Jenntertainment's Weblog

Adventures in children's theatre.

How’d That Happen? and Other Phrases I Use Daily November 7, 2008

     This weekend, the theatre is doing a production of Willy Wonka, Jr. Like all of our class shows, it only runs for four performances, evening shows on Thursday and Friday, followed by matinees on the weekend.
     As we all know, the emotional high of Willy Wonka or Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is the finding of the sacred golden ticket. Every time I watch the snow scene in the movie I feel my insides squeeze together, as if there was some chance that Charlie wouldn’t find the ticket, wouldn’t get to tour the factory after all and that the movie would stop abruptly with a sort of ‘well, you can’t expect a bar of chocolate to solve all of your problems, now can you?’ sort of attitude.
     Knowing this about myself, blocking the famous reveal scene was my favorite part of the rehearsals. Charlie comes down center singing a reprise of Think Positive. The music drops to the suspenseful low hum of violins, Charlie closes his eyes and turns away his head, opening the bar of Wonka chocolate towards the audience so that they see the ticket before he does. He peeks open one eyeball, spies the golden shimmer, and then the stage bursts into color while Charlie sings the classic song I’ve Got a Golden Ticket, which I love even despite the grammatical inconsistency of ‘I have got’ a la ‘You’ve Got Mail.’
     In preparation for the show, my stage managers, Megan and Tyler, and I made three dozen fake chocolate bars to be used throughout the performances.  We cut cardboard, spray painted them silver, printed Wonka labels and wrapped them around the ‘chocolate bars.’ They looked pretty good, if I may say so. Charlie has to unwrap and taste three real bars before he gets the golden ticket, so we also had to buy 16 giant bars that he could actually eat, change the wrappers on all of them to make them look like Wonka bars, hide golden tickets in 4 of them (one per show), rewrap them and discreetly mark the outside so that we knew which ones were the lucky winners. 
     Charlie got to put our chocolate bar system to the test during the final dress rehearsal on the same afternoon as our opening. Figuring out which bars were to go where was like a college-level mathematical equation. One real bar has to be wrapped in newspaper and carried on stage right by Mrs. Bucket for the birthday scene. The second bar has to be hidden under Grandpa Joe’s pillow. The third bar is a gift from the Candyman to Charlie, so it has to be preset in the candy cart on stage left, a genuine chocolate bar amongst a cart full of decoys. To complicate matters further, the fourth and final bar that actually contains the golden ticket is also on the cart, set at the beginning of the show. He and the Candyman have to know which bar to pick first or else the whole scene is blown. Let us not forget the other 36 phony bars littered around the prop table. When we got the formula right in dress rehearsal, I almost fell out of my chair. How’d that happen? We must be the masters of the prop universe! 
     Since we used the bars in dress rehearsal, we know that we have to make another set of four to last us through Sunday’s performance, but that’s no big deal. We have everything set, everyone costumed, every light focused and we are ready to rock! From my perspective, the show is going great. I honestly could not have asked for more from these kids than the beautiful performance that they gave last night. There were things that were always wrong in rehearsal that the cast nailed on their opening, the audience laughed in all the right places and applauded every time we introduced a new character. All August Gloop had to do was walk on stage and he got an ovation – not bad for your first time in a show. Charlie gets one candy bar, then two. Things are going great!
     Of course, you know what’s coming. We’re in the pivotal scene with the Candyman now. The cart is on stage, filled with lollipops, candycanes, goodie bags, false prophets of chocolate and only two real candybars, indistinguishable from the audience. Charlie finds the coin on the ground and tries to return it to the Candyman. He refuses and gives Charlie the third chocolate bar as a reward for being such a nice kid. Charlie takes just one bite, decides to share the rest with his family and puts it in his pocket. Then he decides to buy one more for himself with the shiny nickel he’s just discovered. My intestines are quivering, I’m so excited.
     As the Candyman reaches for the chocolate bar, Willy Wonka (who acts as a narrator and constant presence in the first act) smoothly walks on stage to place another bar in the display and then exits.
     I did not block this to happen. This is not part of the plan. My tummy hurts.
     Relax, Jenn. Megan has it all under control. Clearly, they forgot to preset the golden ticket bar on the candy cart, so she had Wonka walk on stage at the appropriate moment and conspicuously place it right in front of Charlie. The audience will think that Wonka is manipulating the contest, providing Charlie with just the right bar at just the right moment. I kind of wish I had blocked it that way. The other two actors appear to not have even noticed that Wonka was on stage with them, either out of confusion or sheer panic, I’m not sure which. So far, things are great. I tell my intestines to stop tying themselves in knots because the problem at hand has been solved. Then they make one tragic, unforgivable mistake.
     The Candyman does not hand Charlie Wonka’s bar. Instead, he still reaches for the original, completely ignoring the new arrival. Its like watching him choose a felon from a lineup. Why, oh, why must my emotions be so closely connected to my digestive tract? If this were a movie, everything would have been happening in slow motion with Charlie screaming a loud, bassy ‘nooooooo!’ The Candyman shoved the bar into Charlie’s unwilling hands, turned on his heel and exited, leaving an open-mouthed Charlie alone on stage full with the knowledge that he is about to reveal to the audience…absolutely nothing.
     The suspenseful music is playing and my digestive system has come to a complete stop. I fully expect for Charlie to sing something along the lines of ‘I don’t got a golden ticket’  as the show plummets into the dark pages of theatre lore. Decades from now, people will be sitting around at cast parties telling scary show stories, holding flashlights under their faces and saying ‘you remember that show in Savannah where Charlie didn’t get to tour the factory because they forgot to set the golden ticket?’ Young actors will gasp in terror and seasoned veterans will smile and nod. Of course they remember.
     Charlie closes his eyes. What else could he do? He turned away, more out of fear than faithfulness to my blocking. He faced the chocolate bar towards the audience. He lifted the paper flap on one side, hesitated, and slid the bar out of the foil. The audience is leaning forward in their seats and I am standing at a 45-degree angle as though I have not had my V-8 today. The audience bursts out into spontaneous applause as Charlie, in a completely genuine display of surprise, looks down to see a golden ticket in his hands! I think I actually yelped. Then he sings:
‘Look what happened! See what happened? That’s what happens when you’re thinking positive!
I’ve got a golden ticket….’
The song continues, culminating in the act one finale. I rush backstage to find my stage manager and Charlie both utterly speechless. There are three golden ticket bars on the prop table. We only made four and we used one in rehearsal this afternoon. How’d that happen? None of us has any clue, but we all know that years from now, at some distant cast party, the lucky kid who played our Charlie Bucket will sit down and say ‘I remember the time…’


Golden Intentions October 14, 2008

     As a non-profit organization, my workplace depends largely on volunteer efforts and monetary contributions to survive. Our volunteers are the lifesource of the company, providing us with everything from office management to office supplies and without them we could not exist, at least not in the same capacity that we do now. They have built our stage, designed our sets, sewed our costumes, hung our lights and funded every production. For me, one of the most significant volunteer contributions has been the construction and installation of our dance floor, a beautiful sprung floor laid with an expensive marley and lined with mirrors. It is where I spend most of my time and I love every inch of it, thanks to them. Volunteers have shaped and molded us into being and as long as they continue to support us, we will continue to flourish.
     That being said, there are some volunteers that are less help and more hassle, usually in regards to donated goods. I would say that about one third of the items given to us are true gold that you will see reused on stage, but the rest are just well-intentioned tripe. There was the volunteer that donated all of their used furniture to the theatre in hopes that we could use it, not taking into account that they were only giving it away because it was broken, water damaged and dog-bitten. That old adage one man’s trash is another man’s treasure rarely proves to be true; mostly, its just trash.
     Also there was a volunteer that hooked us up with the closeout items from a local convenience store, the intent being that we would receive oodles of free makeup, hair supplies, snack items, canned beverages, etc. Of course, the reason that these things were being pulled from shelves were that they had long passed their expiration date and were no longer safe for human consumption. Regardless of their toxicity, the items kept coming in every two weeks. I will never forget that one fateful day when the children attacked a cart full of Hostess snacks without asking permission. The details are too gruesome to print.
     One volunteer of years past has become legend. His name was Mr. Higher and he offered to paint the ceiling of our front lobby, but tried to do it during a performance for toddlers. Even after they climbed the scaffolding and finger painted on the concession stand, this man did not comprehend why this was a bad idea. Mr. Higher also brought his child to a performance for her birthday and then proceeded to tail-gate in the parking lot, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, cake and ice cream to little children out of the back of his truck in the middle of a busy intersection. So it should have been no surprise to me that his attempts to repaint our back lobby would be, well, disastrous.
     His mission was to paint six golden-yellow walls the same color, concealing patches from recent air conditioning work. The color of this lobby has been debated by many. Some claim that it is a Morrocan gold, some say dark yellow, some even liken it to a Kentucky Fried Chicken golden brown. My attempts at calling it the Grey Poupon lobby have been largely unsuccessful, mostly because people grew tired of me pardoning myself to ask if they had any. I remember taking the paint swatch to the hardware store and having the associate raise her eyebrows and ask me ‘you want ten gallons of this?‘ She took extra precautions to make sure that no one else picked up this color by mistake and boldly labeled the buckets GOLD PAINT FOR THEATRE. Regardless of its true color, it was pretty when it was new, but desperately needed a touch-up. 
     Now, a normal person would have bought some drop cloths and tape, masked the areas that should not be painted, rolled the walls and then untaped his masterpiece. We were not fortunate enough to have a normal person.
     I received a call early one morning to go down to the theatre and let Mr. Higher into the building. When I arrived, someone else had already unlocked the door, but he had not called to tell me that I was no longer needed. I returned to work later that afternoon to find all of the baseboards missing, but everything else in much the same condition as it had been that morning. Four days passed and no work had been done, save the missing baseboards and two five-gallon buckets of paint that sat inconveniently in the middle of the hallway. I began to wonder if I had dreamed my morning encounter, and if the baseboards had recently gone on some sort of strike due to their shabby surroundings, or perhaps because of the imposing presence of 10 gallons of paint.
     On the fifth day, I walked in to discover that my world had been liberally smeared with dijon mustard. The carpet was yellow. The ceiling was yellow. The tile was yellow. The stairs and doors were yellow. Even the paint buckets were yellow. Worse, the dance floor was yellow. My baby, that beautiful, expensive, dance floor was yellow. I sounded like my character in Go, Dog, Go as I marched around the building, pointing out everything that was now, in my opinion, jaundiced.
     ‘Hey, I got a little paint on your floor’ Mr. Higher said. I just couldn’t help myself.
     ‘Really? Thanks for pointing that out, because if you hadn’t mentioned it I might not have noticed! What a keen observation to bring to my attention. I probably never would have realized that the floor was yellow if it wasn’t for your sharp eye…’ I kept on and on, talking nervously in a low voice, trying not to lose my temper. He never even flinched or even regarded my sarcasm, but he did try to convince me that it could be cleaned with some Goo Gone. I calmly explained that nothing else would touch that floor until I talked with the manufacturer and that this matter was no longer his concern. Given the circumstances, I think that I behaved admirably, but my husband says that I shouldn’t laud myself for acting like a ‘normal’ person. He obviously had good intentions and you can’t be angry at that.
     When I related the first part of this tale to my mom, her instant reply was that ‘good intentions pave the road to hell.’ Though I’d heard this idiom many times, I had never really thought about its meaning. I Googled it and learned that it was derived from the letters of St. Bernard, the man who inspired the name of St. Bernard’s Pass, a path through the Swiss Alps that was so treacherous it required the local monastary to raise a team of rescue dogs by the same name. Though popular in media, the monastary insists that they never equipped their dogs with miniature casks of brandy, as the alcohol would merely act as a muscle relaxer to those already suffering from hypothermia. 
     Regardless of the St. Bernard’s reputation as the Swiss Alps’ most reliable bartender, the actual French-to-English translation of the St. Bernard (the person’s) quote omits the first three words, stating that hell itself has good intentions and desires. Nobody seems to know when the extra words were added, but I think they change the intent of the phrase quite a bit. I guess the true meaning of this quote has something to do with the fact that merely intending to do good, without actually doing it, is of no value. A good lesson, for those of us with Dudley Do-Right attitudes. Like this guy. 
     Mr. Higher promised us that his mess would be cleaned up in time for the weekend and left in a puff of yellow. I thought that perhaps he would return with a new game plan, like not using an industrial paint sprayer indoors with the air conditioner running when a simple roller and paint tray would suffice. Kind of like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly, if you ask me. Throwing ration and reason to the wind, he continued on with his paint sprayer, creating clouds of golden dust in the rear of the building and causing approximately 200 children in the course of one day to ask me ‘what’s that funny smell?’ Job finally completed, he packed up his toys and went home.
     The only word to describe his work is ‘astonishing.’ Now that all of the dropcloths had been removed, there were stripes of yellow paint creating roadmaps on the carpet. We were now the proud owners of yellow ceiling tiles, yellow sprinklers and a yellow water fountain. The paint that had, by some miracle, managed to adhere to the walls was now slowly dripping down from the ceiling, creating a haunted-house effect as it slid towards the floor. Since the melted wax look is only considered chic when derived from candles stuck in chianti bottles atop the red-and-white checkered tablecloths of Italian restaurants, we called in the reinforcements.
     With only 48 hours until an audience arrived, our tried and true volunteers all rose to the occasion. They brought belt sanders, mineral spirits, paint brushes, drop cloths and most importantly, those little airplane-sized bottles of wine to help get us through the crisis. Much like the St. Bernard’s and their mythical brandy, they rescued us from an avalanche of latex gold dust, which I can only assume is the same color used to paint the stripes on the road to hell. They phoned in favors with independant contractors and an industrial cleaner, who took one look at our dappled carpet and proudly stated ‘yup, we’ll probly jes’ use the same orange-smellin’ stuff we use at the Chuck-E-Cheese.’  
     All of their magic spells took hold just in time for our weekend of performances and, thanks to those amazing volunteers, the place looked great. They even ordered the appropriate cleanser for the dance floor and cleaned all 48 feet of mirrors in the studio. As I walked down the hall, surveying their excellence, I noticed that the two original five-gallon buckets of golden paint were still sitting in the walkway.  Carrying them to the paint storage room (affectionately referred to by our students as ‘the scary room’), I noticed the labels stuck on the lid, and immediately understood the reason that they were still so prominently displayed in the hallway. They read, simply:

                              GOLD PAINT FOR HIGHER

     Who could ask for anything more?