To the Barricades, Vol. 31
"It's my chance to escape math, school and other things," he said.
Dylan had a similar look on his face as the clock struck 5:30 pm and we piled into the vehicle to head down Franklin Avenue for the Tuesday performance of the show, the first of six in a row. While we arrived early - at least 20 minutes before the call time - we were not alone; we never are, no matter how proactive we are in terms of getting there ahead of time.
Immediately we fall into routine, a series of small incremental steps that are completely unique to each of us. I start with my make-up: laying down the base, adding some highlights around the eyes and wrinkles, then drop a bit of colour on my nose and cheeks. Then it's off to the microphone station where Sam affixes my microphone to my face (I don't get a wireless transmitter to start the show. That gets handed over after the cart crash scene. We need to share transmitters as there aren't enough to go around). Make-up applied, I put on my first costume and apply some fake dirt to the exposed parts of my body, mostly for the chain gang scene that starts that show.
At 6:40 pm, we get our warm-up call. The cast migrates to the deck, which has just been mopped clean by our stage crew, and gather around for a series of vocal exercises, now broken into three parts: tongue trills, me-ee-ee-ee-aws, and ziggamamas. Trying to explain these three activities would be a near pointless endeavour. It needs to be seen and heard to be understood and appreciated.
I stand in my spot: downstage left, facing the pit and Susan Lexa, our music director, who was celebrating a birthday last night. I am a creature of habit, just ask my wife. Now into a defined pattern, you will find me in the same spot doing the same things every single night. It's partly superstitious, it's largely comforting.
Step Link, stage manager for the production, always says a few inspiring or corrective things after our vocals are done, then we move right into the fight call. Any scene in the play that has a level of physical risk or simulated violence is run through for safety purposes with full lights and sound.
Last night, I was back in my dressing room by 7:08 pm, pretty much ready to start the show. We become more efficient as the run proceeds. Earlier on in the process, fight call often went to 7:20 or 7:25.
We all have our things, the pre-game rituals that focus our energies, mentally prepare us for the journey ahead, and serve as a double-check that all our costume pieces and props are in place. Misty Oakes, play Eponine, slowly strolls through every row in the audience directly after vocal warm ups. Samson Lee likes to pull out his guitar in the men's group dressing room and chill out with music. Chuck Smith likes his quiet time, especially as the 15 minute call comes.
"Places for the top of the show," is our cue to find our starting positions in the darkened wings and wait for the series of events that move us closer to the starting of our chain gang music: video screens going up, curtain speech (last night by Alan Roberts, Director of the Theatre and Arts Centre), recorded reminder message, pause - pause - pause, and GO.
Throughout the show there are markers, moments that repeat themselves, night after night.
-leaving the chain gang scene through the house and dashing through the lobby with Samson
-returning for "At the End of the Day", waiting in the entrance while Emma dances around in nervous anticipation, Grace and Alexandra quietly hanging out, and Ben, Noah and Emily out in front ready to do some begging
-undressing Jennifer each night so I can get her microphone transmitter (that sounds a lot more lurid than it is)
-seeing crew member Janessa pass by me in the dark at the exact same moment every performance as I await my entrance to "The Innkeeper's Song"
-patting Rhiannon on the head as she comes up the steps and I stumble down
-dashing to my dressing room, doing a quick change, and running to the stage left choral microphone to sing the "Beggars" song with Misty, Dylan, Norm and a few others, usually completely out of breath and last night, a few lyrics late
-giving Noah a little onstage shove as we enter for "The Robbery" scene (added that one in late in the process - he responded brilliantly, and totally in character)
Terri Mort and I have a very similar track, as we play together in most of our scenes. Like clockwork she appears, always on her mark, and ready to go. For any of us to veer from our path, to take a different route, would cause immediate concern at this stage of the production. If something goes out of sequence, or a familiar face is not there, we instantly know it.
Last night, Jack was a few minutes later than usual getting into places on stage right at the top of the show. My antennae were straight up, wondering if he was OK. I wasn't alone.
Les Mis is a carefully orchestrated machine as we dive into the second week of our run. Things still happen: small adjustments get made, small things go wrong, and the energy is slightly different each time we perform, but overall, the show is set. By all accounts, it appears to be a winner.