Sound of Musicals

by cindy

It was 1960. November. I remember because it was Thanksgiving weekend and my parents had taken my older sister, my younger brother and me to New York City. It was a trip just for the older three children. We had left the triplets at home in West Virginia with my grandparents as babysitters. (Yes, you read that correctly: Triplets. Oh, so much still needs to be written on that topic.)

The trip was an adventure from the very beginning. We travelled by train, in sleeper cars with those marvelous beds that folded down from the wall. Once we arrived in the city, we stayed in an hotel—I think it may have been the Waldorf Astoria—which fascinated me with its ornate lobby and opulent rooms. I felt very grown up just being there. I was all of 11, I suppose. Old enough to be enchanted by the details.

So many memories were created on that adventure. Vivid even now, I remember being thrilled by the lights of the theatre district, the noise of the traffic, the energy of the crowds, the quirky, bohemian flavor of Greenwich Village, the vibration of the subways thundering under the restaurants as we sat eating, the basement exhibit of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum with its collection of torture devices. ¬†Yep. All the highlights.

Of all the experiences of that trip, one played a greater role in my life than I ever would have imagined. It was on this trip that I saw my first Broadway show. It was my first live theatre experience of any sort and a better one could not have been possible. We sat in the upper mezzanine, a little off to the right, an evening performance. The excitement was palpable. The orchestra began to play. The lights dimmed. I clutched the Playbill tightly in my hands and leaned forward in my seat in an effort to get as close as possible to whatever was about to happen upon that stage.

As the orchestra crescendoed, the curtains began to open. Amazingly the “mountain” that perched upstage began to slowly but deliberately move down toward the audience and a glorious voice filled the house as Mary Martin began singing “the hills are alive…”

And one young girl fell in love with the magic of theatre.

It was many, many years before I saw another show, New York or anywhere else for that matter. My fascination for this form of art, however, never, ever left my core.

Fast forward to 1989 when my daughter decided to audition for a production at our local community theatre. Just as I had supported her brothers and their sports activities (carpooling to practices, preparing team snacks, standing in frigid driving rain with mud up to my knees during one tournament or another) I supported her in this activity (carpooling to rehearsals, preparing between-show lunches, standing in the back of the house with my old manual Nikkormat taking show shots without using the flash). Her passion for performance grew and as it did, so did my opportunity for working backstage. Whether she performed in community theatre or in a high school setting, volunteers were always needed to build or paint or sew. I worked to learn new skills and shared what talents I had with whatever production had use for them.

Eventually, once my daughter had headed on to college, I became a member of the production team for our local high school’s Performing Arts Department. While some may sniffle “oh, high school. harumpff.”, I challenge those snifflers to see one of our shows. This particular high school is an example of what many theatres, high school or otherwise, should aspire to be.

I have designed sets. I have designed and built costumes. I have painted sets, painted full-stage drops, designed show logos, taken show photos which is infinitely easier with new digital cameras than it ever was with the old. Occasionally I have taken a break from the intensity of the work—the process of “putting on a show” is rather all-consuming. I’ve retired from the team several times. Yet I continue to return.

What brings me back? First, I love working with this particular group of people. We expect the best efforts of the students we guide but those expectations are nothing compared to what we expect of ourselves. These are dedicated folk. Our hours are long. Our standards are high. The success of our shows is envied and we are proud of our results.

Additionally, I love the collaborative nature of this work. Most of my artistic efforts are tackled within the solitary confines of my studio. That’s fine for my personal art, but having another creative outlet wherein I work with others is truly a bonus. We pick each others brains. We challenge each others ideas. We argue. We laugh. We argue some more. We work well together.

I continue to work in this field even though the hours it requires also keep me from my own painting. I continue to work in this field because that young girl fell in love with the magic that is theatre. That same little girl grew up, followed other paths, made another life for herself, and still, somehow, had the great good fortune to follow a dream. It’s not Broadway but then I never dreamed of Broadway. I dreamed of the magic. This kind of magic happens in many places, is shown in many forms, and with luck, enchants many other young lives.

Why am I writing this now? Well, it’s musical season for the high schools in our area. This year we are doing The Wizard of Oz and yes, I am once again involved. I spend as many hours as I can manage (this 62-year old body is much more insistent on rest) designing, improvising, revising, and re-doing. If I am absent from this blog, at least this time you will know why. I intend to write when I can but know that when this show is over, there will be more stories to share.

In the meantime, think of me…aching back, throbbing knees, furrowed brow, whirling brain, happy.