Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Wheelock’s ‘Hairspray’ has its own twists and shouts - by Sheila Barth

Spoiler alert: Wheelock Family Theatre’s rollicking production of multi-ward winning, two-act “Hairspray, The Broadway Musical,” is more than a feel-good, happy-go-lucky rock ‘n’ roll fest. Like the original production, which ran almost seven years on Broadway, this version tackles a few heavier issues, but with a subtle approach.

The musical is a fabulous romp back to 1962, in slow-to-integrate Baltimore, Md., when rock ‘n’ roll, bouffant hairdos, TV dance parties, sock hops, and – unfortunately – racism and societal put-downs ruled. The musical also tackles conformity, bullying, and a rapidly-changing society, as rock ‘n’ roll skyrocketed off the charts, and its “race,” “colored,” or “n…..” music horrified conservative white parents.

Any teen who didn’t look, dress, and sound like each other, especially those who were heavyset, plain-looking, geeky, African-American, individualistic, gay, and God-knows-what else, were jeered at and shunned.  “Hairspray” touts the idea that being different can be a good thing.

Wheelock director Susan Kosoff ventures further into controversy by casting lovable star Jenna Lea Scott in lead role of chubby, teen-age, activist heroine, Tracy Turnblad. With her infectious, fresh-faced effervescence and giggly exuberance, Scott’s ideal here.

Like Scott, who was born in South Korea and adopted by Caucasian American parents, Tracy is also adopted from Asia by American odd couple, Wilbur and Edna Turnblad, of Baltimore. And they’re more odd than you think. Wilber is the affable owner of the Har-de-Har Hideway Hut joke shop, while his agoraphobic, hefty “wife,” Edna, is a cross-dressing male, who’s ashamed of being overweight. To earn money, stay-at-home Edna does other people’s ironing and laundry, but had hoped to someday become a fashion designer. Veteran actors Robert Saoud as Edna and Peter A. Carey as Wilbur are a delightful duo, especially in “You’re Timeless to Me,” the show’s biggest hit number.

Harmoniously accompanied by Music Director Matthew Stern and his merry musicmakers, “Hairspray’s” large, energetic cast embraces and welcomes theatergoers, with Laurel Conrad’s energetic choreography, dancing in the aisles and onstage, swinging, swaying, and singing “Good Morning, Baltimore,” then introduces us to “The Nicest Kids in Town,” all-white cast of Corny Collin’s TV dance show. As Collins, Mark Linehan is duly unctuous.

But Amber Von Tussle, spoiled, teen-aged daughter of show manager Velma Von Tussle, isn’t nice. She’s catty, cruel, egotistical, and a chip-off-the-old block, like her mother, Velma, who proudly touts her former beauty title, in “Miss Baltimore Crabs” . Popular star Aimee Doherty as Velma and Jane Bernhard as her carbon copy daughter are marvelously mean and downright despicable.

While Tracy is a big, frontline activist, gathering support and crossing race lines to integrate the show, her overly-protected pal, Penny Pingleton, creates her own chaos by falling for African-American super dancer, Seaweed J. Stubbs, (lanky John Allen), son of Baltimore’s black music radio superstar, Motormouth Maybelle (Gamalia Pharms). Tyla Colier as Seaweed’s younger sister, Little Inez, also shines.

But Jennifer Beth Glick as Penny, is a perpetual scene stealer, with her gum-cracking, slump-shouldered, squeaky obeisance to her bigoted mother, Prudy, and her metamorphosis as a glittery “checkerboard chick” .

North Shore favorite actress, Cheryl McMahon, is also outstanding in her roles as Prudy Pingleton, big size fashion entrepreneur Madame Pinky, and a mean-spirited gym teacher, who encourages her students to abuse their special education and African-American counterparts in a vicious game of scatter dodge ball.

The three moms, Turnblad, VonTussle, and Pingleton, and their daughters shine in their contrasting triptych number, “Mama, I’m A Big Girl Now”.

Although Michael Nortardonato as Link Larkin, Amber’s narcissistic boyfriend and TV dance party idol, sings and dances well, he does not ignite enough romantic sparks with his newfound love, Tracy. However, her dreamy rendition of “I Can Hear the Bells” is riotous.

Treat the family to Wheelock’s funny, rollicking “Hairspray”. From start to finish, they welcome you to those turbulent ‘60s, making sure you don’t miss the beat, dancing and singing in the aisles with them.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Girls Scouts attend HAIRSPRAY

Junior troop 71198 from St Raphael School in Medford recently went to see the Wheelock Family Theatre production of " Hairspray" that was advertised in the GS Catalog. This was one of the best shows we have ever seen! It rivaled Broadway! Kudos to GSEM for advertising and letting troops know about this amazing production. This show portrayed many of the values we teach in Girl Scouts. Tolerance, Acceptance, Being true to yourself....  It was so awesome to see how well our 9-yr olds related to this story line.
And the cast and crew were so terrific after the show, signing autographs, answering questions and we even got a back stage tour!
Thank you GSEM for letting our troop know about this wonderful show! An experience our troop will not forget!

Amy-Jayne McCabe and Dee Fagan- Co-leaders St Raphael School, Troop 71198 Medford, MA.

Audience Comments HAIRSPRAY!

In the 10 years that I have now been in Boston and attending the WFT shows each year, this production of Hairspray is the best ever! I have loved all of your shows over the years, but this production just blew me away. The beautiful harmonies (and talented belting solos) were spot on; the dancing was superb and fit the period so well (as did the costumes); and the frozen tableaux images and dancing in the audience really captivated the crowd and drew us in.

My students LOVED it! They can't wait to write their formal "professional" critiques in tomorrow's classes with me (their academic assignment after going on the trip). And just kept talking about the show right thru lunch and back at school.

AND several want to come BACK to bring their families! (One chaperone even remarked that even though he was there with his daughters today with us, he wants to get tickets to see it again on the weekend!) And when our 8th graders heard we went to see the show (and didn't take them -- they went last year when they were 7th graders to see Oliver, as is the tradition to take our 7th graders to a WFT show each year)... several said, "fine! We're going ourselves this weekend on own, since you didn't take us." Awesome! There was such a buzz from our 7th graders that other grade levels want to go, too!

It was heartwarming to overhear some of our students saying that it was great to see a show that was not "all white." Our school population is roughly 70% African & Caribbean American and they really appreciated a show that told a story that many could connect to and to their families. It has made for great discussions already. Thank you for that.

 -Meegan Turet
Academy of the Pacific Rim
Hyde Park, MA

HAIRSPRAY, after our first student matinee... a comment from the audience...

Wow! Wheelock Family Theatre’s performance of Hairspray is wonderful! I felt so proud of Wheelock and what it offers to the community in quality live theater.  Today I attended a school performance with a full auditorium of middle and high school students from Boston area schools who seemed to love the show as much as I did.  What a great message Hairspray offers on inclusion amidst great music, dancing, and amazing vocals. The whole auditorium seemed to be in synch with rapt attention, laughs, hoots and affirmations!  Great work Wheelock Family Theatre!

Stephanie Cox Suarez

Associate Professor, Special Education

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Actor Profile: Robert Saoud

Robert is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and has appeared at Wheelock Family Theatre in A Little Princess, Cinderella, Fiddler on the Roof, Charlotte’s Web, Tuck Everlasting, Pippi, Hello Dolly, Kiss Me Kate, The Tempest, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Phantom Toll Booth and Anne Of Green Gables.

"This is my 16th production with Wheelock Family Theatre. My first show was A Little Princess in 1994, so this season marks my 20th anniversary. WFT has been a wonderful place to grow and train. The theatre gave me my Equity card to play a pig in 1996. I have done Shakespeare, musicals, comedy and drama. I have been cast as the bad guy, the good guy, the funny guy, the serious guy, the witch, and even the fat man/thin man! When I was offered the role of Edna I was a little terrified. It’s become an iconic character in the world of musical theatre. When I was told they wanted to try a different take on Edna, I was intrigued. The rehearsal process has been challenging, but I think it’s difficult to play Edna and not fall in love with her.

I grew up in Detroit, and although I was very young at the time, I remember the race riots of 1968. I did not fully understand the ramifications of what was happening, but I still remember seeing the National Guard trucks rolling into the city. Hairspray deals with race on a much lighter level, but WFT has never shied away from issues that may make people uncomfortable or require them to think. One of my favorite productions I’ve seen anywhere was Wheelock’s staging of Lord of the Flies (and I wasn’t even in it)! Over the years I have made numerous ongoing friendships here. I cannot thank WFT enough for all it has given me."

Robert is a proud member of Actors Equity and Stage Source.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

BOSTON GLOBE "ensemble turns Hairspray into a dance party"

An irresistible score combined with an outstanding cast make the Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of “Hairspray” a highlight of the theater season.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman’s musical adaptation of John Waters’s 1988 movie celebrates individuality in all its glorious forms. Shaiman’s rock score references just the right musical themes from the 1950s and ’60s while making fresh new songs that serve the musical theater storytelling format. Wittman’s lyrics are hilarious, working period-specific pop culture references into rhymes that also move the story along and develop this quirky crowd of characters.
And what a crowd they are. Director Susan Kosoff and musical director Matthew Stern have cast the show with a healthy mix of familiar faces and new talent to populate Baltimore circa 1962, and every performer seems to be inspiring the others to up their game. No fewer than three dozen performers sing, dance, and act up a storm on the Janie E. Howland’s brightly colored ’60s-style variety show set, and thanks to Kosoff’s direction and Laurel Conrad’s sleek choreography, these dancers make it look easy. Stern conducts a tight, six-piece band through the high-energy score with joyful ease.

Jenna Lea Scott (who was so good in last year’s Lyric Stage production of “Avenue Q”) delivers a Tracy Turnblad with the perfect combination of effervescence and sincerity without being cloying. Her Tracy, a big girl with even bigger hair, is as believable when she swoons over heartthrob Link Larkin as she is when she resolves to be judged for her dancing talent, not her plus size, on “The Corny Collins Show.” The earnest, unaffected way Scott turns Tracy’s demotion to special ed into an opportunity to make new friends, and learn some slick new dance moves, wins the audience’s hearts, to say nothing of her performance of “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “I Can Hear the Bells.”
Scott’s Tracy also has a warm relationship with her parents Edna (Robert Saoud) and Wilbur (Peter A. Carey), as well as her best friend Penny Pingleton (an outstanding Jennifer Beth Glick), which gives “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” and “Welcome to the ’60s” a lot of heart — to say nothing of the soulful sound from the trio of Dynamites (Maritza Bostic, Ciera-Dawn Washington, and Kerri Wilson-Ellenberger).
Boston Conservatory student Michael Notardonato makes Link Larkin the perfect teen idol (with a killer falsetto), whose “It Takes Two” is the first of several show-stoppers. Despite his pop icon aspirations, his Link is grounded enough to fall for the no-nonsense Tracy, despite his role as arm-candy for Amber Von Tussle (Jane Bernhard), daughter of “The Corny Collins Show” producer Velma Von Tussle (Aimee Doherty).
Doherty has never sounded better (and that’s saying something), but she also makes the scheming Velma Von Tussle a charming villainess, and her castanet-like choreography for her “Miss Baltimore Crabs” nearly brings down the house.
There is not one weak link in this ensemble, so it seems almost unfair to single out performers, but Gamalia Pharms, a Wheelock regular, is inspired as Motormouth Maybelle, Jon Allen is a seductively loose-limbed Seaweed, Tyla Collier grabs our attention with her Little Inez, Cheryl McMahon is pitch perfect in multiple roles, and Mark Linehan is an appropriately slick Corny Collins.
“Hairspray” takes on some big issues, but does it with so much humor and optimism it will send you out of the theater singing and dancing for joy.

Review by Terry Byrne.
Photo by Gary Ng.
Jenna Lea Scott, Jon Allen.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Actor Profile: Jenna Lea Scott

Jenna Lea Scott is performing as Tracy Turnblad in the WFT production of  HAIRSPRAY
Jenna is a member of Actors’ Equity Association and has appeared at Wheelock Family Theatre in Peter Pan, Seussical, Honk, Annie, Phantom Tollbooth and Anne Of Green Gables.
"Auditioning is a hard but necessary part of being a working actor. I have found that the casting process can be particularly trying as an Asian American actress. It’s challenging to prove to casting directors that you aren't just your race. A play that requires an Asian actor may offer me a foot in the door, but I am often asked to portray a stereotype. Landing a role as a member of a family that is not Asian is even more difficult. WFT has been the only venue where I’ve been afforded opportunities to play a range of roles, based on my abilities not my race. Perhaps it’s because some people feel that family members need to resemble one another. Interestingly, this is not the case in my own family where my sister and I were adopted from South Korea by Caucasian parents. My older brother is adopted, too, though he's originally from the U.S. As a child on vacation with my family I can remember being asked if I was a foreign exchange student. Happily, the definition of family is ever-widening and I am encountering more and more acceptance that a family can be comprised of people who vary in a multitude of ways.
My reaction to being cast as Tracy Turnblad at WFT was like one of Tracy's lines in the show...'Ohmigod, it's a dream of a lifetime. I have to [play this part]!' I grew up loving '50s and '60s music, fashion and styles and saw the original film version of Hairspray with Ricky Lake as a kid. It really spoke to me as a girl who was just a little different trying to change the world around her while staying true to herself. I have that same feeling every time I’m cast in a role that's not traditionally Asian. As with Tracy’s desire to be on the Corny Collin's Show, I want to demonstrate to the world that art has the capacity to transform lives. I believe that the theatre world is changing with more new writers creating diverse roles and theatres like WFT championing non-traditional, or 'colorful' casting. Among my reasons for pursuing an acting career was a desire to see myself represented on the stage and inspiring others to do what they love. I’m glad I can pursue these goals at WFT."

Actor Profile: Gamalia Pharms

Gamalia Pharms will be playing Motormouth Maybelle in HAIRSPRAY.

Gamalia is a member of Actors' Equity Association and has appeared at Wheelock Family Theatre in The Wizard of Oz, The Hobbit, Cinderella, A Little Princess, Kiss Me Kate, The Good Times Are Killing Me, Ole' Sis Goose, The Sound of Music, Beauty and the Beast, The Beanstalk, The Giant and Jack, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Pippi, Honk, Seussical, Hello Dolly, Oliver, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Trumpet of the Swan, Anne of Green Gables, Stuart Little, Aladdin, My Fair Lady, Once Upon a Mattress and Phantom Tollbooth.

"When I saw John Waters’ film Hairspray in the 80’s, it really resonated with me. As a child growing up in the Mission Hill (Roxbury) area of Boston in the 1960s, I have memories of singing Stop in the Name of Love with my childhood friends as we walked to school. My family had one black-and-white television, and when an African-American group or singer appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night, it was monumental! My older sister, would teach me the latest dances she learned from the parties she would go to on the weekends! I could do the shimmy, the pony, the skate, the swim, the monkey and the twist! I idolized my older teenage sister and would borrow her records (when she would let me), and enjoyed watching her hair style change from a ‘swinging sixties’ bouffant to the militant Black Panthers afro! I also remember seeing my parents openly weep with the assassinations of JFK, MLK and Malcolm X. The strong feeling of the loss of hope was palpable - memories of the riots, the horror of hearing about lynchings in the south, and watching my father deal with discrimination at his work place. Growing up in the inner city I also experienced ‘white flight’ when many of my white friends’ families moved or took their children out of public school.

"The world vision Martin Luther King envisioned in the 1960s, is one I feel Wheelock Family Theater embraces, with its mission of inclusion and diverse casting policies. I feel lucky to have found WFT, and have enjoyed being a member of many casts that reflect the diversity of Boston in all aspects - race, gender and individuals with disabilities.

"I am thrilled to be a member of this amazing WFT production!"

Friday, December 13, 2013

‘Life’ as we know it reimagined as a radio play - by Joel Brown. Boston Globe

For most people, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a black-and-white holiday movie that pops up on TV to offer a glimpse into American life more than half a century ago. “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play,” adapted by Joe Landry from the 1947 Frank Capra classic, adds another layer — a look behind the scenes of a period radio performance of the story.
The Wheelock Family Theatre production that begins performances Friday makes the most of that play-within-a-play angle.
Under the direction of Wheelock producer Wendy Lement, five actors, three singers, a pianist, and two Foley artists bring to life the story of small-town banker George Bailey, whose attempts to be a good man have ended in despair. At this late date, it’s hardly a spoiler to say that on Christmas Eve, with the help of a sympathetic angel, George learns that his sacrifices have not been for nothing, and that he is the richest man in town in all the ways that matter.
Wheelock audiences won’t see the snowy streets of Capra’s fictional Bedford Falls, though. Instead they’ll be looking into a 1940s radio studio, complete with period costumes and microphones. The Wheelock actors play radio performers who in turn play the characters in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Acting with the voice alone is enough of a challenge, says actor Dan Bolton, who plays George. “It really does make you focus on the words and where the important idea in each word is,” he said.
Bolton credits Lement with helping him find his character arc, how George changes from scene to scene and from the beginning of the play to the end. “She’s been good at giving me guideposts as to, here’s where he’s sassy, here’s where he’s desperate, here’s where he’s right on the brink, and here’s where it all comes together for him.”
George can be a complicated guy, he says. “For instance, the scene where he watches Mary as an older librarian without George in her life, and her life is completely empty. It’s not necessarily that he feels bad for Mary, but he feels like he’s been a jerk, because he’s let the love of his life get away, and he’s let her life be empty because he wasn’t there.”
Bolton and Liz Hayes, who plays Mary Bailey, only have to play their own characters. But the other Wheelock actors — Barlow Adamson, Johnny Lee Davenport and Marina Re — play the rest of the inhabitants of Bedford Falls. Or more accurately, each “has an actor that they’re playing, who then is playing all of these different roles” on the radio, Lement says. And things can get really complicated when two of those roles end up in conversation. “It’s very fun. They’re actually having conversations with themselves and finding ways to make that clear and make it come alive.”
Lement and company have created nonverbal scenarios to give life to each of the radio performers, too.
“Like, one of the singers who’s young has a crush on one of the lead actors and runs over and gives him a Christmas gift,” Lement says. “And the woman he’s dating, who’s also one of the lead actors, sees that and gets angry. These are moments we’ve put in to try to create this as a world itself.”
Bolton says the radio cast reaches a little epiphany of its own by the end.
“There’s this great moment where the five of us look over to the Foley artists and the singers and almost take this collective sigh, like saying, ‘Wow, what a story we’ve told,’ ” Bolton says. “It’s actually one of my favorite moments in the show. They’re playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ behind it, but it’s not sappy or sentimental, it’s just very present and very real, and every time we get to that moment, I love it. We all put on this really good story, and we all lived the message that was in this story.”
There are at least two other productions of Landry’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” in the state this holiday season: through Dec. 29 at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, where Landry will appear for a talkback after Sunday’s matinee (www.shake, and at the Marblehead Little Theatre through Dec. 22 (www.mltlive
.com). It appears to be a holiday winner for theater companies.
So is this “Wonderful Life” the beginning of a new Wheelock holiday tradition?
“It could be,” says Lement. “We’ll actually save the set pieces in case we decide to do it again. And it might not be every year — but it might be. We’ll see what the response is.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

and THIS from the New York Times....

New York Times                                       Nov. 24, 2013

Art Makes You Smart


FOR many education advocates, the arts are a panacea: They supposedly increase test scores, generate social responsibility and turn around failing schools. Most of the supporting evidence, though, does little more than establish correlations between exposure to the arts and certain outcomes. Research that demonstrates a causal relationship has been virtually nonexistent.

A few years ago, however, we had a rare opportunity to explore such relationships when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville, Ark. Through a large-scale, random-assignment study of school tours to the museum, we were able to determine that strong causal relationships do in fact exist between arts education and a range of desirable outcomes.

Students who, by lottery, were selected to visit the museum on a field trip demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of social tolerance, exhibited greater historical empathy and developed a taste for art museums and cultural institutions.

Crystal Bridges, which opened in November 2011, was founded by Alice Walton, the daughter of Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart. It is impressive, with 50,000 square feet of gallery space and an endowment of more than $800 million.

Thanks to a generous private gift, the museum has a program that allows school groups to visit at no cost to students or schools.

Before the opening, we were contacted by the museum’s education department. They recognized that the opening of a major museum in an area that had never had one before was an unusual event that ought to be studied. But they also had a problem. Because the school tours were being offered free, in an area where most children had very little prior exposure to cultural institutions, demand for visits far exceeded available slots. In the first year alone, the museum received applications from 525 school groups requesting tours for more than 38,000 students.

As social scientists, we knew exactly how to solve this problem. We partnered with the museum and conducted a lottery to fill the available slots. By randomly assigning school tours, we were able to allocate spots fairly. Doing so also created a natural experiment to study the effects of museum visits on students, the results of which we published in the journals Education Next and Educational Researcher.

Over the course of the following year, nearly 11,000 students and almost 500 teachers participated in our study, roughly half of whom had been selected by lottery to visit the museum. Applicant groups who won the lottery constituted our treatment group, while those who did not win an immediate tour served as our control group.

Several weeks after the students in the treatment group visited the museum, we administered surveys to all of the students. The surveys included multiple items that assessed knowledge about art, as well as measures of tolerance, historical empathy and sustained interest in visiting art museums and other cultural institutions. We also asked them to write an essay in response to a work of art that was unfamiliar to them.

These essays were then coded using a critical-thinking-skills assessment program developed by researchers working with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Further, we directly measured whether students are more likely to return to Crystal Bridges as a result of going on a school tour. Students who participated in the study were given a coupon that gave them and their families free entry to a special exhibit at the museum. The coupons were coded so that we could determine the group to which students belonged. Students in the treatment group were 18 percent more likely to attend the exhibit than students in the control group.

Moreover, most of the benefits we observed are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.

Further research is needed to determine what exactly about the museum-going experience determines the strength of the outcomes. How important is the structure of the tour? The size of the group? The type of art presented?

Clearly, however, we can conclude that visiting an art museum exposes students to a diversity of ideas that challenge them with different perspectives on the human condition. Expanding access to art, whether through programs in schools or through visits to area museums and galleries, should be a central part of any school’s curriculum.

Brian Kisida is a senior research associate and Jay P. Greene is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Daniel H. Bowen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute of Rice University.



Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eight-Legged Lessons

Life Lessons Learned by Being a Spider/Hobbit in “The Hobbit” at Wheelock Family Theatre

by Anna


The Hobbit was the first professional play I was in, and I loved every minute of it. I'm definitely auditioning for “Where The Mountain Meets the Moon” in December. I met some amazing people and got to know amazing actors. I formed great friendships with fellow Spobbits and learned just how much time, care, and effort goes into creating such an amazing play. It was one of the best experiences of my life.


There are lots of things that being in “The Hobbit” taught me—about the audition process, about being in a show, and just about life.


Lesson #1: Swords are scary, but stage combat is not.


Ok, so yeah, having a big, long sword being swung at you is scary, but not if you know what you're doing. (It also helps that the sword is blunt.) Stage combat is about looking like you're meaning to hit someone, and then missing them but looking like you hit them. That's quite a tall order, which is what makes stage combat so hard. But the ridiculously obvious cues, blunt swords, and skill of the fight choreographer and everyone onstage made it totally safe.


Lesson #2: Opening night is the best part.


I'm in the very first scene of the show as a hobbit who is very loud and rambunctious until the two adult hobbits in the scene offer us a story. On opening night, I was super-nervous:

A.)   that my stick would hit one of the lights (backstage, I was pretty much sandwiched between a light at head level and a light at foot level) and

B.)   that I would mess up onstage and forget my choreography and blocking. I mean, we OPENED THE SHOW. It had to be good. 

Then I went out and did my choreography, and reacted to the story Stephen and Tyla told us, and remembered all my blocking.

And then I went backstage and the first thing I said was "That was awesome."


Lesson #3: Go with the flow.


On the first Sunday, I subbed for Luke, who was supposed to do that show but couldn't make it. Another spider subbed for Camille, but didn't know Camille's choreography because in our cast, Caroline does it, so the spider who subbed for Camille didn't need to know it. (Complicated, I know.) This was a problem because Camille/Caroline's choreography was vital to the opening, and it wouldn't work with just two people instead of three. The rest of the opening scene craziness took their cues from the fight, so we couldn't leave it out. So Nadia (the other hobbit in the stick fight) and I went backstage with our sticks and came up with a new fight (this all happened about five minutes before curtain). We came up with it, practiced it twice, then went out and did it onstage. I reminded myself that 95% of the audience didn't know what was supposed to happen for the stick fight, and it wasn't too bad for something devised in the backstage hallway in ten seconds.


This taught me to roll with the punches and be cooperative. I just added the event to my list of things I never thought I'd have to be doing (figuratively; I actually don't have a list like that) and moved on. 


For the Mirkwood scene, I had to do something somewhat similar. The spider who subbed for Camille didn't know the choreography for the beginning sequence in that scene, but I did and I was in the right place to do it, so I did it instead. Probably no one noticed, not even my fellow spiders. You can't tell who anyone is under those big costumes.


Lesson #4: Be cooperative.


OK, this one is kind of an offshoot of #3, but it deserves a mention in its own right. The Purple and Green Casts have different orders for the curtain call, and this different order meant that I had to come out for the curtain call from a different place than I normally did, since I wasn't really being Anna-as-a-spider, I was being Anna-as-Luke-as-a-spider. I really didn't care where I came out for the curtain call, as long as I got to come out for the curtain call.


The next time we had a show, one of the Purple Cast members subbed for Simona, a girl on the Green Cast. The girl who subbed for Simona did all the choreography fine up until the curtain call. We told her where Simona came out for the curtain call. She said, "No, I'm going to come out where I usually come out."


I really didn't understand that. We reasoned with her for a bit, and she finally headed over to the other side of the stage. The next time she subbed for Simona, she said, "I'm not dealing with that craziness again. I'm just going to come out from here."


I told her that the order would be messed up if she didn't come out from there. Maybe it wouldn't matter that much, but it would mess things up. She grudgingly agreed after three different people telling her that in different ways. She went over and came out in the right place.


The lesson I learned from this is be cooperative. Help your cast-mates out. If the director changes something, make the change in the real show. If you have to do something different, do it, don't argue. Don't be the person who messes things up and gums up the works.


Lesson #5: Throw your heart into it.


At first, I was timid. Everyone was. We didn't know what spiders were supposed to be like in this show. Then we learned. I was still timid—I still wasn't sure how to apply what I learned to what I was doing. I realized that I had the hiss, I had the spider movement, I had the totally amazing costume, but I couldn't put it together. It reminded me of a summer camp I had been to, where we had written a fifteen-minute play. I played the main character. My character's name was Libretto, and I went on a journey and met three characters: Music, Acting, and Dance. And together we defeated the villains—something I couldn't do on my own. Without Music, Acting, and Dance, I wasn't as powerful. The point was, without music, acting, and dance, the libretto was just words. Music, acting, and dance made it a musical. So I realized that me as a spider without really acting the spider was like Libretto, and the acting was like Music, Acting, and Dance—I wasn't as powerful.


So I threw my heart into it. I became a spider, not just a person with a cool spider costume. I added menace to my hiss, and thought spidery thoughts (one of them being Yum, dwarves). I was the spider.


Yesterday, after the Red Carpet, Stephen (who plays Gollum and is just supremely awesome), came up to me and complimented me on my spider-ness.


I was so proud of myself.


Lesson #6: Be in the right place.


This one seems like it goes without saying, but sometimes you just worry about other actors. I learned this one during the first dress rehearsal. There was a bit of a problem with the spider costume racks. When we came off from the Battle of the Five Armies, some spiders had to go through the lobby, get their shells and helmets taken off, and go back to the wing they were originally in. These spiders included me and Simona.


It was stressful. I got my helmet and shell taken off and went back to the wing. Simona wasn't there. I was worried about her. She was little and I wasn't sure how well she knew Wheelock. I wondered if she had gotten lost or something.


I stood near the door to the lobby, waiting for her, and I almost wanted to go out and look for her. When it was almost time for curtain call, she finally showed up. This problem was fixed for the Open Dress. Now we have time to spare between the Battle and curtain call. I learned that the only thing you can do is be in the right place and hope they'll show up. That's pretty much it.


Lesson #7: If you're going to be in a room with nine other kids who are mostly younger than you and a TV, bring headphones.


This one is pretty self-explanatory. For Open Dress and Opening Night, I only had my Nook, because I didn't expect it to get that loud. But it did. They had the movie on pretty much full volume, and it was a stupid movie at that. It could qualify as the worst movie I've ever seen.


For my next show, I brought headphones and my iPod. I had a much more pleasant time in the Spider Room.


Lesson #8: A story fixes everything.


I saved this one for last because it's the best one. In Scene One, we are rambunctious hobbit children who fight with sticks and run around yelling and just generally cause havoc.


When Stephen and Tyla, the adult hobbits, calm us down, Stephen asks us, "Are you ready for a story?"


We ad-lib lines like "Yes!" and "Please!" and "I love stories!".


A story calms us down after so much yelling and running around. A story makes us behave and be good little hobbit children. Stories fix everything, perhaps the best lesson learned from this show.