15 Theatrical Experiences that Will Stay WIth Me

Awhile ago, Bilal did a meme on this, and Don did a version as well.

The criteria was “15 theatrical experiences that are always going to stick with me, either as a participant or an observer”, and to try and list those 15 in no particular order.
I've been working on mine for awhile. I had the list, but wanted to take the time and describe each experience seperately, whether I was participant or observer.

My apologies for the length.

1) A View From the Bridge (Salem State College Theatre Department, Fall 1993). After 4 years of High School Drama Club, my mom told me I’d be killer in radio (I still think I have the voice for it….), and she encouraged me to do a Communications major instead of Theatre. I think she was afraid I'd be poor my whole life! My first semester in college was rough. I was living with my Aunt, commuting a long distance to school, working a crap job, had just broken up with my boyfriend a few months earlier, and was estranged from my best friend. The ONLY thing I had that was fun was my chorus class. That class alone will need an entire separate entry for another day. Anyway, my chorus pal Todd was a Theatre Student, and I kind of had a crush on him, so when he suggested we go to see the Theatre Departments fall show “A View From the Bridge”, I was totally in. When I walked in the theatre, my first time inside the SSC Mainstage which I would spend thousands of hours in over the next few years, I was initially blown away. The set design (H/T to Jim Fallon) was a perfect rendition of a Brooklyn tenement area. Stairs going up the side of the proscenium to mimic fire escapes – it was amazing, and I was awestruck. Todd leaned over and whispered to me “See those stairs? I painted them.” He was so PROUD to have been even a small part of what was being presented, and it showed. I went to the registrar’s office the very next day and changed my major to Theatre. Thanks Todd…

2) Frankie & Johnny in the Clair de Lune (Salem State College, Senior Directing/Acting Thesis’ – Feb of 97) – This was the senior directing project for my pal Peter Sofronas, as well as the senior acting project for my best friend Jenn Leavitt (Chicago peeps will know her as Jenn Adams, Founder of Halcyon Theatre). As a group, I think we had a blast. I had never seen Jenn & Peter work so hard on something before, and it was inspiring for sure. Also, it was the rawest performance I had ever seen Jenn give. I was so proud of the places she got to in that role (I still am). To this day, if I hear the music, I instantly think of this show. And as a side note, this show proved once and for all that working with real food props SUCKS! Someday I’ll tell the amusing meatloaf incident. It’s a classic.

3) Guys & Dolls (SSC, Spring of ‘99). This good ‘ole musical holds several places in my heart and mind. This was (and still is) the biggest production I have ever stage managed. I had a cast of about 30+, a full orchestra of about 20, a crew of about 15, and *3* (count em, 3) ASM’s (and let me tell you, I needed every one of those ASMs). It was HUGE. It was also my final show I Stage Managed at SSC, I moved to Chicago about 4 months after the show closed. I worked with some of my all time favorite college chums on that one, plus DAG was directing/choreographing, so it was fun too. Dude, I can still hear Matt singing “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat”, Eric & the boys singing “Luck be a Lady”, and of course, Bri singing “Till There was You”.

4) Anything Goes (Everett High School, Everett MA – Spring 1990). First show I was ever in. I was in the chorus; I spent a sum total of about 10 minutes on stage, but had the time of my life. I was hooked.

5) Coronado (Steep Theatre - fall of 07) from the moment I read the play, I knew I wanted to work on it. I begged my friend Kevin Gladish to be his Assistant Director. He let me because he took pity on me (Not true, I asked, he said sure, it was great). WHAT AN EFFING CAST! I was always amazed by the performances they gave. And you want to see raw? You should have seen the performance from Karyn Morris (now Brownlee). She astounded me, from the moment she read for the part up until she took her final bow. Amazing.
(Also, I had worked in that space several times with SRT, and had also seen plenty of shows there (Steep and others), but this was the FIRST AND ONLY TIME that the music from the honkey-tonk bar next door blended in so well. )

6) Metaluna…And the Amazing Science of the Mind Revue (WNEP - July/August 2008). ::sigh::
What can I say about working on this show? Such a mixture of emotions. Overall, the best show I’ve worked on in Chicago, thus far. I was amused and entertained all the way up until the final curtain call – those guys were still making me laugh on closing night. And as a Stage Manager, that’s a tall order. I mean, I had been with this material for months, had see it all performed so many times (we’ve all been there before, when the show loses its luster after a couple of weeks.), and I never was bored. It was my first introduction to DADA, and I guess you could safely call it “DADA-lite”? Still some crazy DADA poetry, but a little more plot than the usual DADA plays. I adored working with every one of the cast members, including some pretty freaking superb understudies who got tons of face time (Scotty, H.B. & Regan, I’m looking right atcha!)
For a process that began with Jen Ellison propositioning me to SM Metaluna over a glass of wine at the closing night reception for Raw, and ended with Don Hall giving me what is affectionately known as “the clapper”, this was definitely a crazy ride. I love all my Metalunites. And to them I say “Hairmp!”

7) Soiree Dada, Schmuckt Die Hallen (WNEP - December, 2008). If you never got a chance to see Jen Ellison’s DADA Dabo reign supreme over her rag-tag troupe of DADAs, then you truly missed out. I paid to see this show twice, actually. I went on opening night, and then again on closing weekend. Some moments will be there forever. DADA Grizzle’s speech about his name, DADA Nip’s uncomfortable moment with the baby doll and the audience member, DADA Flutter’s heart-breaking sugar plum fairy dance….but nothing can emotionally prepare you for the final moments. Watching Dabo remove all the makeup, and pack up her things….I cried like a baby each time I saw it. It was powerful and painful.

8) Touch (New Leaf Theatre – Jan 2009). This one is going to stick with me for quite some time. The palpable sense of loss that Dan Granata was able to create in that role was just ….awesome. About 15-20 minutes in I started to cry, and wept silently for pretty much the rest of the show. Then I went home and cried some more. In fact, I was so moved by the piece, I blogged about it (http://allthingsdianna.blogspot.com/2009/01/trust-me-i-was-touched.html), which doesn’t sound crazy now because I’m blogging more these days, but I was a little more infrequent about it then. Anyway…this show was fantastic, it furthered my love for New Leaf Theatre (what’s not to love, really?), and solidifies the fact that Dan Granata is a crazy talented actor and Jess Hutchison is one of the most talented directors out there. Period.

9) King Lear (Goodman Theatre – fall of 2006). This one will be controversial for the Chicago folk, mostly because tons of people hated this show. And you know what, I don’t give a shit. I adored this show. Granted, I’m not one of those Shakespeare enthusiasts who has seen a bunch of Lear before – this was in fact my first time seeing a stage production of it. Where people thought it was “overdone and too lavish”, I said it needed to be that way… how do you compare the world that falls apart for Lear with the opulence of his life before it without seeing some visual aids? Yes, Goodman has more money – but they also had Stacey Keach – who I thought was wonderful, Edmund Gero, and freaking Steve Pickering – who was the heart of the show in my opinion. And the music – I still hear some of the “keening” music during the war scenes in my head. I was on the edge of my seat for a show whose first act was almost 2 hours…. That’s amazing, I think.

10) Little Shop of Horrors (EHS – Spring, 1993). The best show I worked on in High School. And it was the FIRST time, when auditioning for a musical, in the slot that said “If the role you are interested in isn’t offered to you, would you accept a chorus role?” – I filled in “NO”. Needless to say, the fat chick played Audrey. The best part – on the day of opening night, we would always do a ½ hour – 45 minute “preview” of some of the songs for the school. We did “Skid Row” – I’ve never had applause like that for me in my life. I spent all day going to class with people stopping me in the halls to say what a “wicked awesome” singer I was. My favorite hard-ass teacher applauded me when I got to class… it was the best day of my high school life. I still smile thinking about it.

11) Young Mr. Ryan’s Ambition (SRT’s Vitality Playwrighting Festival – July ’05, Around the Coyote Festival – Aug ’05) This one always makes me laugh. The triumphant return to the stage after about 10 years!!! Hahahahah!
It was a ten minute play, and I played the mute, cuckolded wife and mother. It was awesome. I can still picture Austin as the douche-bag son, and Gladish as the slightly retarded hit-man. This show was so much fun to be a part of….and it was all directed by Adam Webster (Artistic Director of the side project). Awesomeness.

12) Rising (SRT’s Vitality Playwrighting Festival, July ‘07). My directorial debut – what a great show! Introduced me to Delaware's hidden gem, Kristyn Robinson (her plays are great). I had 2 great actors, I picked a simple, straightforward script, and I tried to make it as realistic as I could. The festival it performed in was "judged" to select the best play, and the playwright won some dough. Mine won. I was so excited for Kristyn (seriously, find a short play of hers and READ it fer crissakes), and if she ever decides to grace Chicago with her presence, she'll ghet a long overdue hug from me. (Side note, my piece was highly praised by 2 judges whose work I was familiar with but I had not formally met yet - Jen Ellison & Don Hall)

13) Death and the Maiden (Red Wolf Theatre – Spring 2001)
It was the first (and only) time I’ve quit a show I was working on.
I was the stage manager for this show up until about 5 days before it opened. This show was a tough lesson in “How much Dianna can take until she can’t take anymore”. I can still taste the cigarettes I smoked in response to my panic attack. Long story.

14) Crucible (SRT – Fall of 2006)
This show was ambitious in some ways – fool hardy in others, but overall had sequences in it that still give me goosebumps when I think of them (Best opening sequence to a show EVER). We set the whole thing to drums and added in movement for the scene transitions. We had minimal set, but an excellent lighting and costume designer who created visual beauty, a sound design that set the mood in no way I’ve ever heard before – and it all was staged in a church with huge stained glass windows so you felt the wrath of God on you at all times. We got some of our best reviews for that show, and it felt great. (and to that I tip my hat to the notoriously hard to please Jack Helbig)

15) Blue Man Group Chicago (March 2007 – December 2008)
The purists out there call BMG a commercial production devoid of much merit. I completely disagree – sure, I worked there, but this isn’t a “drink the kool-aid” feeling. There were parts of the show that I could watch over and over. The themes of isolation, group mindset, alienation, how to “follow the crowd”; these are all universal themes, and I always thought that BMG handled those with such an artistic flair. Sure, they cover you in toilet paper and spray wet stuff onto the audience, but it’s the WAY they do it that’s ….awesome. And there isn’t a better live band at a theatrical production anywhere. Hands down.
After I had been working there awhile, people asked me what it was like to work there, and I would say without hesitation that it was like being able to work at a rock concert every night. This show fulfills 2 categories I guess. As an audience member, I loved it, and as an employee I loved it. Anyone feel like going to see it some time soon? It’s been awhile, and frankly, I miss it.


joe g said...

Good list. I'm glad I could be part of a couple of those.

Dennis Frymire said...

I've been in Death & The Maiden and Little Shop as well.

I also bailed on the last night of "Death..." for, well...shit, death. But that's a story for in person sometime. Or I'll end up blogging about it.

Would have loved to see you as Audrey.

Dianna said...

@ Joe
I'm glad too...Coronado, Rising, Crucible. I would have included "Bright Room", but becoming friends with you during that show was one of the ONLY good things about that one.

@ D
Dude, must be something with that show (Death & The Maiden). We'll share those stories next time we hang out, I promise. And if you're interested in at least some PICS of me as Audrey, some high school pals uploaded some onto FB and tagged me...two words: BLONDE HAIR

-j-j- said...

Wow Dianna! Thank you for your kind words...I'm blushing.

You, as always, are a great pleasure to work with. A stern taskmaster, and a fantastic cheerleader. Wunnerful, a'wunnerful.

Stra•do |stray•do| n. slang. Home made playdough. Usually comprised of flour, water, and eyeshadow. Hair is often used as a binding agent.

Dave said...

Ah, the Frankie & Johnny meatloaf story. And let's not forget the first run-through with props, with real margarine… I've never laughed so hard since.