Friday, March 27, 2015

We Don't Want This Moment to Die

It's been a very long road for me from seeing the audition notice for Jerry Springer the Opera on New Line's Web site, preparing for the audition and getting up the courage to do it, rehearsing, and performing it these past few weekends with such an incredibly talented, uninhibited, and brave cast and crew.  I'll be honest:

It's exhausting.

And I'm spent!
  • It's trying to everyone's voice - the ranges for all vocal parts run the gamut, it's nonstop singing for the audience members, and characters belt, sing in falsetto and shout.

  • It's mentally taxing - several of us in the "audience" are on stage nearly the entire time.  When I'm not on, I'm doing a quick change and a change back.

  • I have a semi-permanent red patch on my scalp from my ill-conceived plan to make myself look a little edgier by streaking my hair with crimson temporary hair color spray. All my stuff and my boyfriend's stuff is also pink as a result.
I was going for "Demonic."
  ...And it's absolutely wonderful and a delight each and every time. I don't want it to be over.

I haven't been doing theater very long, and I hope to continue doing it, but I can honestly say that I probably won't ever again be doing anything quite as naughty, as bold, clever or controversial as this.  It's an honor to say all those F-bombs, to pretend to gag at a man relieving his bowels onstage, to choke on my disintegrating glittery lips and do hideously lascivious and suggestive things just a spitting distance away from our audience members.

Working with the fellow actors and crew at New Line is always a joy - an absolute clinic for me - as I marvel at their talent and consummate professionalism - but not ever at the expense of fun and creativity.  Just total competence.

Not to tempt fate, but I'm somewhat pleased that whatever protestations this production received were nearly limited to feeble, mostly copied letters from a group who had clearly never seen the opera, and one or two "walkouts," which we expected.  I'm so incredibly proud of the St. Louis theater-going community of which I am a member.  It's evident in the wonderful engagement we have in the performing arts in St. Louis that my hometown, albeit humbled and troubled, is special.  It's great to put something totally insane and offensive out there and to be fully embraced.

So as we close the doors on Jerry, his guests, his audience, and wave goodbye to him one last time, I'm very grateful to have been part of this filthy, wild, bizarre, operatic moment.  If you'll excuse me, I think the lesbians will see me now.

...No, I cannot.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hot Enough For Ya?

As we enter "hell week," which may be especially appropriately named given the plot of Jerry Springer: The Opera, New Line Theatre has been getting some very good attention from the local press, such as our NPR affiliate KWMU, as well as the flagship newspaper, the Post-Dispatch.  With that, it means we're also attracting the attention of a few folks who are already upset this is being staged.  A couple of letters of complaint to our director call the choice to stage the show "gauche" (a word that I feel better describes wearing jeans to a wedding, not the damnation-worthy acts the letter-writer describes), while another self-professed Catholic says it offends God and his faith.  I get it - there's plenty for my fellow cast members, crew, audience and I to be a bit appalled by, but there are things like tone, context and satire that the complainers don't know about.

"Jerry Springer" and "offensive" go together like Klan members and well-timed bitch slaps.
Upon seeing these letters, I say, okay, well - I think the entire cast and crew expected ruffled feathers - that's what the point is, in a way, but not at the encouragement of censorship.  However, like the anticipation of an orchard after you plant the seeds, until our little ribald and satirical production-tree has started to bear the fruit of not only ticket sales, but angry, offended Christians, we weren't sure - and still aren't certain how crazy things might get.

In light of these letters, the cast has been sharing more (amongst our group) about their own feelings surrounding this opera.  For my part, I'm an agnosticized (I just made that word up, do you like it?) protestant, a Baptist who grew up in a very liberal church that accepts openly gay couples, transgender people, and welcomes questions of belief and faith.  Having said that, I still have a tight relationship with its religious community. I'm the granddaughter of a minister.  I went to Sunday School weekly growing up.  I have been taking voice lessons from the insanely talented Cecelia Stearman, our pastor's wife, for several years, and have a great relationship with our (now former) pastor, Scott Stearman.  I volunteer with the church regularly to do hands-on community events, went to Serbia with the group and even on a few youth group missions as a chaperone, sang in choir for years, and often perform solo works during worship services - it's still my church.

I have had to pick and choose who to "invite" to the production, and even beg some well-meaning, dear friends not to go - TRUST ME.  People will laugh and ask how bad it could be, and only when I recite the line, "raped by an angel" do they begin to believe me.  Our director Scott Miller's mother is sitting this one out, in fact.  Even my boyfriend, a non-practicing reform Jew with far less of a frame of reference for this stuff, winced a bit at the 'rape' line.  It's hard to know how open to be about it, and you have to pick and choose which of your friends and family can handle it, and who can't.  I can promote the show only by being open and honest with disclaimers about just how offensive the show can be for those who take their faith seriously.

...And their partying seriously.
The sense of walking on eggshells is even more so for many of my cast-mates whose families work, volunteer and/or school their children in religiously affiliated institutions every day.  I want everyone to know we're people who are also steeped in faith, but we're also able to step outside of that and create art - in this case, art that is dirty, profane, blasphemous even, and in doing so, portray religious icons as individuals with feelings - feelings that the Bible never explored.  For that, it's been fascinating and eye-opening.  Of course Eve and Adam would have questions for the deity that gave them a life of "grief and misery" for eating "one little apple," of course Mary would want to know where not only her God was but her son when she needed him (as many people do), of course Satan would want forgiveness and redemption - the redemption Jesus seems to offer everyone BUT him.

"Well, that sucked."

This is all wonderfully acted and set to amazing music.  This is really brilliant and brave stuff, people!  But the fact that it is still considered so "edgy" to portray religious figures this way tells us a bit about how easily some people take offense rather than seek to understand, or at least come along on a journey that the art is taking them on.  A month from now, after we've closed our season, I'm sure we'll have offended a few more people, some who have actually seen part of the show, and some who have just read or heard a bit about it.  My hope is that even deeply offended folks stick around long enough to hear what "Jerry" has to say about the sacred in this world, even in a show with so much profanity. 

If anything is sacred, it's definitely Batman.