It started 6 weeks ago, when I walked into my voice lesson feeling kinda bummed out. It was mostly due to 'a change in direction by the producers' resulting in me losing a singing gig that I was really excited about. I was also feeling run down in my ongoing hunt for an agent and disappointed that I hadn't gotten times for a couple of auditions that I was stoked about. These are totally normal occurrences and feelings in this industry, but everything had just piled up and I was feeling a bit disheartened. I told my voice teacher about how I was feeling at the start of our lesson. We had a great session together and she mentioned that there was a project she was working on that may need someone like me. SO nice. The offer + the lesson was a definite pick me up, and just what I needed.
The next day I was contacted by Robert, one of the organizers of The Confidential Music Theatre Project. He told me that they were assembling a cast who would learn well-known (but not done often enough) show on their own and then put it on for an audience, who wouldn't know what show they were seeing until they arrived at the theatre. The cast would gather an hour before the show and then perform. It was the very first time they were going to be doing this and were really excited about the show choice. I was intrigued and excited so of course I said yes!
Then I learned what the show was.
I found out that I had agreed to play the Nurse / Harriet in Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George. Not only was I excited, but now I was mildly terrified. I am confident in my singing and acting abilities, but I had just signed on to learn a show by STEPHEN FUCKING SONDHEIM on my own to be performed with a group of unknown people for the very first time in front of an audience. (For those who aren't musical theatre aficionados, Stephen Sondheim is an amazing composer who has written shows like Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and Follies and writes incredibly difficult (and brilliant!) music and harmonies). I equated it to having sex for the first time - you have an idea of what you're doing before it happens, you've practiced on your own and then you jump in head first with another person not really knowing how it will really go. Except my first time was going to be with a cast of others AND an audience. How's that for pressure?
I slowly started to put the pieces of the puzzle together and had fun keeping the secret of the show's identity. I realized I knew some people in the cast and poured over my script and score as much as I could. In the days leading up to the show, I could hardly believe what we were about to do. Tickets were selling well and it became apparent that this crazy, secret, theatrical experiment was going to be a real thing!
The day of the show arrived and I needed to trust that I knew everything as well as I was going to know everything. My role wasn't huge, but I still had some solo bits and was certainly challenged learning harmonies on my own. The cast met 90 minutes before the show, quickly went through the Act Two finale and that was it! I posted a video that joked that I was distracting myself from puking, when really the whole thing just felt surreal. The Berkeley Street Theatre was pretty much sold out and we learned that the audience wasn't actually going to be told what the show was - we were just going to start after an introduction from Robert. With scripts in hand, we took our seats on stage and James Woods (our George) began.
One of my very favourite moments of the whole night happened as soon as James uttered his first few words, and it was then that I realized the magic of this project. He started, and I watched a gal in the audience visibly LIGHT UP and gasp. I later learned that it was her very favourite show and she was over the moon thrilled to be seeing it onstage.
The cast was incredible. It was beautiful to watch James and Blair Irwin as George and Dot/Marie. There were awesome demonstrations of spontaneity that you often see at first reads for shows, but everyone did an amazing job at building relationships and familiarity without really having met one another previously. As the Nurse in act one, I had a blast playing with Qasim Khan in our few moments together (and hilariously asking backstage, "what's your name again?!") I can identify one noticeable moment where the whole thing went off the rails (somewhere around part 396 of 'Putting it Together). The whole thing went by in a blur, with our audience generously giving us a standing ovation after both act one and act two. When it was all over, we were all exhausted, exhilarated and generally in awe that we had done it.
After a very late night (considering we previewed, opened, closed & cast partied all in one night), I woke up the next day feeling very inspired. The fact that I was a part of something entirely unique and incredibly special was not lost on me and I was so grateful to have had the chance to be onstage with a such a generous, brave and talented group of performers. I was thankful for the opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and do something mildly terrifying and mostly thrilling in front of an audience.
And while Sondheim's melodies are complex and his lyrics can be wordy, I can't stop humming the songs and revisiting moments in the show. The music and lyrics resonate pretty deeply and the entire experience has been a reminder that I'm on the right path with so many possibilities to follow.
"White. A blank page of canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities..."
- George, Sunday in the Park with George