Friday, April 15, 2011

Love Us, Love Our Vaginas

Thursday, April 7th was The Really Big Show, The Vagina Monologues at the Birch Theater. Can't believe it's been more than a week. Of course, I had shows (elsewhere) Friday and Saturday night, too (funny that I played a slutty, unfaithful Beverly Hills Housewife-type in those, after all the Woman Power from Thursday) and then the very next morning, David left for the annual Vegas pilgrimage at NAB, leaving me in Single Mom Mode. Whither my two-day detox alone at a hotel with a pool and room service? Not going to happen, Dear Readers.

David is home now, and I feel like I'm coming up for air. This morning, for instance, I'm staying in my pajamas and attempting to blog about that incredible night a week ago. Join me for the ride?

11:15 a.m. Oh man, I am nervous. I'm sitting in class at Grossmont and my phone is going "Bzzzz." "Bzzzz." "Bzzzzzzzzzzzz." about every three seconds. The last few days I haven't gotten home before midnight, as we've been running the show at our rehearsal space in Sorrento Valley. The previous night was the invitational dress, and we have a small audience of (weirdly) mostly men. They seemed enthusiastic. After the performance, we work on the musical numbers some more, as they are still messy. I have to give people "the hand" every few minutes: "Stop talking. No excuses--just do it. LET. ME. THINK." It's taken me months, but I've finally gotten comfortable with my directorial power. Our stage manager, Carolyn, who has been working professionally in the theater for 32 years, tells me that she's been watching me give actor notes for three nights and she thinks I have a gift for communicating with them. My eyes fill with tears, because if you'd asked me four months ago what I could bring to this job, that would have been the one thing I could think of. To have a pro corroborate it means so much. Then she says, "Mind you, you really needed me--you're creative. You don't get tech at all." She says "creative" like it's a bad thing, but I'm still thrilled.

12:30 p.m. Bzzzzz. Bzzzzzz. I sneak peeks at my texts inside my purse. I am still really, really important, for like 12 more hours. It's going to be so weird when that's no longer true. (And it is.) My assistant director, Cynthia, and my production manager, Kari, have planned some meeting for 4:00 that I hadn't heard about. Apparently, the set furniture (gorgeous stuff generously donated by my cast member, Ellen) was actually delivered at 10:30. No one told me. I am trying to concentrate on the lecture, but I'm pouting. I'm also feeling a little left out because most of the cast has gathered at an oceanfront house in La Jolla for meditation and makeup artists, and I am in a windowless room.

1:30 p.m. David is picking Jarrah up from camp, so I'm free to beautify. I spend an hour applying makeup (my face eats the stuff--ultimately, two different makeup artists will need to reapply at the Birch) and blowing my hair out (saved myself 50 bucks!) I gather up my costume and accessories for later, and make sure all the Craft Services is in the car. I've decided to provide the cast and crew with drinks and snacks, as a thank you from me to them. Also, less-than-secretly I don't want anyone getting loopy with low blood sugar during my show--it does fall during the dinner hour.

3:30 p.m. I say a quick hello to my fam and I'm off for the Birch. There is plenty of free parking still. I've heard that we are SOLD OUT. Sold out!!! 731 seats on a week night! This seems amazing. It seems impossible. But it's true. I am still getting texts and e-mails about tickets. Really? Asking the director for tickets on the day of the show? 'Scuse me while I have a diva moment--one of many today, I'm sure.

4:15 p.m. In the Starbucks next to the theater with Cynthia, Kari and Carolyn, and a few people I don't know. I gather they are volunteers and volunteer coordinators. Kari is a champion and has put together a team of 30 people to handle tickets, ushering and who-know-what-all on this big day. It's a testament to how skilled she is--and how big a project this is--that I never even see most of them. They are all scribbling things in notebooks and not paying attention to me. Cynthia takes my keys and entrusts them to a volunteer who is going to set up Craft Services. I make a note that this will probably be the last time someone carries my groceries for a long while.

4:45 p.m. Call time in the lobby of the Birch! It's pandemonium in there, but in a good way. Except for two, all actresses are on time, weeks of threats having done their job. The last two are present and accounted for within 10 minutes. Everyone is in costume already--black with red "flair," my design--and looking stunning. I note with envy that most of them have false eyelashes. Since I am not well-endowed in the lash department, I am bummed that I missed out on that. Everyone keeps asking me if I'm excited, but I feel strangely chill.

5:00 p.m. Cynthia starts yelling (love her and her commanding voice) that the theater is open and we all surge down the ramp. There are three huge dressing rooms down there and soon they are buzzing like hives with women touching up their lipstick and spraying their hair. I had gotten some strange looks in the lobby for being out of costume, so I changed rather unceremoniously in the bathroom of the adjoining bar. My outfit is so comfy. One of my cast members, Betty Jo, is a stylist, and she has generously provided me with an array of choices for the day. I picked a jumpsuit because it's cute, as comfortable as pajamas, and I would never, ever wear it in my real life. (She is such a doll--she gives me the outfit, and the red Prada shoes, when the event is over.) I have my own red necklace and headband (7 dollars at JCPenney, ssssh!) and am feelin' fine.

5:15 p.m. More yelling (some of it from me) and the whole cast trucks up to the stage. I should mention that we have NEVER been on this stage before--the whole set-up has been hypothetical before today. Carolyn had the presence of mind to visit the Birch last week and tape out the dimensions, which she reproduced in Sorrento Valley on the carpet, but that's as close as we've come before now. I can feel my heart pounding out of my chest as I consider all that I want to get through in one hour.

5:30 p.m. I'm striding up and down the aisles of the theater, yelling at the top of my lungs. I need to get through every cue in the show, some of them multiple times, as my actresses are running into each other, or worse--standing around hesitating, darting their eyes, and leaving long gaps that should be filled with movement and action. I shout them through their paces until I'm satisfied. The sound guy, Mike, the photographer, and a few other (I'm assuming?) VIPs sit in the seats, looking amused at my despotism. I line the whole cast up on the edge of the stage and tell them to step forward and say two lines of their monologue. I stand at the back of the theater to check their volume. "Nope, not loud enough--AGAIN! If I were your mother I would be totally missing your performance right now!!!"

5:45 p.m. Running the opening and closing musical numbers. This is trickier because I'm in them, need the practice, and hence, can't see them myself. Cynthia steps in--again with the loving her, so calm, so commanding. I kind of lose it at one point because the much-touted PZMs (a kind of floor mike) don't seem to do much, and there are two standing mikes on the stage, a scenario I expressly forbid (I don't want anything between my actresses and the audience.) Carolyn is nowhere to be found so I rant ineffectually: "What are these doing here? I want them gone!" Eventually, someone says we need the volume, and I calm down and acquiesce. I seem to remember we were promised a quick-and-dirty installation of hanging choir mikes, but who knows what happened with that. In any case, we are having troubles with the songs, too. At one point, three of us forget the lines to an entire verse, and everyone is upset about it. Someone says to me, "Can you sing any louder?" It's an old refrain, and my head almost blows off. "Please stop saying that." I murmur dangerously. "If I could sing louder, then I would." Turns out I was not anywhere near a mike. We move some people around and it gets better. All this is happening with minutes to spare before the lobby reception begins.

6:30 p.m. Cynthia is urging me to wrap it up; the photographer has been waiting patiently. I am frustrated about this interruption, but later, I love the photos. I wonder how everyone is feeling. They are trying to be respectful and are keeping quiet, but they must be freaking out--particularly the ones who have never acted before. Who makes their theatrical debut in front of 731 people? Not me.

6:50 p.m. The reception is in full swing. The windows are taped over so they can't see us in the theater, but I can hear a dull roar behind me. It's time to excuse everyone for makeup touch-ups and a snack before our warm up. "And I think we need an energy clearing," Novalena suggests. You can tell I've been immersed in this New Agey stuff for a long time now, because I nod very seriously.

7:15 p.m. We've circled the wagons. It's a little snug, but we all squeeze in. Jess takes us through a breathing relaxation. Sasha does our vocal warm-up. I walk us through some articulation exercises and then I feel myself revving up for one of my tough love/high priestess incantations:

"Let's just take a moment to acknowledge that it sounds like a football game up there. Yes, it does. And that's scary, isn't it? There are hundreds of people up there, all expecting a professional show. Let that energy feed you. I've heard people say that you can relax by picturing the audience in their underwear--NONSENSE. We respect the audience. We LOVE the audience. We send out our energy and love to them, and we feel it come surging back into us. Remember: they are here because they WANT to love you. LET. THEM. LOVE. YOU."

And then, because it's The Vagina Monologues and it's probably stipulated in the by-laws somewhere, we all put our hands in the middle, raise them up and scream "Pussies Unite!" Suddenly we are all scrambling up the stairs into the wings and...

Oh. My. God.

7:35 p.m. I don't remember the music starting, but it must have. And there I am, at the front of the stage, singing with the soloists. I hope people can hear me. But no one forgets a single word, and the energy is high. Weeks of raising my arms to the group and shouting "Smile! The audience will only have fun if WE have fun!" and I can't even turn around now, let alone make any encouraging gestures. I just have to have faith. I think it goes really, really well. I'm surprised how well I can see the audience--I'd been told it would just look like The Golden Light of Heaven out there. Later I find out that they are being illuminated by our "cyc," or cyclorama, which is this super-cool scrim-thing that reflects an ever-changing wall of color behind us. It looks so gorgeous in the pictures. I am proud of myself for lobbying for it.

7:45 p.m. I quietly leave the stage as all my actresses take their oh-so-carefully appointed seats. It's the worst feeling in the world to leave them. Hey! I realize for the first time. I'm not in this show. Waaah.

7:46 p.m. The Introduction girls. They are smokin' tonight. I'm so proud of Ellen, who had been so nervous, but is loud and proud and funny. Roby and Sasha are enjoying themselves, too, and it shows. The audience laughs and laughs. I peek out awkwardly behind a flap of fabric in the wings, just behind Carolyn, who is masterfully (wow!) creating our cyc tableau in real time with cues to someone in the booth. I am smiling so big--by the end of the show, my face hurts.

The show is almost exactly 90 minutes. This is sort of a miracle, because we didn't time it until this week, and 90 minutes was what we wanted. We're sort of amazed that we've kept to the time.

Here are my thoughts during that 90 minutes:

Yay! The audience is laughing. Go Sasha, Roby, Ellen!
Oooh, Betty Jo, I'm so happy you're getting laughs. Your timing is great.
Yay, Tanya, nice and loud, good for you holding for laughs!
Anna, Novalena, Betty Jo, you guys are adorable with the Wear and Say Lists. And I'm so freakin' happy that no one in the cast messes up during the "pop-ups" at the end! Very funny!
Anna, love how you work that "Because she was arthritic" line.
Alex, you are a master. After all this time, I still want to cry when you do "The Flood."
Wow, Dr. Jenn! I thought you were good last night, but MAN! You killed it tonight! Remember you were worried this monologue could feel too long? No way, girl. They were cracking up.
Anna, you are so funny on the Happy Fact. Wish we held for that hand gun line a BIT longer!
Carey, you are masterful on that single-line intro for "Because He..." Brynn, darling, I love you. I couldn't quite hear you, but I love you, and I'm happy you got laughs.
Erica, I am so proud of the work you've done. Very moving on "Not So Happy."
Oh, girls, Kelly, Isa and Faryl--how hilarious were you tonight?? All three of you? You could have held longer for your laughs, but you brought it!
Maggie and Christy, you guys have worked so hard, and when it counted, you took it to the next level. So moving tonight!
Jess, my little Coochi Snorcher, you just hold the audience in the palm of your hand. So good.
Erica, Kelly, Sasha--this is the best I've seen "Crooked Braid." Moving AND funny. Erica, you got your laughs! You, too, Kelly! Sash, you made me cry. The best ever--which means so much with all the changes we've made just in the past couple days.
Isa, way to own the intro to "Cunt." They loved it.
Faryl, my girl, you brought it when it counted! And you gracefully handled that lighting glitch! So proud of you.
Cyanne, my love. So funny, and nice and loud tonight. You and Jess are perfect together.
Carey, I have gotten so many compliments for you. You are such a big personality, so perfect for "The Woman Who Loved..." You owned it.
Roby, Nisa, Dana--you guys were on fire tonight! The best "I Was There..." ever! So proud!
Isa, wow. Every time you do "Myriam" it gets more moving. Beautiful.

And then I'm heading back out there to sing "Sisters" with the gang. It feels so good, though I have no idea how my voice is coming across. My throat is dry and hot, but I'm giddy with the moment. Ever faithful, Cynthia has brought me water and tissues (ugh, my sinuses) before my entrance.

9:30: So nervous to introduce Tanya and Dr. Jenn in front of all these people, and I feel crazily emotional when the producers give me flowers and the framed poster. Later, I discover the cast has chipped in to give me and the team a day at Glen Ivy, which is over-the-top generous and so perfect!

9:45: So hard to leave the stage and not go straight out to my guests, but we are on a tight schedule. Our contract is very strict--if we don't clear the theater by 10:00, we go into "union meal penalty," which is one of those cool tech things I'm learning about. It's an extra bummer to descend to the dressing rooms again and find that the place is inexplicably infused with "Eau de Sewage" from sources unknown. This is both worrisome and gross, and I hope not some cosmic critical review of the show. By the time I emerge, arms laden with gifts and luggage, most of my many dear guests have departed, though many, many of them send lovely notes in the next couple of days.

10:00: After some ebullient hugging and yelling in the shoulder-to-shoulder West Coast bar with whoever happens by (it's a bit sad that the entire cast is never all together again) I announce a need for a Vagini-tini, stat! We get a table outside, me, David, Calvin, Robyn and Jessica, all of whom have loyally remained to make a night of it, eventually joined by Dr. Jenn and a perfect sidewalk vantage for hugs and photos with Brynn, Maggie, Cynthia, Carey, Dana and several others who happen by. Sheets of rain blow by just outside the patio, but I'm feeling warm with accomplishment even though the super-adorable and friendly bouncer, Ben, is unable to light our fire. (That sounds a smidge naughty, but there is, in fact, a fire pit in the middle of the table.) My Vagini-tini is very pink and very yummy, and I order something that may disgust some of you but couldn't have been more perfect: Tempura Jidori chicken on a waffle, smothered in maple syrup. It was like my dinner and dessert all in one, and since I hadn't eaten since lunch, it really hit the spot.

12:00 a.m. My dear husband hastens home before we owe our babysitter more than a hundred dollars, and my friends go with him--it is a weeknight, after all. I end up cozy with Dr. Jenn, Roby and Alex, a final toast from a small group of Vagina Warriors to end the night. It's getting cold and I've sent my red heels home with David, covered my cleavage with a fluffy jacket.

1:00 a.m. Can't. Keep. Eyes. Open. As I drive home, my mind reels at it all being over. "You can do it all again next year!" exclaimed Producer Tanya's sweet boyfriend right after the show, and she and I wore matching expressions of mild horror. Not that I'd trade a minute of the experience, mind you. Good and bad, up and down, it's all mixed into one of the greatest memories of my life, spread out from January to April. Would I ever do it again? Ask me next week. Seems like I've already spent nearly enough time in my pajamas.


Jen said...

Congratulations, Miss S! What an achievement this is!!! So happy for you.

I also LERVE the red shoes.


Stephanie said...

I imagine this is a show that one gets more and more out of each time. Not sure how anyone will top what I saw/felt last week though.

Glad not to be a virgin any longer; oh and your pep talk nailed it--I've never sat in a more energized audience, ever.

Logical Libby said...

Sounds like a brilliant night! And like you may have a new brilliant career as a director!

Aunt LoLo said...

Congrats! WHAT an accomplishment! (And, just'll always have your ruby red PRADA slippers to remember the evening by. ;-))