Frederick's Best Little Whorehouse - Volume Three
Opening weekend for Fredericktowne Players Production of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" is behind us, and there are only three shows left before this chapter in my life closes for good.
So what was last Friday like? In a word, agony! I had a few work-related things I had to do, but my mind was on my lines and songs.
Fortunately, Amy is very understanding, and she left me alone to fret and fuss most of the day. I arrived at the Weinberg around 5:30 P.M., even though we weren't due until 6.
All of the bugs had been worked out with the sets, lights and sounds. The only question mark was the performers.
Speaking of performers, the show is fortunate to be backed up by an excellent band. A keyboard, guitar, bass, drums, and flute/clarinet/sax give the songs life.
I try to play the drums, so I'm really interested in our percussionist and how he plays. Our drummer is local radio personality Dave Conrad, and he is an amazing drummer. He's also really great about encouraging the actors, and we appreciate it!
I share a dressing room with Blaine Young (Sen. Wingwoah), Bob Brown (Melvin P. Thorpe), Brandon Palm (Governor/Aggie football player), and Matt Schumacher (Aggie football player/reporter).
The dressing rooms have seats for four, not five. It reminds a little of my time aboard the submarine. You've actually got to plan for what you need to do and when you need to do it, because someone else also needs to use the space.
I have to open the show with the song "20 Fans," so I get dressed and made up early. Blaine and Bob don't come on until later in Act One, so they can take their time getting ready.
At 7 P.M. the cast is called up to the stage for vocal warm-ups. There was a time early in rehearsals that I didn't pay too much attention to these warm-up exercises. To the untrained ear, some of the exercises sound really silly.
What I have learned is that while silly sounding, these exercises stretch and manipulate the vocal chords, mouth, and jaw in exactly the right way to insure flexibility and range.
Now, I make sure that I'm onstage and ready for warm-ups. I'd rather feel silly before the show than sound like I'm not ready to sing when the time comes on stage.
Once vocal warm-ups are done, the younger cast members gather for a physical warm-up. I usually skip it, not because I don't need the stretch, but at that point I'm so nauseous that I'm afraid what might happen!
The time between 7 and 8 P.M. is the worst kind of agony imaginable. I know it's only 60 minutes, but it seems like three lifetimes. I hang around the dressing rooms and basement hallways of the Weinberg, mumbling my opening lines over and over.
I usually bump into one or two others doing exactly the same thing. Come to think of it, the backstage must look like a looney bin, with people wandering around with blank looks, mumbling incoherently to themselves.
At 7:20 those of us with body microphones get called up to the stage for a sound check. My microphone transmitter pack is stuck on my belt in the middle of my back.
The body mike is magic, giving the singers that extra boost to reach the back of the theater and coming across stronger than the band.
At 7:30, the theater is opened for patrons to be seated. You can actually hear people coming down the aisles!
At 7:55, I climb the stairs from the dressing rooms to take my place in the wing on stage right. I make my entrance from that side. Stage right and left are terms used by actors to keep the directions clear. It gets too hard to think in terms of the audience view, so think reverse of what the crowd sees, and you've got it!
The outstanding tech crew is all located on that side, all dressed in black and ready to haul, slide, drag, and push set pieces on and off stage. They are very supportive, as most of them have done this before, and know what the actors are going though.
We had large crowds for both the Friday and Saturday night shows. When you' re standing in the wings, you can clearly hear the laughter, discussions, and other sounds people waiting for a show to start make.
Another interesting observation while standing in the wings is that Mike Resser and Rob Johnson, tech experts from the Fredericktowne Players, can be seen way up in the air on the catwalks above the stage.
They are referred to as the "fly crew." Their job is to raise and lower the curtains, and bring in and remove the various set pieces that hang from the drops, and they do an outstanding job.
Nancy Speck, the president of FTP, shows up backstage just before the show is set to begin. She goes out in front of the curtain to welcome the audience, and thanks everyone for supporting live theater in Frederick.
As soon as Nancy finishes up and clears the stage, the lights go out. One or two beats later, the band strikes a little western two-step, and I wander out to start the opening song.
I've done a number of community theater shows, and there is usually someone that fits the classic "Prima Donna" designation. Not so with Whorehouse. Everyone is very professional and focused on the work at hand.
After Friday night's opening, the actors attended a post-show reception hosted by the FTP board. I got to see a lot of friends; many of whom I didn' t even know were planning to attend.
There were some legitimate criticisms. Some pointed out that it was difficult to hear some of the actors' dialogue, and some thought the band was a little loud. One old friend just didn't like the show, and knows that our friendship runs much deeper than a critical review, so he shared his thoughtful criticism with me.
The good news is that several hundred people raved about the show, from the sets, to the music, to the acting. Most touching were the strangers who stopped Amy and me on our way out Saturday night, since I had changed clothes and removed all traces of Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd.
Several dozen-audience members still in the aisles, the lobby, and in the parking garage recognized me. They all came up and shared their favorable assessment. While not professional theater critics, they clearly loved The Best Little Whorehouse in Frederick.
Come to think of it, so do I! I am really glad I stretched myself and stepped out of comfort zone to try something I didn't think I could do. I'm fortunate that I had a chance to work with Lee Hebb, Amy Thoma, Ann Raugh, Kelly Flanagan, and our outstanding crew. I'll always remember sharing a stage with Sheree Stevens, Alyce Luck, Pam Neely, Bob Brown, Blaine Young, and all of the incredibly talented men and women in this cast.
You don't know what a thrill it is to hear hundreds of people clap, cheer, and whistle their appreciation for a job well done. If you missed opening weekend, I hope you'll take the time to see the show this weekend. It runs Friday and Saturday night at 8 P.M., and on Sunday at 2 P.M.
Great music, good fun, pretty girls, half-dressed football players, and a beautiful set.
What's not to like!