Chronicles of a dancing writer: a 50-day 'Jolly Holliday'
I don’t sing. Yet, I auditioned for a musical. And I made it. And I’m singing.
Who would’ve thought? Not me for sure. But “Mary Poppins” was something I couldn’t let pass me by without giving it a shot.
The owner of my old dance studio choreographed a tap piece for my senior group seven years ago to “Step in Time,” and it did extremely well in competitions. “Mary Poppins” always has been one of her favorite musicals, so that piece meant a lot to us. She played Mary Poppins in a local Kansas City production about five years later, and I made sure I was home to catch a show. Because of her large influence on me with this show, I knew if I didn’t audition, I would regret it.
Nine days before the spring semester began, the cast of “Mary Poppins” gathered at the River Campus, prepared to have a full day of singing. However, our music director was stuck in Canada due to weather, so we had to adjust our schedule. That was my first indication that we wouldn’t be sticking too closely to the schedule at the beginning.
This was the first thing that threw me off my game, simply because: 1. I’m not used to it, and 2. I don’t run my life that way. I’m used to set schedules and planning in advance. This is how I manage my time efficiently. So when I was called to rehearsal on a day I was supposed to be completely off, I was completely disoriented. As a statue, talking shop customer and chimney sweep, I had to learn my parts of the choreography as well as the vocal parts for all the ensemble sections.
The first two weeks or so was all about learning harmonies for the ensemble songs (there are more than you would think) and learning choreography. It involved the three longest dance sections: “Jolly Holliday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpiliadocious” (yes, I sang part of the song so I can spell it right) and “Step in Time.” “Step in Time” was the craziest, because the dance breaks were about half of the entire song, but we don’t stop moving once we start dancing. That includes the reprise when we go from the rooftops to the parlor. Running that piece three times during several rehearsals, on top of singing . . . man, I’m out of shape.
From there, blocking was set for the dialogue, character choices were finalized, then we were running scenes and dance numbers with minimal stops. Reminder: we spent a month and a half or so on this show, from rehearsal to strike. We moved fast.
I’m not going to lie, I got drained fast. I had other classes outside my dance major that I wasn’t dedicating as much time for and I was having to skip work for rehearsals. Starting off, I had more downtime to get ahead on homework, but the time commitment wasn’t the biggest problem. I believe the starting and stopping so frequently contributed to this negative mindset. It took me some time to realize my value in the show, especially when I was in a scene but I was just sitting there waiting to work on my parts as other cast members worked on theirs. I would sometimes sit for up to 3 hours without doing anything in rehearsal. I ended up feeling like I was wasting my time. However, once we started doing multiple scenes in a row into full act and show runs, I was completely fine. We were starting to find a groove in the rehearsal process, so the constant starting and stopping decreased. I started to see the show really come together, I was developing my three characters a little more, and I was excited about my friends and family who would be seeing this show.
Another contributing factor that really increased my motivation and positivity was moving into the Bedell Performance Hall. When I participated in the dance concerts, we moved in about 12 days before opening night. For this show, we were in there with 18 or so days before opening night, which was nice. We had more time to adjust to the space this way. That was needed because of all the technical elements that were involved in this show. Slowly but surely, as the scenery and props were finalized, they came into the theater to join us. It started with the floor, then the London sunset backdrop and the chimneys. This theater really changes the dynamic for everything. Plus, I knew my time with the cast was coming to a close. I was not looking forward to closing night primarily for that reason.
The work was worth it. I should’ve enjoyed the practices more, but I think my slump in the middle of the process helped my excitement increase and hyped my performance the closer we are to opening night. The show is February 21-25 at the Bedell Performance Hall at the RIver Campus.