Friday, October 26, 2007

Let It Snow! Towns 2004

Check out the Let It Snow Interactive Map, featuring every town the show has ever featured, complete with performance date, show description, and a picture from the town itself!


Sugar Beets, Sugar Beach – Friday 11/26/04
Set in Wiggins, CO (pop. 838), this tale chronicled Carl (Christian), a young sugar beet farmer, as he saved the town, fell in love, and still had time to sing and dance along the way.

Tara McDonough in Kellyville!
See the original Kellyville photo here.

Mary Anne’s Restaurant – Saturday 11/27/04
The town of Kellyville, OK (pop. 906) had no restaurants, until now! Featuring the catchy tune “Kellyville: So Close!” this heartwarming story saw Mary Anne (Mandy) struggle to save her mint tea restaurant from fast food developer Kitty (Tara).

Carousel Dreams – Sunday 11/28/04
Mr. Porter (Bryce), CEO of mega-corporation Calliope Consolidated, tries to take over the hand carved carousel horse industry of Binghamton, NY (pop. 47,380), only to have his plans thwarted by Patty (Alex), a carousel horse designer of a different color. All in favor of this toe-tapping musical say “Aye!”

Don’t Put the “H” Back in “Humble” – Friday 12/3/04
When world famous “drab designer” Ms. Smith (Tara) returns to her belovedly drab hometown of Humble (the “h” is silent), TX (pop. 14,579) she soon discovers life turned topsy-turvy by a pair of developers, Tex and Rex (Christian & Bryce). When love brings Tex and Ms. Smith together, everyone finds a blessed union of compromise.

Where the Streets Have No Signs – Saturday 12/4/04
In the simple town of Vershire, VT (pop. 629) children read to their livestock of wildly varying sizes the works of Emerson, Thoreau, and other great thinkers. As Emerson said,All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. (You’d almost think he was an improviser!)

Life is Good in Goodland – Sunday 12/5/04
Life sure is good in Goodland, KS (pop. 4,948), except for Steve (Elan) who yearns for a faster paced life. He almost finds it with a flashy casino and dancing girls, but soon learns that life can be good in Goodland for him too.

Eskimo Kisses – Friday 12/10/04
Marcus (Glenn), a high school senior in North Pole, AK (pop. 1,570), goes on a spirit journey and discovers more than just Eskimo kisses.

Son of a Preacher Man – Saturday 12/11/04
The big day has finally arrived for Peter (Christian) the preacher’s son. Next Sunday he finally gets to deliver his first sermon to the people of Van Meter, IA (pop. 866), but oh what a week he has!

In Your Caves – Sunday 12/12/04
The people of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (pop. 34,236) move underground into the old prohibition era caves to escape the tyranny of their mayor (Cort). Sarah (Susan) teaches everyone “gansta yoga” and Sherman (Bryce) finally brews a non-poisonous beer, but the town would have been lost if Machine Gun Kelly’s ghost (Glenn) hadn’t saved the day.

Stickybunland – Friday 12/17/04
Jack (Alan), his brother Gaylord (Elan) and friend Mary (Mandy) struggle against the odds and a team of bureaucrats (Alex & Christian) to open up a sticky bun, beer, and garden gnome emporium in Chippewa Falls, WI (pop 12, 925).

Strawberry Heaven – Saturday 12/18/04
A misguided professor goes on a truth telling spree that causes a lot of upset in Chadbourn, NC (pop 2,129), but when Jed (Bryce) manages to grow the best strawberries in the world, his outlook on life gets a little rosier.

To Be Bad in Blanco – Sunday 12/19/04
Becky (Susan) yearns to stop being such a good girl in Blanco, TX (pop. 1,505). She gets her chance when three liberal strangers come to town from Santa Cruz.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rehearsal #4: Need Songs

(Photo: Madrid, NM is the smallest town we've ever based Let It Snow! on, at a popluation of 149.)

This week we rehearsed at an Academy of Art University building on Townsend. Those of you familiar with San Francisco might be asking yourself “isn’t every building in SF an Academy of Art building?” While it may seem so, they don’t own the entire city just yet.

But I digress, the room was large and great for dance practice, especially waltzing. Mandy managed to confuse us all greatly by having us attempt to waltz around the room without partners, and then again by turning the waltz into a fox trot or something like that. I’m still confused. But, the point is, we danced a lot, which is good! Not only is it good practice but I’ve learned that some cast members dance better if you forcefully lead them, and others you can pretty much follow even when you’re leading. Good to have that knowledge in one’s back pocket.

After dancing, and an appropriate cooling off period, we warmed up our voices and worked on Need Songs. David Norfleet’s amp decided not to work, so instead he played the piano. Thankfully the room had a piano or we would have practiced need songs to a chorus of humming.

What’s a Need Song? Well, a Need Song is a song sung by the protagonist usually in the first scene in which the protagonist sings about what they need. Fairly self explanatory, I guess, but the whole show hangs on that need and the protagonists journey towards either getting their need or being denied it.

In addition, our director Tara would like the Need Song to be a Metaphor Song in which the need is likened to some object, situation, profession, or aspect of the town suggested by the audience. We don’t just get a town name and go from their. We get a small town that someone in the audience lived in and liked, and we ask that person a lot of questions about that town. We get as much information as we can, so that we can set the show in that town and really give it the flavor of the place. That’s, perhaps, the biggest gift of the show. If you’re fortunate enough to have your town chosen, you get to see your town really honored in the best possible light.

We had time for everyone to sing one need song. Mine was OK. I’m no longer worried about my voice or hitting notes or sounding good. I finally have confidence on that level. Now I am more concerned about the words I’m singing, in particular with metaphors. I sang a song about being in love with a watchmaker, thus setting myself up for all sorts of wonderful metaphors, but I couldn’t find any within the song to save my life.

What I learned, or what I think I learned at any rate, was that I need to free myself of the need to rhyme. It’s more important to sing what needs to be sung than to make it rhyme all pretty. I also learned that to make a metaphor song work I have to jump and justify. Rather than knowing what metaphor I’m trying to make in advance, just sing about something. Sing about a watchmaker or a watch. Sing about an ear of corn (to borrow from the song Tara sang) and don’t worry about what it means, yet. The audience will assume it means something. They will read meaning into it and so will I as I’m singing it. The meaning will come out and then I can make it clear. But at first, I’m just singing about a watch.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rehearsal #3: Scott's Living Room

(Scott Keck, pictured)

Rehearsal last night started out like any other. Early arrivals congregated in the back hall, dodging actors from a Jean Shelton class practicing their scenes. Then we moved into the theater once Christian arrived to let us in.

But then, at just about 7pm, another group showed up to rehearse in the same space. A quick check of the mainstage revealed that was booked too. Oops. We had no place to rehearse.

Scott called his wife, and bless her heart, he got permission for us to rehearse in his living room. We piled into people’s cars and rushed out to the inner sunset. No one was happier about this than Derek, who went from running late, to being the first one there.

We arrived, met Scott’s Irish Terrier Finnegan, thanked Scott’s wife profusely, rearranged the furniture in the living room, and got to work!

It meant skipping our dance review, but no one seemed to really have the energy to dance anyway. Instead we started right into scene work and probably got more done as a result.

Our focus was scenes in a small town that established a protagonist. Tara called upon me to give my usual spiel about how to be the protagonist (be likable, by liking something). I can teach much better than I can do. Perhaps its because I’m so skilled at avoiding the protagonist role that makes me know so much about it, intellectually.

In the first scene I was in, I went on stage with the intention of being the protagonist. I got off to a great start too. I was happy and positive, and I had a big reaction to one of Dave’s offers. But then, without even trying, I immediately began pushing the protagonist role off to Dave. I wasn’t even aware of it until Tara pointed it out. I do it without even thinking.

One big thing that I could have done better in that scene would have been to make my reaction to Dave’s offer more personal. Instead it was very non-specific and ultimately reflected the offer back on Dave giving him more focus.

In the next scene Molly was clearly the protagonist before I entered. I went in to help her, but was a bit rusty. I asked her questions, which can be good in this instance (how do you feel about that?), but I could have endowed things as well (you’re grandpa raised you, didn’t he?).

In the last scene I finally nailed the protagonist role and kept it. Mostly because everyone else was busy endowing me as the protagonist and I just kept reacting properly. Though I confess, I would have been a bit lost had I actually needed to sing my characters “need” song in that moment. Thankfully, next week, we work on “need” songs.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Rehearsal #2: Toe Bruises and Confidence

The first year we did Let It Snow, I was so terrified of the idea of having to do a full run of improvised musicals, that I took voice lessons for months leading up to the show. I still confess I consider improvising songs to be one of my weakest skills.

Yesterday at rehearsal we started by dancing. As Mandy was giving us a rundown on how to fake like you know ballet, we learned that most of it is just committing to the confidence that you know ballet. Of course you need to stand right, point your toes, and hold your arms a certain way, but as long as you don’t show that you don’t know what you’re doing, it’ll sell.

Throughout the rest of the dancing, I tried to keep that as my mantra. I’m a good dancer dammit. I know what I’m doing. Fred Astaire didn’t look like an idiot moving around and all, so neither will I. It’s amazing how much it helped. I worked with Molly on the cross-step waltz, and soon we were waltzing in circles around the room quite well. Of course, it helps that she’s such a good dancer, but I still had to have the footwork. Now that I have that down I need to work on the rest of my body (arms, expression) while dancing and work on adding some flair.

For the first part of the dancing, my big toe on my right foot kept hurting. Then at some point during the waltz it mostly stopped. This morning I discovered the side of my toe was almost black with a giant bruise. It looks far worse than it feels.

Then we moved on to singing. The wonderful David Norfleet led us in some warm-ups and I tried to adjust my dance mantra to my singing. I’m a good singer, dammit. It’s amazing how much it helped. I could feel my throat relaxing and the sound came out much cleaner. But I thought to myself, well, I can sing the notes, but can I make up the words? But I pushed that thought out of my head too. I’m a good improvisor, dammit.

Sure enough, as we practiced opening numbers, I didn’t let myself hesitate at all. I jumped in to sing a verse when no one else was stepping up and did a reasonable job. I mean, none of it was brilliant, but an audience would have enjoyed it all.

And towards the end of the rehearsal, Tara, the director said something that stuck with me. She said “You’re all here because you’re good singers,” and I thought…

Wow, I guess I am.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rehearsal #1: Dancing with the Stars

We had our first rehearsal for Let It Snow! last night. Having not been able to attend the auditions, I had no idea what the cast would be like. I’d heard names bandied about as possible cast members, but due to my being bad with names, I had no idea who was being considered, really, except for such old friends as Scot and Derek. I must say I was thrilled to meet everyone. We have a great cast, with a wide range of ages and types that should bring a wonderful richness and breadth of characters to the show.

It’s great to finally have Derek in this show. Of all the show’s we do, this always seemed the one he was made for. And Scott finally joins the cast after narrowly missing in years past. I didn’t realize the “Dave” that was cast was the same Dave I had played with during the BATS Company auditions earlier in the year, so that’s exciting. We have two wonderful new women in the cast who’ve never played with us before. I’m looking forward to playing with both Karen and Molly. They bring a wonderful energy to the show and were a dream to dance with. And of course there’s the lovely Trish, returning after playing in the run of Shakespeare. I can’t wait to hear her sing.

But we did not sing last night. No, we danced. We went over the basic dance vocabulary which I talked about during the Great Puppet Musical, and added some work in partner dancing. Even though we’re forbidden from having proms or holiday dances in the show, after an over-reliance on the convention back in 2004 (thanks to Christian), partner dancing can be brilliant as back-up dancing or in dream ballets.

We learned the two step (one two three, one two three), the foxtrot (long long side step), and the cross-step waltz (long short short, long short short) which for some reason I have a fondness for crossing backwards (a perfectly common variation). I’ve always wanted to get better at partner dancing and hope we practice it more. I can already feel myself getting better even after last night, but I have a long way to go if I’m ever to be like Derek, who was immediately flinging Molly around the stage like he should be winning Dancing With the Stars.

All I can say, is dancing is a workout, and I need to get in shape and make sure I practice my dance moves outside of rehearsals. I may only be in three shows, but I’m going to go all out for those three shows.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Let It Snow!

Rehearsals for this year’s return of Let It Snow! start tonight. I’ll only be performing in the show a few times, as I’m terribly busy this fall, but I promise to write about every rehearsal and show that I’m in to make up for it.

If you haven’t seen this show, it’s really something special. We get a suggestion from the audience for a small town that they’ve lived or spent time in (and liked, that’s important) and then we talk to that person for a while and find out as much as we can about the town. Then we perform a full-length, improvised, holiday musical set in that small town, recreating as much as we can from the suggestions. And at the end of the show, it snows.

Yep, you read that right. It snows on stage.

It’s a lot fun. I’ll post my play schedule when I know it, but you should really go even if I’m not playing. It’s a hoot.