Fine-tuning a Tenor
The Broadway revival of Lend Me a Tenor had its debut last weekend, but you don’t have to travel all the way to New York to see this classic farce. It premieres this weekend on the Bay Players Stage in Whitefish Bay.
Even though the doors don’t open to the public until this weekend, the zany action began about a month ago as we started the rehearsal process. Like the play, rehearsals have been a mix of hilarious highs and flat-out frustrations at times. But it’s all worth it when the lights come up on opening night.
First Couple Weeks:
I tried out for this play in January. I had the Wisconsin Winter Blues, and hadn’t been in a full-length play for a few months, so I was craving it. It turns out my timing couldn’t have been better. I had a couple disappointments in my personal life and needed something to get my mind off things. Like most of my co-actors admit, doing a play is a great way to escape reality. Shaun Navis plays Max, the male lead in the play. He explains, “In my particular job I sit at a desk all day, type at a computer. I do what I think are very boring things and the chance to get on stage and escape all of that and be somebody else, just the excitement and the challenge of live theater…that’s a blast.”
Like many community theaters, the Bay Players are based at a school, Whitefish Bay High in this case. Our first rehearsal was in the cafeteria. After being in the professional world for almost a decade now, I have to admit it’s kind of fun to be back in the high school setting. It makes me recall a simpler time.
The first week of rehearsal is usually pretty awkward, but with this cast it’s been comfortable from the start. Everyone is really nice and there are no “divas,” as we like to call them. I can say most nights I actually look forward to rehearsal after a long day at work. My co-star Lori Morse agrees. “Actually, the rehearsals are more fun to me than the performance.” She adds, “This is the best part. We’re laughing, getting to know each other and hanging out afterwards.”
She’s right: It’s not community theater without frequent stops at local watering holes for post-rehearsal food and libations. Rehearsals can get tense at times as actors struggle through their lines, and one of the keys to relieving that anxiety is to hang out with the cast outside of rehearsal. Just like the characters on the stage, it’s fun to learn each other’s back story and what lead each person to the crazy world that is community theater.
I play the role of Maria, the overbearing Italian wife of the main character. It’s fun because Maria is a very strong character, but I’m not onstage constantly. While it’s great to be the “lead” of a show, sometimes it’s nice to have a meaty supporting role. It’s a little less stressful and it doesn’t consume your life outside of rehearsal quite as much since you have fewer lines to memorize.
As most actors will concede, the time commitment is the hardest thing about pursuing a role in a community theater show. You don’t get paid, so you truly are doing it for the love. Liz Getschow is the female lead in the show, and she admits it’s a social sacrifice. “Definitely the two weeks before a show, you feel like your friends don’t ever see you and they get kind of mad at you, things like that, but they get over it eventually.”
For actors like Bob Fuchs, who plays my husband in the show, it’s also a financial sacrifice. “I own a business and sometimes I have to forego money to come to rehearsal and do it, but if you‘ve got the passion for theater, you give it up.”
The final weeks of rehearsal are when the technical elements come together. Sometimes audience members don’t think about all of the technical work that goes into a show: set design, lighting, sound, etc. Tom Zeuger, who plays the patriarch of the show, has had a chance to work on both sides of the curtain. He says matter-of-factly, “They’re equally important— every actor should do tech work and every tech person should be onstage, so they can experience both. You can’t have one without the other.”
Another important aspect is costuming. Costumes have caused some of the drama behind the scenes of this particular show. Without going into great detail, our original costume designer dropped out of the show during this final week due to personal circumstances — and none of us have our costumes yet! Initially we panicked, but we banded together to dress the show by bringing items from home to share. It’s been stressful, but it’s coming together somehow.
The other primary challenge with this play is that we’ve only had a month to rehearse, instead of the typical 6 or 7 weeks. Auditions were in January, but we didn’t start rehearsals until March. We did get our scripts ahead of time so we could learn our lines, but most of us (myself included), procrastinated and didn’t start memorizing until rehearsals began. It’s hard to memorize lines until you learn the movements that go with them from the director. In the theater world we call this sometimes tedious process “blocking.”
So as you can tell, there are many stories behind those well-polished actors you see on the stage. I have to admit we’ve had a few tense moments during rehearsals, but there has been a lot more laughter than yelling. That’s always my gauge. Community theater is meant to be fun. Once the fun is gone, I will stop and find a new habit.
Lend Me a Tenor opens this weekend. More info at the Bay Players website.