Saturday, July 14, 2012

My TIK evolution

This past Friday, July 6th, marked the opening of my seventh run with This is Kirtland! I first appeared in the show, which I often simply refer to as "TIK", back in 2005 and have done it every summer since, except 2008, when I was in graduate school at Kent State.  It has become a rite of summer for me and something I generally look forward to.  Here's a look at my TIK evolution.

I actually first started with TIK the very first year it was started, 2004.  I had just finished my first semester back at Kent State after coming back from my mission, but was unaware that the Kirtland Stake (a stake in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a group of local congregations, similar to a Catholic diocese) had created a new musical production, complete with a full lighting system.  The only reason I found out is because the stake leadership asked my dad to come install the lights, which were all brand new.  They asked my dad because of his work with the previous Kirtland production back in the 1980s, which is actually my earliest memory as a child.  Dad asked me to come help him hang, connect, and aim the lights, which also included quite a bit of time taking care of things at the store where the lights were purchased.  When the show was over, I helped take the lights down and put them into storage.  I attended opening night of the show, never thinking that I would become a veteran of that show in due time.  In watching I remember not being all that impressed with it overall (sorry guys!), but my dad mentioned that maybe in the next year, I could try out for it.

Later in 2004, I transferred to BYU-Idaho, so I wasn't back in Ohio when tryouts were held for the 2005 show.  My dad talked to the director, Polly Dunn, and I was able to get a late tryout up at the Mayfield building, which was good enough to get me a small chorus role since the roles had already been cast by then.  I was officially cast as the character of Titus Billings (who had no lines and was never identified as such), but had lines as "John Johnson".  Those lines have since been reassigned to the characters of John Tanner (the debt forgiveness of Parley Pratt) and Heber C. Kimball (logs from clearing fields) and John Johnson isn't even mentioned in the script now.  It was my first time doing a show since I was the Herald in Cinderella in high school.  At the time, I was also working at Geauga Lake in Aurora, so I was very tan and would basically come straight to rehearsals and eventually performances straight from work.  That was true in 2006 too.
At the conclusion of the 2005 run with Lisa Parker, who played my wife 
Testimony song

2006 was similar in that I wasn't home for tryouts, but since I knew ahead of time, I made an audition CD that I sent in.  Apparently it didn't make much difference.  I found out as I was driving home from New Mexico (I had gone down there after school was over before heading back to Ohio) in late April that I was basically in the chorus again, which was disappointing at the time.  I ended up doing the role of Professor Seixas (pronounced "SAY shuss"), which is only for one scene, and then being a general "Kirtland Saint" the rest of the show, where I had one other line.  I think I had an actual name (usually every cast member has a specific character name even if they don't have any lines), but I don't remember what it was.  The fun part was that I had two costumes, one for Seixas (a non-Mormon teacher of Hebrew) and my other character.  The other big difference for '06 was that my sister was in the show as Emma Smith and a friend from my ward (congregation) was also in the show that year, so I wasn't the only "outsider" (not a member of the Kirtland Stake) in the cast like I was in '05.

As Professor Seixas
As a Kirtland Saint...I don't remember what my actual character name was
Character portrait as Professor Seixas...this was part of an awesome display of the cast

In 2007, because of a change in the schedule at BYU-Idaho, I was home in early April, so I was able to actually audition with everyone else for the first time.  For callbacks, though, I had to do those earlier than everyone else because I took a trip to the United Kingdom.  That year, I got a slightly more notable role, that of Newel K. Whitney.  I had a very small duet to open the show and then a few lines scattered in different scenes.  I found out about the role while I was in the UK, and again, was a bit disappointed.  Nevertheless, I did the role.  My sister was pretty bummed too because after being Emma the year before, she was cast as Keziah Rollins in '07.  In the end it worked out for her for other reasons, but it was still very frustrating at times.  I didn't even dance in any of the feast dances that year.

As N.K. Whitney with my "family" after the show
As N.K. Whitney in the opening scene

I nearly did the show in 2008, but the morning of auditions, I just never got up and decided it would be a good idea to not do the show because grad school was looming and I really didn't know what to expect.  I also wasn't too excited about doing the show because I felt like I was being overlooked as far as my acting and vocal abilities and often found myself frustrated after rehearsals.  I think if I had been more excited about the show, I probably would have tried to make it work with grad school.  As it turned out, grad school was a lot of work and I'm glad I didn't have to worry about the show that summer, but I still think I could've somehow made it work if I had really wanted to.  Looking back, though, it was a good decision to not be in the show that year and I remember thinking to myself as grad school got underway that June that I was glad I didn't have to worry about driving up to Kirtland every night and could take my time on the various projects I had to do for my classes.  I did go see the show and enjoyed seeing so many friends. It was the last show directed by the original director before she moved to Utah.

When auditions came along for 2009, I was nearing the end of my student teaching.  I remember coming to auditions and being under a ton of stress because I needed to get lesson plans done and other worries from grad school and what was going on in my life outside of school.  The entire first half of 2009 was, so far, the most stressful time of my life and I often look back and wonder how I ever made it through.  Being in TIK that year was a major boost physically and spiritually and was a major highlight in a very dark time for me.  I remember at the audition that I did very well and those there were like "where did THAT come from?"  For me, it was like "about time y'all noticed!"  I was cast as Sidney Rigdon and absolutely loved the show that year.  Even now, it's still my favorite year overall and what I compare other years to.  Everything seemed to come together that year and the cast was so cohesive and close.  2009 also saw expansion of the show with some additional characters (two minor characters and one major character) and a new song.  The '09 run was the first time I really felt appreciated for my talents and previous experience with the show.  That's not to say I wasn't appreciated before, but it was especially strong in 2009.  I was also in the couples' dance in the big feast scene, which was a first for me and something I really enjoyed.

Sidney Rigdon in final scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the feast scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the opening scene

After the uplifting experience of 2009, 2010 was very frustrating.  I was again cast as Sidney Rigdon, which was disappointing at the time because I already knew the part, so there was little challenge for me.  When I have to drive 50 minutes to get to rehearsal, I want some kind of challenge.  On top of that, some of the other casting was surprising to me, plus we had a huge turnover from the '09 cast as pretty much half the cast was new, and we had a new director again.  There were several other changes to the staging and flow of the show I didn't really care for (especially my noted disdain for the main act curtain) and rehearsals again became very frustrating for me too frequently.  In the end, I had a great time with the cast (always do!), but I was frustrated after that year, especially in light of the 2009 show.  It was during the 2010 show that I was asked to be on the script committee for the first time (which met in the winter), which was a great experience.

As Sidney Rigdon at the beginning of the education scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the education scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the final scene (temple dedication).  And yes, it was the same costume as the year before!

In 2011 we got a new director again, so after having the same director for the first five seasons, we went through three different directors in the next three years.  2011 was the first time I actually played a role in the preparation for the show (other than hanging the lights) as I had been a member of the script committee.  With a new director came more changes and 2011 had some of the biggest changes in terms of scene order and the Lorenzo Snow song ("Lorenzo's Song"), which had been added in 2009, was changed to be a duet with Lorenzo's sister Eliza.  I wasn't too thrilled about the changes in order, but they ended up working OK. They generally made scene changes somewhat cumbersome, especially when we had successive scenes in the same place.  I was cast as Lorenzo Snow, a role I had wanted in 2009 (though thoroughly enjoyed playing Sidney Rigdon that year).  I loved doing the Lorenzo Snow role.  Not only was it a new challenge for me, but Lorenzo Snow grew up in the same county (Portage County) I am from, so there was definitely that personal connection.  I also had a solo in the new Temple Building song, which was added at the end of the show to replace spoken words by the narrator (Christopher Crary).  In that solo I really learned how to manage my voice and that singing in my head voice and falsetto is something I have to limit and space out!  I'm a baritone with a high range, not a first tenor, even though I frequently end up singing first tenor in the show.

As Lorenzo Snow in Lorenzo's Question scene
As Lorenzo Snow during Lorenzo's Song
As Lorenzo Snow after a rehearsal
As Lorenzo Snow after a performance

I'm glad the 2012 season has opened.  I can't say it hasn't been very frustrating at times, but overall, I've had fun with my fellow cast members and I do look forward to being around them, especially as I've gotten to know them more.  We had the same director as we had in '11 and I was again part of the script committee in the "off-season", this time also helping to edit the Temple Building song.  Can't say very much, if any, of my edits were actually used, though.  We also shifted some scenes around again so the show seems to flow pretty well.  Overall I like the changes made this year.  I was cast as Parley Pratt, which I admit, I was less than thrilled with back in April.  That was because the Parley role doesn't really have a lot of vocal parts and let's be honest: I love to sing.  To placate me, I was again given the solo in the revamped Temple Building song (it's not assigned to a particular character), which goes into a trio.  It's the exact same solo and trio as last year, the main difference is that all the singing below it was taken out, so it's just me singing!  I've come to enjoy the Parley Pratt role, especially because his main scene is probably the one I have parodied the most in my time doing the show over the years (the fire scene).  Opening night went pretty well this year and am looking forward to continuing the run tonight in week two.  In all fairness, though, some of my frustrations this year have been due to external factors, not just the happenings at rehearsal itself.  In any case, rehearsals are done!  Come see the show!

As Parley Pratt in the opening scene
As Parley Pratt in the fire scene
As Parley Pratt in the temple building scene singing in the trio
As Parley Pratt in the temple dedication (final) scene

I am often asked why I do the show, plus I think about it, especially in times like now where money is very tight.  There are three main reasons I do the show.  First, it's one of the few creative outlets I can count on every year where I'll have some kind of role and will be appreciated for my abilities and experience.  It's the only such chance I have in theater at this point.  Second is the people I work with.  They are people I enjoy being around.  I can't think of any member of this show--cast, crew, or orchestra--that I just couldn't stand being around.  They are good people that make me feel good about myself and generally lift my mood when it's down.  Third is my love of the Church and Church History.  This is a chance to share our story in a fun way that combines music, theater, and history--all things I love--together in one production.  That said, I am not sure what next year holds.  A lot will depend on where I am in life and what decisions are made regarding the direction the show will go after this year.  Still a lot of variables to play out before next year!  Even so, if you haven't seen the show, come see it.  Best of all: it's FREE and isn't even that long of a show!


Unknown said...

I really wish I could have been a part of this production. Wow, so much fun and so many good memories. Loved reading your timeline. Great blog.

Unknown said...

I really wish I could have been a part of this more when I was in Ohio. Great production and a lot of fun. I enjoyed reading your TIK timeline. I'm certain you have strengthened many of testimonies through your stage talent. Great blog.