This summer I worked on the summer musical, Oliver! with the Baytown Little Theater (BLT). Again. Normally, my husband and I, as well as one or more of our sons and/or daughters in law, perform together on stage in the summer musicals. Last summer we even had Kim’s parents and two of our grandchildren on stage with us in Fiddler on the Roof. We had 4 generations of Martins on the same stage. Instead of performing, Kim, who became the technical theater instructor at Lee Community College a year ago, directed the summer musical this year. Our youngest son, Ryan, played the villainous, Bill Sykes, and I played the role of assistant director to my husband. Someone asked if I’d ever been AD before and yes, I have, but not for a production this large. It was exhilarating, fun, hard and exhausting work, but I’d do it again…for Kim.
A couple of years ago when plans for the 2014 season were first discussed, we thought the BLT would do Man of LaMancha. In fact, Kim had told the Play Reading Committee, for which I am the chairperson; he would be putting in to direct LaMancha. This was before the college employed him. Then, Kim was hired to work with Lee College and suddenly things began to change. The summer he began work with the college was the same summer 10 of the Martins were on stage in the 2013 BLT musical, Fiddler on the Roof. Kim spent the better portion of those summer days planning for his new school year in college and rehearsing the musical in the evenings. He began taking inventory of the different elements of the college theater arts program and thinking in terms of not only what would be good for the community theater, but also for the college theater program. The BLT needed a blockbuster musical the whole family could enjoy in the Lee College Performing Arts Center (PAC). In Kim’s opinion, the play should appeal to all ages and involve kids. Kids! Now don’t get me wrong, I like kids, I have always liked kids, but I’m not as young and energetic as I once was. Then, Kim landed on the idea of directing the musical Annie. Promotion for the musical went out a year in advance and little girls’ mothers began to plan for their little actress to star on our stage. The thought of corralling a bunch of little girls backstage was not my idea of a happy summer. I began to think that Crystal Beach might be the ideal retreat for me to wait out the summer musical storm.
Then, as fate would have it, little girls would not be the stars of the our summer musical. Only months before plans would begin for the play, the Broadway touring company of Annie notified us that the theater’s rights to produce the musical had been retracted. Kim was back to square one trying to come up with a big family pleasing, kid involved summer musical. The idea of producing Oliver! formulated, requests for production was sent to the publisher, accepted and now we had a new play, a different plan. We’d still use some of those same little girls as little orphan boys and the young boy who played the part of Oliver was outstanding.
Auditions for Oliver! were held back in early June. Prior to auditions, I had no intentions to work on the play. Crystal Beach was calling my name even louder. Then, I realized that Kim would work himself to death doing it all and I’d better be involved if I had any hopes of seeing my husband this summer.
After the scripts and music scores came in, I got busy organizing them for distribution. Kim worked up the audition pieces for potential actors to read and sing. We got our choreographer to come up with some audition steps to teach those who would audition. Kim also found an online site, called Virtual Callboard, to organize the cast and crew communications through email and text messaging. The online system came with a bit of a learning curve for Kim and I, but we found the site to be an excellent tool throughout the rehearsal process.
Before the auditions, I decided we needed our company t-shirt design ready by auditions. I found artwork, designed the shirt, and lastly, placed an initial order of 60 shirts to begin selling as soon as possible. I was pleased that people at the auditions bought t-shirts and the shirt sales continued throughout the show. We managed to sell around 55 of that initial order in addition to about 20 more shirts for our orchestra members. Best thing I’ve ever done at the start of a show!
After all the singing, dancing and reading scenes took place; the show was cast with 50 actors. However, it wasn’t long after the cast list was posted, that we started getting messages that a few had not accepted their role. It is unfortunate that people do that, but they do. So, we offered those roles to willing individuals who where happy for an opportunity to shine on stage. We ended up casting 45 adults and children in the cast. The stage manager, assistant stage manager, technical director, lights, sound, properties and costumes, make up and hair people were ready to start their jobs with the show. Figuring in the stagehands that were brought on to move set pieces and lower drops we had about 65 people total working on and behind stage. Add another 15 musicians plus the orchestra conductor and the number of people involved jumps up to around 80. (It takes a boatload of people to put on a big musical. My list doesn’t even take into account the box office workers and ushers.) We felt excited about our show, Oliver!
Later, maybe 2 weeks into rehearsals, we would find out that our technical director had bailed on us as well as the person lined up to lead the make-up crew and an additional light board technician who had only come to one meeting. As luck would have it, we have some pretty awesome, talented people in our lives that were ready and willing to step up to the challenge. Again, the show was none the worse for the replacements, in fact it was better. With those positions covered we were up and running with full rehearsals 4 nights a week plus a Sunday afternoon choreography rehearsal. Four weeks into rehearsals the set and props arrived from The Utah Music and Opera Theater along with their company foreman to oversee the assembly of the massive set. On a single day several men and women volunteered their own time to unload the truck and start work on set construction. Just two weeks away from Opening Night, the cast was finally able to practice on the real set and not tape lines on the stage floor. Our very capable properties leader and her helpers also organized the props making sure every item referenced in the play or needed by an actor was ready. The next major show element to arrive were costumes. We anxiously awaited the arrival of 19 large boxes from UPS to the college on Friday, one week before we opened. Several of us were there to receive and unpack the costumes hanging them by each actor’s name on costume racks. The next day 3 of us met with actors all day to help them try on costumes and make any needed adjustments to allow our period show to look spectacular. Our costumes mistress was the best! That day as we actors drifted in and out trying on costumes, work continued on the main stage assembling the huge set. The college PAC was buzzing with activity to get everything ready for production of Oliver!
On Thursday evening, July 31, our invitational dress rehearsal performed the same as it would for paying customers the next evening. Among the invited guest was the United Way organization giving us an audience of about 200 and the largest turnout for an invitational dress I’d ever seen. What an excellent last rehearsal for our cast and crew! Then, came August 1, Opening Night, complete with champagne for patrons old and new to see the Baytown Little Theater/Lee College’s production of Oliver! The adrenaline was pumping and everyone was anxious. Finally, I took my seat in the audience and Kim stepped out on stage to welcome our patrons to the show. As he concluded his speech, he advised the audience members to sit expectantly on the edge of their seats. Finally, the orchestra began the Act 1 overture and the curtain rose on our 13 little “orphans” ascending the stairs and singing in their angel voices, Food, Glorious Food.
The second night of performances, a local bank paid for the cast, crew and their guests to enjoy Pirate’s Bay, a water park in town, after the evening show. You haven’t enjoyed a water park until your group has the entire place to themselves from midnight to 2:00 a.m. We brought pizza for everyone and others brought drinks and other snacks. What a blast! We even had our oldest son and his two kids with us too. Our grandkids loved the water park so late at night. The next weekend Kim and I planned the closing cast party. Believe me when I tell you it is not easy to find an affordable venue who will let you party at their establishment after 11:00 until 1:00 in the morning. The local chapter of Optimist graciously allowed us to use their building at a significantly low price and was so generous as to loan us the key ahead of time to set up. I made arrangements with Jason’s Deli to provide a huge amount of food. (It was like feeding an army!) Kim and I planned and gave out personal candy “awards” trying to recognize everyone who had worked so hard on the show. It was well after 1:00 a.m. before we got to bed that evening, but the party was a success in my book and worth the trouble. Lastly, the final Sunday matinee of Oliver! came and all of our long summer work was coming to an end.
After months of planning, six weeks of rehearsals, one invitational dress, six performances, a water park night and a late night closing party, we have finally closed the show. On the Saturday after closing, a wonderful crew showed up to help reload the magnificent set and props into the 18-wheeler along with the tech guy from Utah. (We love Joe!) Will we work on the summer musical next summer? The answer from me is “no”, but I have been known to change my mind.
The End…for now.