Oh, drama: Sentinel writer takes to stage in ‘The Producers’
I rarely get nervous to speak or perform in front of others. I’m not easily embarrassed and have a self-deprecating sense of humor.
However, I have never been on stage, so I was excited and surprised when Rich Cowden, head of Mesa State College’s theater arts department, offered me a small part in “The Producers.”
I’ve seen the movie starring Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, so I knew it was a comedy.
On Broadway, where “The Producers” won 12 Tony Awards after its premiere in 2000, everyone acts, sings and dances.
I asked Cowden if he was aware I could do none of that. In fact, my only prior acting experience was in college during a general education course where it was an accomplishment to make it to class at 8:30 a.m. on a Friday.
That was fine, Cowden assured me. Spending time at rehearsals and performances would be an opportunity to see what went into staging “The Producers.” He thought it would be fun for me to write about my experience. My editors agreed.
“The Producers” focuses on the attempt of producer Max Bialystock and accountant-turned-producer Leopold Bloom to make money by creating a horrible Broadway play instead of a successful one. The script they choose for their surefire theater bomb is titled “Springtime For Hitler.”
To accommodate my schedule and lack of experience, Cowden said my part would be small. I wouldn’t have to sing or memorize lines. I wouldn’t even be expected to be in all of the nine performances because I have a full-time job.
What harm could I really do?
Then, I showed up for my first rehearsal on Feb. 11.
For the record, everyone else in the cast had been rehearsing since mid-January. The cast had pre-rehearsal stretches and an extra curtain call song. (More on that later.) They wore dance shoes or T-shirts touting the awesomeness of theater.
And they put me in costume as a Dancing Hitler.
And dancing? I can’t dance, especially in pleated black pants and a duct tape moustache.
Mesa State senior Audra Atkinson took me under her wing, taught me my routine, assured me I would do great and told me to just follow her.
Daily Sentinel photographer Dean Humphrey, who accompanied me to my first rehearsal to document this event, laughed away.
That first night I forgot my steps and I think I ran into Audra twice.
After rehearsal, Cowden thanked me for coming and told me I did great. He lied, but that was nice.
At Audra’s urging, I wrote down my steps during rehearsal. But it’s not like writing “arabesque” and “pirouette” on a piece of paper made it easier to do them, as my coworkers can vouch when I performed in the newsroom.
I am happy to report I did much better during rehearsal the next night. I got even better at rehearsals this week. Dress rehearsal is Monday, Feb. 22, with my first performance slated for Saturday, Feb. 27.
I would like to compliment Cowden for brilliantly creating a part for me that is so forgettable in the grand scheme of the entire production that even if I screw up it won’t matter. And if I do mess up, it will, in fact, enhance the production’s entertainment value.
For those unconcerned with how I do, I am happier to report that “The Producers” will be an amazing show.
The lead actors are fantastic. Actually, everyone in the show plays his or her part well. Of the nearly 80 students enrolled in the college’s theater arts department, one-third were cast in “The Producers.”
The attention to detail is so specific that we spent nearly an hour one night rehearsing the curtain call with a song and choreographed movements. To make it tougher, I stand in front where I can’t hide behind people and copy their movements.
But I’m sure Cowden offered me this 30-second part because he’s convinced I can do it. And I will.