part of an exceptionally special and lucky team entrusted with this extraordinary musical. The best-loved musical of all time. The one that ran for two years to massive acclaim at London’s Palladium – a towering achievement. No pressure, gang!
The room slowly filled with the cast and the creative team, the noise and excitement levels rising by the minute, and I looked around at these new faces that had become familiar from postings on the Sound of Music Facebook page. There was excited chatter. There were catch-ups. There was strudel (now THAT was impressive, producers – what a brilliant idea!). Stage management took over with the sweet, sweet phrase “Everyone grab some strudel and take a seat.”. Some lovely speeches followed – from John Frost, Max Finbow (Managing Director of David Ian Productions in the UK) and our gorgeous director Gavin Mitford (“You’re quite a good looking lot for a bunch of nuns and Nazis!”), and we went around the room one by one, standing and introducing ourselves. It became clear that many of the boys are desperate to don nun’s habits, even offering to shave for the privilege, but Mother Superior shall have the final word on THAT! The room was stacked with VIP’s from the various production companies putting on the show. Again, no pressure, kids!
Introductions over, we were straight into the thick of it – sitting in a circle with musical supervisor Peter Casey and conductor Luke Hunter and learning the finale, where the whole cast sings Climb Every Mountain. We all sang it together for the first time. I know I wasn’t the only one with goosebumps and tingles. Smiles broke out around the circle. Fears started to fade. You could see it shining in everyone’s eyes: this show is going to be something very, very special.
I went from this exhilarating group sing to blocking my first scene in the Abbey with Maria, to rehearsing the music for ‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria’, to setting that “Solve a Problem” scene with the other “named nuns” (I love this term!). We finally knocked off at 6pm, my head swimming with music and movement blocking and new ideas and the knowledge of how very lucky I am to be a part of this show. I was spent and exhausted and overwhelmed and elated, and headed off to catch my train with a stupid smile spread across my face. I couldn’t wait to get home and cuddle my little boy, sing him Do Re Mi, and, like him, sleep like a baby tonight!
Day 2 – Tuesday
More nuns on the loose! What a fabulous cast – it’s like they were all born for these roles! Dominica Matthews as the loveable but bossy Sister Berthe, who is a stickler for the rules. Johanna Allen as the warm-hearted Sister Sophia, who is run ragged trying to please everyone. Eleanor Blythman as the bubbly, positive Sister Margaretta. I love these women already and feel such a connection with them, and we had a hoot weaving humour around truth of the scene. They bustled off to a very nunny music call, while Amy Lehpamer and I continued working on the scene we started yesterday. Amy is an extraordinary actress – she has intelligence, sensitivity, warmth, and is making this role her own. It is such a privilege to play opposite her – performing with great actors makes it so easy to find the emotional core of your role. She made me cry at the end of the scene where I send her away from the abbey. I hid it well and scurried off to join the other nuns in the music rehearsal. I was feeling weary but exhilarated – this show requires everyone to invest so much of themselves and it is draining but so, so rewarding! There are several rehearsal rooms running at once and cast members ferry about between them. The kids just finished rehearsing music in this room and then swap with the nuns as they go into the main room to learn their blocking for the next scene. The kids are gorgeous and hilarious and amazing. There are three sets of six of the younger kids and one Liesl (the fantastic Stefanie Jones), so we have 18 little sets of feet pounding around enthusiastically, wide-eyed with wonder. It is absolute heaven to watch their excited, talented little faces. They are going to win (and break) the hearts of the nation!
Day 3 – Wednesday
Swings are Gods. Seriously. My mind is filling up trying to keep on top of my one character’s plot, and they have to learn and rehearse plots for multiple characters. They are INCREDIBLE, unsung heroes. Some have eight different plots. Yep. They have to hold all of those other characters in their heads so that if one of the ensemble is off sick, they can pick up any set of dance moves and vocal lines and take over seamlessly, waltzing in the ballroom scene as if they always had and singing the ensemble pieces without a second thought. They flit from rehearsal to rehearsal, trying to catch a glimpse of every scene their multiple characters are in. They stand in for rehearsals if someone is rehearsing somewhere else. They calmly write different plots in their scripts in different colours. They. Are. GODS! I bow to their stamina, patience and memory skills.
The rest of the week was spent setting the opening scene and consolidating the work we’ve done on our scenes and characters, and culminated in a run of most of Act 1 on Saturday afternoon. It was in this rehearsal that we all realized what we have on our hands here. From the nuns chorus and How Do You Solve a Problem (so much fun that it should be illegal – this convent is beyond fabulous!), into Amy’s beautifully realized Sound Of Music, and then through scene after scene of beautiful, witty, heartbreaking dialogue and stunning music, we all sat entranced by the performances of our colleagues and remembering why this show is such a smash hit. There was laughter. There were tears – I tried to hide mine until I realized that Marina, sitting next to me, was dabbing at her eyes as well, and then glanced around the room to see the whole cast and crew dabbing away, and the stage management team wandering around handing out tissues. I started blubbering in Do Re Mi – the kids are extraordinary and I marvel at how a song beloved by the world and written over 50 years ago could burst out the rehearsal room with a freshness, spontaneity, energy and exuberance that elicited a delighted ovation from everyone in the room. Cameron is heartbreaking and poignant as The Captain, and his scenes with the children had me begging stage management for the tissues again. We were all beginning to sense that this show and this cast were just a little bit extraordinary. The buzz in the room was palpable. We all headed out to our Sunday off knowing that what was said in the speeches on Monday was true – this show is going to be something special, and something we will keep with us for the rest of our lives. Week One and it already is.