How Can I Resist You? – Part 13: The Aftermath and the Next Show

D.J. (Sky) was the one the dress was made for, but…

When I first expressed an interest in getting involved in theatre, it was because I wanted to have the experience of being part of a shared community with a love of musicals. I succeeded in that beyond my wildest dreams.

I have countless new friends from this experience and I’m now part of a warm and welcoming community of creative, talented, committed, lovely people.

The entire cast and production team have managed to keep in contact through facebook and through regular social activities. Not everyone is always involved every time, and I’m sure this sense of family will eventually fade over time, but there’s no doubt that I’ve made some lifelong friends through this process.

Who knew that something so meaningful could come from posting a wish on a blog post?

…you know that dress got around…

So what’s next?

I titled this blog series “How can I resist you?” and to answer that question: I can’t.

Not now. Not when it comes to theatre and to art. That’s where my heart is. I’m nowhere near ready to pack it in yet. I don’t know if Production Assistant is all I’ll ever want to do. I might eventually want to learn a different role. Maybe I’ll help with props, or learn how to be an assistant stage manager. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be a producer someday.

I’m in no rush to find out. And for now, I’m not ready to hang up my PA’s hat.

My next gig is Orpheus’s production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – coming up in June 2019. We’ve already started to work on preliminary planning for that show. And I’m looking forward to building a new show family with that cast.

…it fit others better than some…

But Mamma Mia! was my first show, and it will always have a special place in my heart. Thank you to everyone involved who made it the incredible, beautiful moving experience it was – and for showing me how awesome a life in theatre can be!

I’m gonna wrap this series up by sharing some of the fun, behind-the-scenes photos that got captured during performances… just in case I decide to make a book out of my little blog series.

Oh, who am I kidding?! Of COURSE I’m turning this into a book!

…but it brought out the (dancing) queen in them all!

Helping out a little old baboushka!

Showing off the latest scuba style!

And the brightest summer swimwear.

The props team! Sorry that Courtney is missing from this picture, but Gabe, Mo, and Emmett did an amazing job on the props. Kudos!!

Props like Dré’s yarn holder, which she was desperately sad to part with when the curtain fell.

And props like Sophie’s fuzzy pink diary. (dot dot dot!)

Or Harry Headbanger’s guitar that cost him somewhere between five and 20 quid plus his Johnny Rotten T-shirt.

The intense stare of a bloke who has traveled Botswana alone in a boat.

Let’s pause for a moment of spiritual reflection…

…Before we get back into the silliness. Still one of my favourite pics from the entire show run.

This is my other fave – the look of concern from Sarah and Dré is so perfect. Plus: GORGEOUS costumes from the wardrobe team!

More talent from the costume designers – those codpieces!

Even Dickie muscled in on the swimsuit fun.

A little solo time in front of the mirror for Sarah C.

And here she is all made up – in more gorgeous costumes.

A little down time between acts – the perfect time for a power nap on Sophie’s bed.

Don’t give me that look.

Morgan, giving us Greek peasant realness.

Pancho gets all the ladies!

A tale of two Dynamos.

Lounging around, pre-show.

Teeny tiny hat or giant person?

Dickie smiling about his Greek ballcap.

Stank face! So happy I get to work with Meaghan on the upcoming production of Priscilla!

Also Réjean, who will be directing Priscilla. See, there’s no way I’m ever gonna be done with these people. We’re all hooked together for life!

Backstage #showlove!

You’re just a little vixen. Minx? No…vixen. Vixen.

Bill knows how to pepper Rosie’s snapper!

Nicky’s Rocky-Horror-lips shirt though.

Ready for Act Two.

Something creepy happening here. This isn’t Rocky Horror, people!

 

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How Can I Resist You? – Part 12: The Gift

We each received a different ABBA album signed by the entire cast.

It’s tradition for the production team to give the cast a small opening-night gift. And vice versa, the cast generally gives a small keepsake to the production team.

I was incredibly touched by the gift they presented me.

Shortly before the curtain went up on opening night, the cast and production team gathered together outside the dressing rooms for a few inspirational words. The cast took this opportunity to deliver their gift.

One at a time, select cast members took turns saying a few words about a member of the production team. The kind and generous words that were offered to me had me on the verge of tears. Having now successfully carried out the role of Production Assistant, I felt that the part I played seemed so small in comparison to the work of others on the production team, or indeed those in the cast who were about to pour their hearts out on stage every night.

Nicky presenting an album to our Music Director, Pancho.

I felt incredibly appreciated, and it meant the word to me that I was considered part of this team. And of course it meant even more that I could now consider these talented, lovely people my friends.

This journey has been such a beautiful experience.

As for the gift, it’s just about the most perfect one I have ever received. It was thoughtful and creative: a vinyl ABBA album signed by the entire cast. So simple but so meaningful, especially for a music devotee and an ABBA fan. It’s perfect, and it will live a long life, on display in a place of prominence, atop my piano.

To the entire cast, literally: thank you for the music!

A few recipients pose with our new prized possessions!

How Can I Resist You? – Part 11: The Performances

“Try once more, like you did before…” – I’m not quoting lyrics here; I really do want you all to re-mount this production. Please? Just once more? (Photo: Alan Dean Photography)

The months of toil finally came to fruition with the run of the show, from June 1 to 10, 2018.

It was a sold out run, but I didn’t miss a single performance. And while mostly I sat in the producer’s seats at the back of the house, I did take advantage of my status as an insider to watch several performances from different vantage points.

  • The Pit – Watching from the orchestra pit was great fun. The pit is literally UNDER the stage. And while it’s not possible to see what’s happening on-stage when you’re in the pit, watching a performance from there really lets you focus on the musical arrangements and on the work of the talented musicians backing up the performers on the stage. Seeing the musicians makes it easier to understand what each of them contributed to the score, right down to the different roles of each of the four keyboards (e.g. one plays piano, one plays strings, etc). There’s more opportunity to listen to harmony lines being provided by a quartet of off-stage singers. And sitting right beside the bass player, it’s impossible not to groove to the funky sounds of the fretless bass during The Name of the Game.
  • “Down, boy” – Tanya (Stefania) resists the advances of Pepper (Pierre).

    The Booth – The show is run from the control booth way at the back of the balcony. I listened in on a headset as the Stage Manager directed the folks that make the magic happen. Watching from on high, it’s easy to take in the entire theatre, but rather than listening to the plot and singing, a night in the booth offers a different perspective on what it takes to put on a show. It takes dozens of precisely timed lighting cues, instructions to the spotlight operators about which actor they’re lighting and for how long, appropriate lead time for when to turn on the smoke machine, directional cues for moving set pieces about the stage, and discussion with the sound designer about microphone levels to keep it all sounding pristine. The chatter on the headset rarely stops. While the average audience member is watching the show from the house, they’re blissfully unaware of the whole ballet happening in the booth behind them. It’s kind of awesome.

  • Every night involved openly weeping during “Slipping through my Fingers” but there’s joy in being THAT affected by art.

    The Wings – While the show is controlled from the booth, there’s not much physical activity there. It’s all directed by voice over a headset. The wings are another matter entirely. There, it’s tumult. There, it’s hubbub. Costume changes are happening, and the props team is hustling to get items into the hands of cast. The ensemble is singing back-up vocals (when they’re not horsing around and trying to make each other laugh). The crew is following directions from the Assistant Stage Manager about when to move set pieces on or off stage. It’s a fascinating and energizing place to hang out… but with everything going on in a pretty cramped space, it’s important to pay attention to avoid getting in someone’s way and tripping up the show.

Each time the lights dimmed and the male ensemble entered in flippers, the audience roared in laughter.

Every performance was so much fun, no matter where I watched from – but of course nothing beats watching from the house. That’s where it’s meant to be seen from, after all.

I never got tired of doing that. It’s a testament both to how much I really like ABBA’s music, and to how invested I had become in the success of the show.

And then another roar of applause in the scene immediately following, when the Dynamos emerged in full jumpsuit.

Every night, I would get butterflies as the audience erupted in laughter and applause when the lights dropped and the boys ensemble entered to do their flipper dance during Lay All Your Love On Me.

I would delight in the enormous applause that greeted the silver jumpsuits as Donna and the Dynamos came on-stage to sing Super Trouper.

I would get a lump in my throat each time our two lead actresses were on-stage to perform the heart-wrenching mother-daughter song Slipping Through My Fingers.

“I apologize if it makes you feel bad, seeing me so tense; no self-confidence” – I’m not crying. You’re crying!

I would weep openly EVERY time Nicole would belt, with all the raw emotion she could muster, the last note of The Winner Takes it All.

I would laugh giddily every time Rosie (Christine) would growl “Gonna be around” as she seduced Bill (Michael) during Take a Chance.

And I would spring to my feet to dance and sing along to the three encores, desperate for the show to keep going.

Each performance was a gift – and one I knew I had to cherish because there was no chance I was ever going to hear these songs performed the same way ever again after the show ended its run. Sadly, we have no recording of the performance. Orpheus couldn’t get the rights to film it – not even for library purposes.

Women’s ensemble during the Waterloo encore. If that doesn’t get you on your feet, nothing will!

So those performances need to live in my memory. Which is why I have been so meticulous in trying to write it all down – to capture the most important memories from this production.

Thankfully, we do have an enormous archive of photos from Alan Dean Photography. Alan did an incredible job capturing the show. I have scattered his images throughout the previous posts in this series, but the photos in this post are all his – and in my opinion are some of the best! (I did crop a few. I hope that’s okay.)

Christine’s comic timing as Rosie was incredible. So many laughs.

The Act One finale – nearly everyone on-stage for Voulez-Vous!

And kudos to costumes and to lighting for the incredible wardrobe and the light painting happening during Sophie’s nightmare, to start act two. It was so bright and colourful!

“Now every man that I see is a potential threat… hai-YAH!”

“You can dance. You can jive” – but you can’t NOT sing along.

While Honey Honey is the first song in act one, I didn’t feel the show really got going until Money, Money, Money. That’s where things took off!

Another full set of jumpsuits in the Dancing Queen encore. What can’t the talented people at Orpheus pull off?!

Harry Headbanger (Rejean) also brought me to tears every night – but tears of laughter, you comic genius!

“I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream.” My heart is full.

How Can I Resist You? – Part 10: The Dance

I have very few photos of Susie, but thankfully Shaun made sure to get one of the three of us. Love this photo!

I cheated on this blog post. As much as I loved our choreographer and connected with her on a personal level, I knew that there was a better person to write about the work that Susie did. About how much heart she brought to the show, and how integral she was to its ultimate success.

That’s why we have a guest author today!

As assistant choreographer (and another first time Orphean), I knew that Deborah was ideally placed to write this post. So I asked her to contribute!

Thanks for sharing, Deb:


Lovely lady with a heart of gold!

My guess is that the relationship between the choreographer and the assistant choreographer is rarely documented in print. It’s a unique relationship, and my experience as the assistant choreographer in Orpheus’s production of Mamma Mia! was truly a gift – which is fitting because the relationship began on my birthday!

I have a personal policy that I never work on my birthday (I encourage you to do the same).

So instead of going to work, I had made plans to meet in the rehearsal space at Orpheus House with Shaun, our Artistic Director, and Susie, our Choreographer.

I had never met Susie. I had never talked to Susie. In fact, at this point, I wasn’t even Facebook-friends with Susie. That’s important because, when she showed up at Orpheus House, she had a present for me!

To this day, I’m not sure how she found out it was my birthday, but that first encounter set the tone for our relationship. Susie is a person who gives 100% of herself to everything she does, and to everyone she meets.

Here’s a short video of Susie imparting a portion of the dance that Deborah would need to teach the actors as part of their audition:

During that first meeting we discussed Shaun’s vision for each of the songs. We talked about which songs would require dancing and which merely needed blocking. The difference didn’t mean very much to me at the time, but I diligently took notes. This was my first experience being involved in a musical theatre production, so I had no idea what to expect.

Susie during rehearsals, showing a part of the dance to Voulez-Vous.

I soon came to discover that my role would include teaching the audition dance, capturing videos of the dances and sharing them on a Google Drive for the cast to learn from, assisting the Choreographer with partner dances, and answering cast dance questions.

I watched Susie’s every move, every encounter with each cast member, and with every member of the team. In part, that was because it was my job to know the dances and how she explained them to people, but also because I was enthralled with her passion for teaching dance to others, and giving of herself so freely!

I watched as she patiently answered questions, providing solutions to the trickiest parts of the choreography, and offering to come in early and stay late to help anyone having trouble learning the moves.

“Everyone can dance,” Susie says. And she was determined to make everyone believe it!

There is a certain vulnerability to art. You put yourself out there; you put your creations out there, and you wonder how it will be received.

Dance is no different.

Watching Susie bravely do it night in and night out gave me the courage to try choreographing a track myself.

I was terrified! Did I mention that there were professional dancers in the show?!

I listened to the song (Does your Mother Know) an obsessive amount of times. I made copious notes, and finally stood in front of a talented group of people, ready to put my creation into the world.

The first night’s rehearsal of Does your Mother Know – still lots of polish to be done, but check out Deb’s choreography!

Knowing Susie was behind me (she literally sat at a table behind me!), encouraging and supporting me and all the amazing dancers, was all I needed!

I had watched her give so much to everyone on the team, and that night Susie gave me all that same love and support. It was such an incredible gift!

The more I got to know Susie, the more I realized that giving who she is. It is honestly and authentically part of her life.

One last story to illustrate who Susie is:

Another screen shot from the rehearsal video for Voulez-Vous.

My mom came to the show, and as we sat in the producer’s seats at the back of the theatre, Mom started to tear up during Our Last Summer.

In the second act, that song comes right before the emotional heart of the show: Slipping Through My Fingers and The Winner Takes It All. I remember thinking, “Oh boy, Mom has no idea what’s coming!” And just as I had predicted, Mom was a puddle from the first notes of those songs until the end.

Susie was sitting behind us, and I saw her bend down and give my mom a hug.

They had a sweet embrace at the end of the show too, and I knew it was another example of Susie giving of herself to make the world a better place.

Thanks Susie!

Deborah and Susie (cropped from a shot by Alan Dean Photography).

How Can I Resist You? – Part 9: The Birthday

I wish I had a recording of the singing, but this ABBA-inspired cake is a good alternative graphic for this post.

My birthday fell smack in the middle of the rehearsal schedule.

I don’t like to make a big deal about my birthday, but somehow someone found out about the actual date and at the end of rehearsal, I was feted with cupcakes and hugs… and of course a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday.

I think we can all agree that Happy Birthday is a pretty lame song.

Or at least we USED to agree. NOW it’s one of the best things in the world!

There’s nothing quite like having it sung to you in a rehearsal space, by three dozen talented performers expanding each line of the song into four and five part harmonies at full belt!

When it washes over you like that, sung by people that love you and that you love in return, well, there’s no greater song in the world!

I wish I had a recording to share, but trust me – even without a reminder, I’m not likely to forget that feeling anytime soon!

How Can I Resist You? – Part 8: The Music

“Do not overwhelm the soloist!”

I’ve never been part of a choir, so I had never really considered how individuals within an ensemble learn their parts when the music is layered and complicated. On the first night of rehearsals I got my first peek as the entire cast started work on learning the tight harmonies of the finale: Waterloo.

Our accompanist would play each line of the harmony individually, and in that way, the men and women of the ensemble would gradually practice and learn their individual parts before slowly putting it together. It was fascinating to listen to; I got chills on more than one occasion.

Hearing the individual parts before they were put together had an added benefit: it was a great way to get to know a piece of music. Having learned the harmonies along with the ensemble, I could easily hear the same harmonies in the original songs by ABBA. And that really opened my ears to how well crafted ABBA’s music is.

Pancho at the helm, in his happy place.

This is music I had known since I was a kid. My parents both really loved ABBA, and their albums were given an enormous amount of air time on the living room HiFi set or on the car’s tape deck system. As a result, I got to know ABBA really well – but at a fairly surface level. I hadn’t given proper credit to the skill that went into the production of those songs.

Our Music Director did, however, and Pancho’s passion for ABBA was infectious.

Before the work on Waterloo started, Pancho gave a short lecture about ABBA and about how their music progressed from the simpler sounds of their early recordings to the complex harmonies of their final albums.

That was the moment I knew that I was gonna need to get to know Pancho better!

It’s hard to find people who have that kind of passion for detail in music, let alone someone that’s trained to be able to explain the complexities in musical terms, and discuss why these songs have the power they do.

That’s something I need more of in my life. And over the two weeks of dedicated music rehearsal, I took advantage of the access I had to it. As the cast learned each number, I would sit in the room with them whenever I could and follow along with my own score.

That short investment in time has translated into me revisiting ALL of ABBA’s old albums…and learning to appreciate just how much of a treasure trove their entire catalogue really is.

The last rehearsal before moving into the theatre is a sing-through with full orchestra. After weeks of piano accompaniment, The impact of hearing these songs with the band is overwhelming – a real highlight!

How Can I Resist You? – Part 7: The Rehearsals

The final pose after a long night rehearsing the Act 1 Finale: Voulez-Vous.

Rehearsals started the Wednesday following auditions and were scheduled on four evenings a week as well as on Sunday afternoons, always in three-hour time slots.

That’s a petty major time commitment! But while it wasn’t critical that I be available at every rehearsal, I really tried to attend as many as I could. At first, the primary reason was that I wanted to take in every part of the creative process and learn how a show comes together. But that primary reason changed very quickly as I got to know the cast. In the end, I basically just wanted to spend more time with these people!

Viol-improv: After a props incident that led to a broken guitar, a replacement violin was found for a stand-in. Thankfully the props team had the guitar fixed well before curtain.

I’ve written before about shared experience and how quickly it can bring people closer together. That’s what happened here. Even though I wasn’t IN the show, this cast made sure I still felt like I was part of the show. There was always a kind word for me, or a shared laugh – from the very first night of rehearsals onward.

Day after day and week after week, I got to know them all, developing some really close friendships.

I listened intently as they learned their vocal parts. I cued them on their lines as they worked to get off book. I laughed with them when they would crack a joke in the middle of a scene, or pull a face during a dance rehearsal. And I celebrated their progress every Friday evening over drinks (Orpheus House has a liquor license), bonding over stories about other shows they’ve been involved with.

I’m trying to be sincere here, but this photoshop job of Meaghan and Nicky is just too damn funny not to include.

There’s no way I can tell you about every wonderful member of this cast. I don’t have the talent to do justice to all of their stories. Besides, it would take far too long and my fingers would cramp up from writing it!

So I’ll use a case study, and I’ll trust that the rest of the cast will know that they are just as dear to me.

At it’s heart, the story of Mamma Mia! is one about the relationship between a mother and a daughter. So it’s apt that the heart of our cast were the two amazing women who played them: the insanely talented and utterly grounded Nicky and Meaghan.

Both are experienced theatre people who have worked as professional actors. I mention it because I think that had a major impact on how much effort each one put into building a show family. It wasn’t possible to meet either Nicky or Meaghan without being greeted by a huge smile. A warm hug and a kind word of appreciation would usually follow.

Both were certainly effusive in their praise of me – and I won’t lie, that’s always nice to hear, especially when it feels as genuine as it did coming from them.

Damn, girl, those are some high-waisted trousers!

Maybe it’s just because they had significantly more scenes than everyone else, but I found that I just naturally spent more time with them. And it wasn’t passive time; both seemed to make a conscious effort to welcome me into the fold.

It’s like they knew that I needed someone to take my hand and bring me into the circle of theatre people that I was so in awe of. On any given evening, it felt as though one or the other was always around – during short breaks, or at Friday evening social night. They would make certain to come talk to me and help ease me into conversation with the other talented cast members.

They weren’t the only ones, but I felt a really close affinity for both Nicole and Meaghan. I gravitated to them whenever we were outside rehearsal. And I credit them for the role they played in my becoming an Orphean.

OK, Seriously though, Nicky and Meaghan, you were the heart of the show and I cherish my friendships with both of you. Huge hugs and immense thanks! (Photo: Alan Dean Photography)

How Can I Resist You? – Part 6: The Auditions

At auditions, you can count yourself lucky if people have their music properly marked. Getting sheet music ready for the accompanist is one of the most time-consuming bits of the job.

The audition process for an Orpheus musical is exciting.

It’s exciting for potential cast members, who are anxious about putting themselves out there to be judged. It’s exciting for the artistic team, who are seeing for the first time whether they can find the talent that fits their vision of the show.

And it’s exciting for the production assistant.

No wait…

It’s BUSY for the production assistant. That’s what I meant to say.

As I said before, I got a chance to practice my skills at running auditions on TWO separate shows. But even with that added practice, there’s no two ways about it – it was busy. And since I was the one responsible for making sure things ran smoothly, the pressure was on!

Still, it was fun to listen in as the actors milled about.

I’m so grateful to the artistic team for finding so many talented people.

The room was abuzz from the time people started to arrive until the last person left for the night. Groups of actors came through, reconnecting with friends from previous productions. People met one another for the first time and chatted about the music they had chosen to perform. Newcomers tried to hide their nerves as they tried to sort out exactly how the whole process works.

Having that many people in an enclosed space can be disorienting, but as production assistant, it was my job to make sure everyone got registered, that they were clear about the audition process, and that they were ready to go when their name was called.

I met all these folks during auditions, but I wouldn’t get to know them until rehearsals started.

With all that on my plate, I didn’t get to take part in the conversation and the bonding that was going on in the room. But I did get to listen in, and the energy in the room was intoxicating!

It’s only when the auditions are over, however, and the cast is selected that the excitement really starts for the PA. Rehearsals were scheduled to get underway the following week, and THAT’s where the real fun is. THAT’s when I got to meet my show family.

Auditions may have been rough, but I tried to take solace in the fact that my show family was among the dozens of talented actors I met on those evenings. And thanks to the Mamma Mia! artistic team, I knew in my heart that I was gonna get to spend time with only the best of the best!

I know there are a few cast embers missing from these groups of images…

…but even if you’re not pictured…

…I still love you all!

 

How Can I Resist You? – Part 5: The Preparation

Our creative team (L to R: Musical Director Pancho, Assistant Director Ellen, Director Shaun, Assistant Choreographer Deborah, and Choreographer Susie) were a unifying force for the cast. But Deb was my anchor. (Photo: Alan Dean Photography)

A lot of the creative process that leads to a good show happens well before the cast is selected. The artistic team – that is, the Artistic Director, Music Director and Choreographer – have to huddle together to make sure they’re all on the same page about an overall vision for the show.

That’s an intimate process and one I wasn’t privy to, but they looped in the rest of the production team in early 2018 at our earliest production meeting.

Yay! We were finally underway!

The artistic team shared their vision with the people in charge of costumes, sets, lighting, sound, props, hair, makeup, and carpentry…and of course with little old me!

I left that meeting inspired – in part because I gained a better understanding of the show we were about to mount, but also because I started to get to know the amazing members of the production team that were going to be leading me on this journey.

It was also the first time I realized that I was about to bond with Deborah – our assistant choreographer.

Like me, this was also the first time Deb had been involved with an Orpheus production, but I knew her well before the production started. Deb is an incredible group fitness instructor who has been teaching me dance moves on a weekly basis for several years now.

We were already friends when Shaun recruited us both to work on the show, but I don’t think I understood just how much sharing this first-time experience together was going to bring us closer together.

Deb with Sarah J, showing off one of the incredible costume designs put together by the talented wardrobe department.

When she drove me home after that first production meeting, Deb and I laughed and joked about everything we had just heard because we both felt slightly absurd being lumped in with these passionate and creative people. We were in sync about what we had both gotten ourselves into, and that was clearly going to continue as the weeks of rehearsals went on.

It wasn’t long before we became utterly reliant on one another – clinging together. Yes, we’re both friendly and sociable people, but there’s safety in numbers, and comfort in a familiar face!

That reliance on one another set the ball rolling on Deborah moving from casual friend to close confidante.

From the pre-audition meetings, all during the rehearsal process and right on through the performances, whenever we were working on Mamma Mia! we were rarely out of one another’s sight.

I became dependent on Deb for rides home at night, when we could huddle together to laugh about the fun we had with the cast during rehearsals and to commiserate about any backstage drama that might have reared its ugly head.

I knew early on that this was gonna wind up as the most important relationships to come out of this whole affair. It was clear that, by the time the show ended, Deb and I were gonna have a special bond. Even if the show turned out to be crap (it didn’t), I would have a new bestie!

And that’s exactly what happened. I love you, Deb!

How Can I Resist You? – Part 4: The Learning Process

Production assistants gotta stick together! Gabe and Joanne, thank you both for your guidance and advice. Happy to be part of the team.

I applied for the Production Assistant position in April 2017 and was confirmed by May that year. With opening night more than a year away, in June 2018, that gave me plenty of time to figure out the role.

The production company, Orpheus, puts on three big shows each year – one after the other. Mamma Mia! would be the final show of the season, which meant I would be able to work on both of the first two shows of the season.

Joanne, the PA for Shrek, and Gabe, the PA for Grease, were both happy to let me shadow them, and in particular to learn the two most daunting parts of the job: running auditions and coordinating show clothing.

Auditions

John, our mega-talented accompanist, was easy to work with during auditions. He gave me clear instructions on exactly what he needed from the actors during their auditions. It made that part of the audition process that much easier.

The audition process is complex, but not for the reason you might think. It has nothing to do with picking the cast; the PA doesn’t even get to be in the room when the auditions are going on!

No, it’s complicated because during audition week, the PA needs to meet with 20 and 30 actors each night split into three groups) to make sure that their forms are fully filled out, that the production team has a printed photo of each actor, that they are clear on what is going to be asked of them, and that their music has the appropriate number of bars and is in the correct format for the accompanist.

That might not sound too tricky, but for each of the three groups of actors, it all has to happen in the span of about 20 minutes.

It’s a lot to keep straight in a short amount of time.

I was grateful that I got a chance to help both Joanne and Gabe with their audition process. It all happens very quickly and it can get pretty hectic as the time approaches for the actors to head in to learn the group dance routine. My head was a-whirl after the first night that I volunteered to help Joanne – but practice makes perfect, and by the time I got around to the Mamma Mia! auditions, I felt like a pro.

Show Clothing

Show clothing for Mamma Mia – a hoodie, t-shirt and tuque were among the items on offer.

Promotional clothing is also complicated, but for a different reason. Orpheus doesn’t get involved, so there’s no safety net. The PA has to work with a supplier to figure out what pieces to offer – t-shirts and hoodies are popular, but sweatpants, messenger bags, and other swag can be fun too – and then collect the money and keep an accurate account of what’s been ordered and what people have paid.

With Orpheus leaving you to your own devices on this task, you don’t want to miscalculate costs because you could easily wind up paying a significant chunk out of pocket.

This task is project coordination 101, but Gabe let me do the show clothing for Grease, and with his guidance here and there, it all worked out really well, and I was in good shape by the time set the price list for Mamma Mia! (Hint: I used the same products I offered for Grease, but in different colors.)

I had a lot to learn beyond auditions and clothing, and both Joanne and Gabe were a big help in making my first production a rampant success, answering any questions I threw their way.

I was lucky to be able to pick their brains as needed and I hope I can provide similar guidance in the future as new PA’s come on board.

Production assistants gotta stick together! PA-solidarity.