Three years ago, right after my church’s production of Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang was over, I wrote a blog post entitled Why Everyone Should Be in a Musical.
Having just completed another musical with my wonderful church, I won’t rewrite that sentiment, but I do have a lot I wish to say about my experience with our latest musical, Seussical.
My experiences with these two shows were almost night and day different, but I am so grateful I participated in both.
Last year, once I knew that another musical was coming up (even before I knew what it would be), I was SO incredibly excited. Then, when the rumors came out that we were doing Seussical, I literally spent months thinking about the show – what character I felt I related to the most, and then how I would audition, etc.
When audition time finally came, nothing turned out the way I hoped. It was a very difficult time for me because I didn’t get a call back for the part I knew I wanted, or for any female character at all – instead, I got a call back for a Wickersham brother. Please see below for an excerpt from the provided description of the Wickershams, and laugh along with me (or scratch your head, haha):
The Wickersham Brothers live to impress the world with their strength and prowess. They want to be seen as virile, dominant, alpha males. They are impulsive bad boys who like to monkey around, creating havoc for fun. They pride themselves on their agility, speed, and cunning, and feed off of each other, seeking out vulnerable prey to subordinate. In order to feel a sense of superiority, they intimidate, bully and harass those they consider to be weaker…Physical attributes and movement abilities: The Wickershams are athletic, primo movers. They swagger, leap, roll, squat, turn on a dime and possibly swing in on vines.
If you know me, you know that description is about as opposite to what I’m good at as it gets. I won’t spend too much time talking about this, but just know that the audition, callback, and casting process was very hard for me, not because I thought I was superior to anyone else, or deserved something better, but because I truly felt the part was wrong for me and I felt very out of place.
I felt that way even more that way once rehearsals were underway and we started blocking the show. One night, we started to block “Chasing the Whos.” The monkeys were going to have to do a lot of moving. The first thing we had to do was to run up some stairs and either jump onto a small trampoline, or go down another set of slightly higher, and way narrower wooden steps. I didn’t like the looks of either option, but the stairs seems slightly less risky. However, I did ask if they were sturdy because I had a feeling they weren’t. I was told they were, and wouldn’t you know it – when I went down the last step, my right leg went through the step, causing me to get painful bruising all over my leg, and two long cuts due to scraping against nails.
I was touched by the kindness of the cast members who helped me into a chair, got me some ice, and provided band aids, but I couldn’t hold back the tears. The tears were less from the pain (which was pretty terrible), and more from feeling even more inadequate. I already felt too old to be a Wickersham, but now I felt so fat and out of shape too. I told Bethany (our producer, and my lovely co-baroness from Chitty), that I didn’t think I could do it. It was a really hard day for me, but because I am not a quitter, I got back up as soon as I could to do blocking at the next rehearsal.
The Wickershams had to be flexible because several of us (3, in fact, dropped out for various reasons). Just a few days after my embarrassing injury, I was asked to become a Wickersham 2 rather than a Wickersham 1 since we didn’t have anyone to do those harmonies. I fought it at first because I loved the Wickersham 1 solos in “Monkey Around,” and I was a 1st soprano who had always been horrible at hearing and projecting harmonies. But, upon talking to a friend, and praying about it, I felt I should go ahead and do it, even though I was really worried about not doing a good job (thankfully, I was able to split the “Monkey Around” solos, which helped.)
For several rehearsals, I couldn’t hear my part and was so downtrodden, but I didn’t try to pass the harmony off. I kept practicing a ton at home, and doing my best, even though it was super hard.
Wow, let’s pause for a minute…I just filled your eyes and mind with a lot of negative stuff. That’s now how I usually write. Why would I do that?
Well, I wanted to be completely transparent with each of you and myself, to show that I clearly had some lessons to learn through this process, and to show how opposite experiences (Chitty VS. Seussical), could both bring tremendous blessings to my life.
Things got better. It was little things, maybe so little you can’t feel the significance. For example, sometimes I got my harmony right! “Monkey Around” was the first song I mastered the harmony in, and I was able to help my other Wickersham brothers with their notes. We had a great time one time just sitting at the piano and practicing our notes. It was an accomplishment to us all to be able to harmonize so well.
Another thing – I was so sure I couldn’t do the movements required of me – I wasn’t athletic or fast. But, I noticed that I was actually able to do it – I could run from the platforms out the door and up the stairs to stage left in time without being out of breath. I could jump off the stairs to the trampoline if I had to – we ended up changing it to me wearing a spelunking helmet and going through “the mountain” – but at least I tried it and did it. I didn’t think I could successfully use the crash mat to go through “the desert,” but I did, and it wasn’t hard. I even learned at home that I had enough arm strength to lift my legs over my head and round off – I didn’t know I could do that, and I didn’t end up doing it in the show, but I could do it. All that may sound silly to someone who is athletic, but to me, who had continuously struggled with my weight after my last baby, and whose self-confidence had been really low, it meant so much to me.
As rehearsals went on, I built a bond with my teenage “brothers.” I felt at the beginning of rehearsals that I was too old and out of shape to feel like I belonged with them, but I learned to really care about each of them, and we worked together so well. We each listened to each other’s ideas, and had so much fun brainstorming, even if we couldn’t do even a fraction of what we came up with. We sure laughed a lot too. It was great to be silly on a regular basis with them!
For example, we each felt a few weeks before the show that we wanted to step up our game as the Wicks, so we got permission to work on our movements. We came up with some cool ideas, many of which we used in the show. Our “Monkey Around” choreography was shut down quickly, but it was because of reasons that couldn’t be seen practicing in a classroom. We got a third choreography that our director was so kind as to create for us, and it worked much better for us than the first.
Soon, it was time for tech week and then dress rehearsals. I won’t lie – I was very worried (along with many others), that we would not be able to pull the show together in time. It was about a week before the show, and there were still so many issues. We had to prepare this show weeks faster than Chitty, and it was clear those extra weeks would have been so helpful. But, you do what you have to do, so the cast and crew just kept plugging along, doing their best and praying a lot.
Once we all got into costume, with our makeup and hair done, with props, sound, the orchestra, and microphones being incorporated, it all seemed so much more real, and it just felt better. Our directors kept telling us about miracles that were happening to help the show come together, and it felt so good to know that the Lord was helping us individually and collectively to share our talents and light with our community.
The dress rehearsals and shows were fun for a lot of reasons. I took pride in the fact that I could do some pretty killer monkey makeup, and that I could make my hair look amazingly awful. I would often joke about being the hottest one in the dressing room, or I would check the mirror pretending like I was making sure I was still “hairy.” Hey, when you are a woman with a costume that lacks any femininity, and a face that sports a thick unibrow, you have to laugh at yourself. Ironically, though, the unibrow brought out the blue in my eyes most radiantly, and Jill Austin even called me a “cute creature.” 😉
The first dress rehearsal was super rough, though. There were missed entrances, and many things went wrong. But, I will never forget how Bethany told us to breathe and brainstorm how to fix the problems. Brainstorming happened and prayer happened, and guess what? A lot of the problems from the first dress rehearsal were solved due to cast inspiration. It was so wonderful to see.
I loved the comradery of our cast. We helped and encouraged each other, we laughed together, and we had fun! Seussical is a high-energy show with so many colorful, moving parts. Teamwork was essential to pulling it off. I felt that our cast and crew made a terrific team.
Something I will always cherish about this show was the opportunity to perform with all three of my sons. It was Casey’s third show with me, but Rigel’s and Kamren’s first shows ever. I was so pleased with how responsible they became – I checked on them often, and helped them as I could, but they knew what they were supposed to do, and stayed focused. For all four shows, they were all where they needed to be and did the best they could. (Well, on the first Saturday night, Kamren ended up in the first scene because Casey sent him with me, not knowing he wasn’t supposed to be there. We made it work, though, and he was so cute). I must thank their Who/Fish/Cadet parents for also helping them be and do what they were supposed to do! 🙂
I can’t wait until my little girl, Eve, can be in shows with us – she sang and danced happily at every show, and always wanted to go to “rehuhsal” with us. She’s my little mini-me that way.
I loved seeing how my boys made such terrific friendships during the show, and I will always cherish the friendships I made. I so appreciated all the kind, loving, encouraging words from everyone to me and to each other.
So, because of this show I inherited a new nickname, “the sexy monkey.” Say what, you ask? Let me explain – one rehearsal, Taunja, our director, gave me a note that I was too sexy in “Monkey Around.” I got that feedback two times that night (right after I did it, and then in front of the whole cast during notes), and both times I was shy about it, especially since I wasn’t even trying to be sexy (I really wasn’t). Then, another night, which was a dress rehearsal, I got the same feedback (but this time, off to the side). I was so shocked about it again, because I really wasn’t trying to be, but I realized it was likely because of my body shape and how my body looks when it moves certain ways. It made me laugh, though, because I mean, my costume, face and hair were not attractive whatsoever. Hey, I guess sexiness has nothing to do with looks (food for thought :P). I had to change some of my movements to be more careful about it, so hopefully I did that successfully!
Though being known as the “sexy monkey” has been an indirect boost to my self-esteem, that’s not my biggest takeaway from the show, believe it or not. 😉
You may be wondering, now that it’s all said and done, if I now feel the part of Wickersham brother was made for me. My friends pretty much all said they never would have imagined me in that part, haha. As for me, I would have to say that not all shows have a part that feels made for you, but you can definitely grow and develop from any part you play if you do your best and trust in the Lord.
I can definitely say that I did my absolute best – I gave it my all each and every time. I did my monkey noises, my monkey movements, and had as much animation in my face as humanly (no, monkeyly?) possible. (Bishop Christensen apparently took lots of photos of our dress rehearsals, and laughed hysterically every time he saw a photo of my crazy faces. What a compliment!)I tried to be scary when I was supposed to be scary, and funny when I was supposed to be funny. I finally mastered my harmony, not only in my head or when singing by myself, but also when others were singing around me. I even did my makeup and hair so well that many people didn’t recognize me on stage (funny, huh)? I also made it a point to be happy for others in their roles, and compliment them. I can honestly say I did not covet, but rather really felt admiration for each actor and actress.
My favorite part of the show (the part that touched me the most) each time, was right after JoJo did his amazing Yopp. The audience would always clap there, and as for me, I felt my character of Wickersham 2 change. She was no longer a bad monkey who wanted to make Horton’s life miserable. She was a changed monkey. She realized that she had been doing something wrong – that she was mistaken – that she had misjudged Horton and the dust speck. She felt sorrow, and she felt so emotional about what she had done and almost did (wanting to boil the clover). It was during that part each night that I felt I was truly a Wickersham.
I felt a change in my character, and because of my experience in Seussical, I have felt a change in me. I have learned that I can be a character that is nothing like me. I can do hard things if I have faith in my director, myself, and the Lord. I can fit in anywhere as long as I have a positive attitude and embrace those around me.
One tangible change I have noticed from doing Seussical is that my vocal range has increased. I can now sing in my lower register more comfortably. This past Sunday in choir, I felt this brand new desire to sing alto. I had started being okay with singing second soprano harmonies, but now I wanted to try alto. And I was able to sight-read it for the most part (thanks for your help, Syrena!). To me, that was a literal manifestation of God making weak things strong to me. I believe that if I had not agreed to be a Wick 2 and do those harmonies, I would not have been given that gift.
I am glad I did not play any other part but the one I played. I think I could have learned and grown from any part, but I’m so glad that I was able to discover different parts of myself, work with my wonderful “brothers,” and participate in songs that were challenging, yet meaningful, such as “Havin’ a Hunch.”
Speaking of my “brothers”, probably my favorite single memory of my Seussical experience was after the the first Saturday night show when Bethany was taking pictures of Rayka (who was Wick 1 the first weekend) and the rest of we Wickershams. She got a photo with just Rayka and me. She looked at me and tenderly mentioned how she and I worked together on Seussical, and now I had worked together with her daughter. It was a sweet moment.
Admittedly, before performing in Seussical myself, it wasn’t my favorite. But, now that I have done it, I can see the hidden messages that fit in so beautifully with the gospel, most importantly about the worth of all souls is great in the sight of God, and the Lord doesn’t look on the outward appearance, but the heart. The song, “Solla Sollew” was one of my favorites, especially the line, “Maybe it’s something like heaven.” It always made me tear up, because just as the song says, in heaven people will be kind, troubles will be through, and you’ll be home with your family.
I didn’t know what I was going to write exactly, or how much I would write, but I hope it was worth it. It definitely is worth it to me, as tears streamed down my face most of the time I was writing.
I hope everyone who spent time with me in the show knows how much I admire and care for you, and how grateful I am for the show we built together and with the Lord! I know that we had heavenly support during this whole process, and I know that the Lord helped our audiences see the beautiful messages and hard work that went into the show rather than any mistakes we may have made.
And of course, I must thank my dear husband for taking care of Eve while the boys and I went to so many rehearsals, and for attending every single show. He was our biggest cheerleader!
I will miss this show so much, but here’s to next time! My family will always be there. We hope our friends are too!