The second half of my tour experience was punctuated by actors trying their best to remain professional while dealing with the challenges of losing and gaining cast members, powering through successive one-nighters, a manager imposing his authority as opposed to earning it, and facing the inevitable end to any contract- unemployment.
The incredibly talented man who played our lead for the first part of our run did what incredibly talented people always do- booked another job. He left us somewhere in California and his understudy was thrust into the role. The process of working the two of them and the new chorus member in and out of the show seemed eternal, and the poor, ten-person chorus was put through their paces, re-staging the show for 9 of them, 8 of them, 7 of them, and, the most dreaded incarnation, 6 of them. At a certain point the need for rehearsal was rendered unnecessary and codes like, “ ‘A’ blocking for 3 and 3,” was the only thing that stage management needed to utter in order for each of them to incorporate the myriad of individual changes that made each incarnation of the show look great.
As the company rep, I did my best to familiarize myself with our contract and handbook, communicate information that affected the production as a whole as well as individuals, and dole out hugs whenever and wherever they were needed. There was a time when I felt overwhelmed by the constant dissatisfaction felt by the acting company, and then one day I realized it wasn’t that everyone was unhappy, it was that a different person was unhappy every day. In that instant, my role became so clear- help people recognize when they simply needed a friendly ear versus when they needed to pursue action up the chain of command. After that, I was always willing to hear my cast mates out, and navigate the emotions inevitably attached to each situation and get to the root of the problem. However, there was one little snag. While I expected easily resolvable and ultimately small issues to come up every day, including my own, our company manager was reporting these momentary bouts of unhappiness as attacks against himself and therefore, the producing company. This lead to a very misguided and one sided picture of the acting company being reported to our producer, which lead to hurt feelings on his part after working very hard on this project, which lead to a very negative and disparaging speech being made by him to us a few, very short hours before our final performance. Amends have been made, and I hope that the only long term affects of this negative situation were lessons learned by all parties involved. In the very least, it was a lesson learned by me.
Whenever things were difficult you could catch at least one of us saying, at least we have Dayton. We spent two weeks in a hotel and not on a bus, frequenting the local eateries and pubs, and using the time on our hands to do some projects of our own. Some of my cast mates even made a horror movie! The service at the hotel was sublime. After being caught by the night manager video-taping a submission in one of the ballrooms at 1:00 in the morning, he laughed and winked every time I saw him thereafter, and the valet guys drove us all over town happily chatting about the merits of Dayton, OH. I tried my first attempt at a fundraising event in the form of a cabaret hosted by a drag queen, and it created some major stress, but all of that disappeared the moment our accompanist hit his first downbeat. We had a blast that night, and despite the charity forbidding us to use their name in any of the advertising because the event was taking place in a bar, our drag queen host had to be replaced last minute because she had to go to the hospital with another drag queen, and there were strippers (yes, strippers) scheduled for the same night, we raised almost $300 from the local gays who were probably only expecting to drink and maybe hook-up with a cute stranger (the main objective of any single person in a bar, not just the gays, marriage equality now!)
My ‘ship friends’ who have never done a truck and bus always ask me how a terrestrial tour compares, and I consistently answer, “it’s just like being on a ship, except you can use your cell phone.” Much of your autonomy is lost, therefore interpersonal issues are magnified, having a kitchen or a single room feels like having a piece of heaven all to yourself, no one has any secrets (or they were really good at keeping them from me), and every day feels like a week, every week feels like a month, and after it’s over you feel the need to sleep for a very long time.
Since the age of sixteen my adventures in musical theater have taken me all over the country. For the next six months I will be coast hopping between New York and LA. Here are my stories.