Thursday, August 22, 2013

This is Kirtland! 2013 Edition

Now that This is Kirtland! is over, I can finally catch up on some blogging. I had intended to write prior to the show closing, but here we are a month after it closed! 2013 was the 10th run of TIK and will be the last until at least 2015, if not longer. While I anticipate the show will return in 2015 after a one-year hiatus, it's not a done deal. The good news is that the 2013 run was good enough to get people excited about the show again to the point we had many people asking us why the show was going on hiatus instead of thinking "yeah, I can see why they're taking a break!"

Cast photo
This was my 8th year as part of the cast and, counting my very limited involvement the first year in setting up and taking down the stage lights, was my 9th year with the show (only year I didn't do anything was 2008 when I was in grad school). The big BIG difference this year was that in addition to being in the cast, I was the director, which made for lots of traveling to and from Kirtland, lots of late nights, and more stress than I ever imagined possible.

Talking to the Rollins family with Mary Elizabeth and Caroline (played by Emma and Mara respectively) during a rehearsal. Photo by Lisa Lovato
I can't remember when, exactly, I was asked to be director, but it was sometime last November. At the time it felt so far away, but it also seemed like a huge mountain I was about to begin climbing to get everything to come together the way I wanted. I found a costume head purely by chance in January (we can call it divine guidance!) and I followed the advice of past director and stake presidency member Nate Johnson in choosing our assistant director and choreographer, both of whom had tons of theater experience. Calls were answered for photographers and our various tech people, and we were finally able to get stage managers just after rehearsals started.

Showing Tracee what I had showed the guys to do in the song "Education". I did the traditional choreography for the guys in that song while she did the Young Women and children. Photo by Lisa Lovato
I remember after my first meeting with assistant director Angela and choreographer Tracee back in February how excited I was and that I knew this would be good. Like I said, they had tons of experience, so they shared a lot of the same expectations for detail and quality that I had to make the show technically strong, but also the importance of the spiritual aspect that this show has, a 4th dimension as Angela put it. Tryouts started April 17 and continued April 20, and then we did callbacks a week later. While it was never my intention to cast everyone who tried out, that is exactly what happened. Why? We had a very limited amount of people who tried out, particularly adults. In that, many of those who tried out were part of family groups, so it would've created scheduling hardships for several families if I had cast the two parents and some of the kids, but not all of them. What it ended up doing was giving us a few more kids than normal, but overall the cast of 60 wasn't significantly bigger than it has been in years past. I looked up past directories and all of them had over 50 in a given cast, some right near 60. We did have more very young kids (ages 4-6) than we have before, but we also had some older kids and teens (particularly young men).

The Rollins Family kids were supposed to act like they were having a battle with the utensils since they were singing "of battles and kings..." Here, I'm showing James Rollins (played by Isaac right behind me) how I wanted him to do his line
Photo by Lisa Lovato

So, if everyone got in did it negate the reasons for auditions? Hardly. Even if everyone gets in to a given production or group, auditions serve as a way to know where to put people. The great thing about casting this show was that the leads pretty much cast themselves. In other words, I knew right away who my leads were going to be for everyone except Mary Elizabeth. Mary Elizabeth is a young girl who has a solo and I had quite a few girls who could've easily done that part well. In the end, the girl who ended up being cast did a fantastic job, but that's not to say none of the other girls wouldn't have done equally as well. It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make, and I told them that at callbacks. But really, with most of the other lead roles, I knew after the first auditions who I wanted to be in a given role, as did the committee that was with me. I should also add that even though everyone who tried out was cast, it certainly didn't diminish the quality of the people or the end result.

Photo by Lisa Lovato

We had our first company meeting May 1st and started rehearsals May 4. I remember how excited I was after that first meeting; I knew the show was going to be good, but I never could've imagined just how much work and stress it was going to take to get it to be as good as I knew it was going to be. The rehearsal calendar in itself was a major mountain for me to climb. I'd never set anything up like that and wanted to make sure we had enough time for dance rehearsals for the various groups, as well as blocking and polishing. Of course there were a host of other considerations I had to think about, like availability of the building, other commitments that cast and crew members had, and more. The schedule I came up with inevitably changed several times, so having Google Calendar to use made that much easier than having a hard copy that I would have to constantly change. In general, times would get changed here and there, or I'd move groups to different days because of a planned absence.

Directing while being in the show definitely added some challenges, but I'm glad I decided to be in the show, even though it was only for parts of 2 scenes near the end.

As you can imagine, rehearsals were quite the range of emotions! Some of them were incredible, some made me laugh hysterically, and others made me wonder why I'd gotten myself into. Still others had drama that wasn't of the stage variety that really made me wonder if I could do what I'd been asked to do. But, we made it through. I think I can speak for all of us when I say those last two weeks of rehearsal were pretty brutal, not just because of what I, Angela, and Tracee were demanding, but just the length of time and having to wait for this or that to happen. We also had to deal with various youth camps and other events that caused people to be absent for periods of time, despite my best efforts way back at tryouts to get people to commit to not missing any of those rehearsals. I'm pretty sure our July 2 rehearsal, just 3 days before we opened, was the first time the entire cast, crew, and orchestra were all together. As a result, it was a pretty rough rehearsal and I left wondering how this was going to be presentable in just 3 days. Even so, though, I had that feeling it would be OK. Well, the next day, July 3, we had a double dress rehearsal that ended up going until about 10:45 PM, WAAAAAAAY later than I ever wanted to keep anyone for rehearsal, but especially those with young kids, but you know what? Not only was the show significantly better at those rehearsals, I remember being backstage during the 2nd rehearsal and everyone was in a good mood, very upbeat, and no complaining despite being the 2nd time through and how late it was. After that, I knew we'd be OK.

Our performances ended up going very well overall. Yes, of course there were many things each night that could've been better or didn't go quite as we'd rehearsed, but overall, people walked away from the show each night impressed and entertained. I got so many wonderful compliments on every aspect of the show, especially the dancing. What was even more encouraging was the attendance. Our nightly average was right around 300, well above 2012 and higher than we've had in awhile. In 2012, we averaged just over 200 or so each night, but there were some nights that had barely 100. This year, there was never a night we had less than 200, so that meant we had decent crowds every night. To make it better, we had an increase in attendance even though we had noticeably less tour buses. Usually, we can count on a few nights where tour buses or other large groups will come and account for, in some cases, half or more of the audience. This year, we still had nights with those groups, but not nearly as many, meaning we had a lot more locals who came this year. That alone was reason to celebrate because if this show has any hope at coming back and sustaining itself, it needs local interest.

Yep, I was in the show too, but only at the very end. I came in during the big feast scene and danced with the guys, then danced in the temple song. The solo in the temple song is one I've had the last two years (I'm the only one who's ever sung it!), so I kept it and the same trio we had last year! Photo by Rebecca Thornton
Photo by Rebecca Thornton
During the run, we had a new addition in the Historic Kirtland 5k, which was run Saturday morning, July 13. What was kind of funny for me is people who knew I was directing the show would ask me questions about what to do for the race and it was like "I'm not the director of the 5k!" :) We provided 4 singers in costume to sing the national anthem to open the race, and some other cast members came in costume to create a more festive atmosphere. I'm really glad I was able to participate and am hopeful that even with the show on hiatus next year, the 5k can still go on and some of the cast members can come in costume again! It really adds an additional dimension to the race and ties in the whole "Historic Kirtland" part of the name. It did make for a pretty long day for me, though. We had a show Friday night, so I got home around 10 PM, then had to be back in Kirtland by 8 AM and the race was over around 10:30 AM. Since I didn't want to drive 50 minutes back to Kent only to have to return to Kirtland by 6 PM, I just stayed up there all day, running a few errands at the Eastlake Walmart and then hanging out at the Kirtland Stake Center until cast call at 6. Thank goodness for Netflix! 

Singing the national anthem to open the Historic Kirtland 5k on the steps of the NK Whitney store in Kirtland. Photo by Chandice Richards
At the Historic Kirtland 5k in front of the NK Whitney store. Photo by Chandice Richards
Our last performance was Saturday afternoon, July 20. To be honest, I really wasn't sad to see it end, but more relieved that we were done and that it went well. I guess I felt accomplished more than anything, and ready to move on to the next events in life, which so far have included some much-needed road trips! I've never directed something of that magnitude, though there's no way I would've been able to do it without the support (physical and moral!) of my assistant director Angela, and the creative visions of my various crew members, especially Tracee on choreography. As I said at our final company meeting on the 20th, the dancing is what made the show sparkle! But along with that, our tech crews, and especially our music crew. I don't know what I would've done without my musical directors Nancy and Camilla. And I could never forget the moral and physical support of Nate. He had to listen to quite a few of my rants about this or that!

End of the feast scene, which was better than ever this year!! Photo by Rebecca Thornton
Choreographer Tracee Walker, Assistant Director Angela Baker, and me just before the last performance on July 20. Photo by Rebecca Thornton
Looking back, I can say that everything I wanted to have happen really did happen, maybe not how I envisioned it happening, but it did happen. Even the little things like a cast photo board and pictures taken during rehearsals and shows happened (WAY better than I ever imagined...especially the photo board!) or getting the program done the way I wanted (I ended up doing it myself) or having a professional looking and fresh logo. Things did come together in the end, somehow, some way. I'm grateful for the experience and while I won't be campaigning to be director again, I certainly would consider it if the opportunity was presented to me again, which is how this all happened in the first place. I wasn't looking to be director, but the opportunity presented itself and I took it. I enjoyed getting to know so many people and am grateful for ALL the experiences I had, even the ones that maybe weren't as pleasant as I wanted. In the end, they were all very valuable learning experiences for my own good.

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