This past Saturday, ended a time of my life that was most precious – my time rehearsing for and performing in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with the Durham Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I wouldn’t trade that time for the world. There is something incredibly unique about participating in a musical. The experiences you have can’t be found in their entirety in any other way.
I have loved musicals since I was 13. The first musical I ever heard was The Phantom of the Opera, in my 8th grade Drama class. Throughout my entire adolescence, I drank in as many musicals as I could. I would sing them as loudly as I could in my room, and play them on the piano (while also singing). I felt like I could be anybody when I sang from these musicals, and as I sang, I felt I was them.
In high school, I had the pleasure of playing Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof my Sophomore Year, and then Catherine in Pippin my Senior year.
A couple years ago, I was able to perform in another musical by my Stake called Sing Down the Moon: Appalachian Wonder Tales. That was a special experience because I got to perform with my son, Casey, for the first time, and also work with people of many different ages.
Now, after this performance of Chitty, I know that my love of musicals will always run through my veins, and I want to share with you now why I think everyone should be in a musical sometime in their lives:
- You get to go through the audition process!
You might be thinking, “Isn’t that the least exciting, and scariest part?” Actually, to me, it is a huge motivator. Once I know what show is being done, I do my research. If I don’t know what the show is about already, I find out. I listen to the music. Then, I determine which role/roles I want to be considered for. Once I do that, I very carefully choose a song and monologue to showcase how I perceive the character.
For Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I knew without a doubt I wanted to play the Baroness. I knew her role would be challenging because she has to have impeccable comedic timing, she has to be noticed at all times, and she has to be a likable character while also portraying clearly that she hates/fears children.
It took me a long time to decide what song I wanted to audition with, but I finally chose “Let’s Go to the Movies” from Annie. With this song, I could move, be a little sassy, and show the richness of my voice. A monologue wasn’t required for the auditions, but I wanted to go above and beyond. I knew easily that I wanted to portray Helga Pataki from my favorite childhood show, Hey Arnold. She is one who has a cruel exterior, but a mushy heart for her true love. She is incredibly animated, and her voice goes quite high pitched, like how I imagined the Baroness speaking.
Auditions were really fun. I loved having Casey with me for that. He chose to sing ”Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins because it was a song he loved and was comfortable doing. That was perfect for him.
I was thrilled to receive a callback for the Baroness. We were given songs to practice and a couple scenes to go over. You better believe I practiced and practiced, and practiced some more. I asked my high school theater teacher, Carol Halbert, for advice, and she said to perform so that the director sees nobody else but me. I took that to heart, and erased all fear and reservations.
For example, instead of just crawling around half-heartedly during a scene where the Baroness freaks out about children coming to Vulgaria, I thought out how a small child throws a tantrum, and did that myself – kicking, screaming, and rolling around.
Everyone laughed their heads off, and I was pleased. By the same token, I also had a blast watching other people’s interpretations of the Baron, Baroness, and the Spies. Everyone was hilarious in their own ways, that it was really hard to guess who would be cast. I honestly would have been happy for anyone. I could see from that day that I was going to make some great friendships in the show.
I truly believe that the audition and call back process is a premium way for you to get your head in the game, be completely committed, and to enter the realm of the musical.
- You can forget everything else about your life when you are at rehearsal.
There aren’t that many places you can go where you can completely focus on something else, and let the rest of the world pass you by. Theater is one avenue you can do that, because you literally are in another place, and you are portraying another person other than yourself. Even though rehearsing is very hard work, it is also relaxing in that you can leave the rest of your cares behind for a couple hours.
- You get to wear clothes, and do your hair and makeup in a way you never would otherwise.
I am not the type of person who would wear silky pajamas with a red feathery robe, or a soft pink night gown in public. I wouldn’t wear a skin tight dress that sparkles so much, it hurts your eyes either. But, I did in the musical, and rather than cause me embarrassment, it enhanced the character of the Baroness.
And the last night I wore that gold dress, my co-Baroness even told me I looked “hot.” It sure gave me the confidence to get on stage and do the “Bombie Samba” one last time.
I have a cool story about one of my costumes. In Chitty, I played Baroness Bomburst two out of the four nights, but the other nights I played a small part called Miss Phillips. She was a cold, biting, humorless woman, who was unwilling to help Caractacus Potts in any way. I was having the hardest time finding a costume that felt right for her. Well, something told me to look around my closet one more time, and I remembered a khaki dress I had. Yeah, I don’t wear khaki, but the dress was given to me, and I always felt I shouldn’t get rid of it. Well, I felt that this was the reason – I needed it for Miss Phillips. (Ironically, nobody took a picture of me in this costume.)
I must give a special thank you to my sister, Mariah, for providing most of my big, blingy jewelry for the show. I can’t tell you how many times I got compliments on my earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces for the show. It’s nice to have a sister who loves bling!
I felt I definitely learned some new makeup skills from this show. It is funny – when I first started putting on the makeup for dress rehearsals, I was so embarrassed about it because it was so bright, but by the time the show was over, I thought that my normal amount of makeup was too light.
I asked a friend of mine, Sarah Jarvis, to do my hair for the Baroness because she is amazing with hair. I loved spending time with her as she did this act of service for me.
The kids in the show, who played Vulgarian children, took their hair and makeup very seriously as they rubbed brown all over their faces, and teased their hair up so much that I feared they would never be able to brush it again.
Choosing your costumes, and doing your hair and makeup right for a show takes creativity and artistic talent. It is so much fun to do!
- You have so much fun together, you form beautiful friendships and even feel like family.
My church is huge, and I definitely don’t know all the church members in my area. Some people started out being acquaintances, and ended up being close friends. Others, who I had never met, became people who I will always feel comfortable with and will smile at in the future. I got to make friends with men, women, teens, and children. I just love youth so much, and bonding with them made me feel young and relevant.
The cast really had so much fun together. One example is that while backstage before the “Bombie Samba,” all the Vulgarians would pretend to be the Baron and Baroness as they spoke and sang. It was extra funny and poignant to me because I knew that two nights of the four, they were doing that to my voice.
My greatest friendship formed from Chitty was a result of giving rides to neighbors who were in the show. Katie Ricks, who is 16, is a young lady that I now call a close friend. She and I went to many rehearsals with just the two of us, and we had such fun, and sometimes, deep conversations, about important things like boys. I am grateful for her friendship!
It was so evident to me just how much the cast had become my family on closing night. Before the show started, the cast sang “Families Can Be Together Forever,” and as tears streamed down my face, I thought of how we really were like a family, and how I would cherish these memories and experiences for the rest of my life. That whole night, I kept tearing up because I knew it was the last time we could sing “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” together, help each other with hair and makeup, or talk with our Vulgarian or British accents.
I was so grateful to members of the cast during the show that night too. My son, Casey, came down with a bad earache, and so many people helped him, either by offering medicine, consoling him, or giving him direction to lie down and let his ear drain. Because these people cared about my son, they helped him and gave him the ability to continue on and finish out the show.
- You have to put your trust in others.
The first type of trust I am thinking of is trust in one’s safety. In the show, I had to trust a lot of people when I was the Baroness. I had to trust Christian, who played the Baron, that he wouldn’t drop me when dipping me low to the ground, or that he wouldn’t hurt me right after that as he threw me on the stage. I had to trust that when I fainted into teenage girls and rolled across all of them, that they would hold me up, and not send me crashing down. I had to then trust the Baron to catch me right after that. I had to trust people to help the Baron and I get down the stage steps safely while we were tied together.
The hardest thing for me was to trust a group of men to pick me up, as I fainted to the side, and carry me to the center of the stage. The first time I realized I had to do that, I freaked out a little, but I learned to trust them.
I also had to trust that those I acted with would work hard, learn their lines, and desire for us to do our best. I had to trust that those who gave me advice were helping me look and sound even better. Thankfully, with this fine group of people, that wasn’t hard to do at all.
One of the best pieces of advice I got had to do with the lift in the Samba, actually. Lisa, the stage manager, told me to fall to the side with one leg raised. After the men lifted me, I would then cross my other leg over. That piece of advice immediately changed everything – I was no longer afraid of the lift – in fact, I looked forward to it. I am grateful for all the advice I got from my director, the producer, and the music directors.
- You have to be disciplined and focused.
If you have never acted, sung or danced in front of others, you may take for granted how difficult that really is. You can work for hours and weeks on a scene or song, and still not be satisfied with it. It takes repetition, analysis of scenes and characters, accepting and applying of feedback, and consistent effort to get good enough to perform. If you don’t believe it, the audience won’t. To be successful in theater, you must also stay focused on your character. No matter what happens on stage – a mistake in a line, the forgetting of a line, or even an unexpected trip or fall, you must stay in character, or else the audience will stop believing.
The last Friday I played the Baroness, the little Vulgarian children tied us up really tight in the Happy Birthday banner. They had to pull us to downstage right, and that night they pulled us too hard and the Baron and I both tumbled to the ground. We could have gasped, or laughed, or cried out in pain, but we stayed in character. What made it even harder to stay in character, was the adorable kids on stage who worriedly asked us if we were okay and extended loving arms to lift us up. Seeing as how they were playing characters who hated us, and I was playing a character who feared them, it was interesting to make that work. I accepted their help hesitantly, but out of necessity, all the while pretending like it was disgusting to have them touch me. And It wasn’t until after we got off stage that I burst out in uncontrollable laughter, and then realized my knee hurt.
Speaking of the Baron, Christian was the definition of focused and disciplined. Sometimes I almost thought he was too focused on rehearsing. He liked to take every spare moment to run a song or lines. I came to really value that quality, though. Had he not done that, I am not sure our scenes would have been as polished.
I have to tell a story of a tender mercy, too. There were times during the duration of the show that I was insanely busy and felt I was drowning. I was certainly focused and disciplined, but I just didn’t have the time to memorize all my lines by the date Taunja requested it. So, I did the best I could by memorizing only what I thought we would be rehearsing on a given night. Well, one rehearsal (the first off-book rehearsal, in fact), we were supposed to only go over the “Choochie Face” scene. I memorized that and practiced it quite a bit. But, because some other things got done more quickly than expected, Taunja wanted us to go over several other scenes. I nearly panicked. I said a little prayer, and asked Bethany if she could do the scenes before me. Well, with God’s help, I was able to memorize the lines to each scene in the few minutes while Bethany went over each one. I am not that fast of a memorizer – I know God helped me, and I believe He did because He knew my heart. He knew I was dedicated, but that I needed a little extra help. I find that is true in my life in general – when I do the best I can, God makes up the difference.
- You learn to be humble and work as a team, rather than competitors.
No matter what, there will be someone who sees something you don’t, or has an idea you didn’t come up with, or does something better than you, or receives more praise than you. I have seen actors in the past, with lead roles, that are kind of snobby towards others because of it. They do themselves a disservice in doing so. I never felt that anyone was that way in Chitty, but rather took the opportunity to seek advice from others, and realize that alone, nobody can perform perfectly.
I was the Baroness only half the time, and spent much of my time rehearsing alongside Bethany, the other Baroness. For the first couple months of rehearsal, we didn’t work together much, though, other than with learning songs. She and I both had a different Baron. Then, one day, we started sharing our Baron, and though it was hard at first, we made it work. We didn’t get jealous of each other, and Christian was so good to both of us.
Rather than be competitive with each other, and try to prove that we were the better actress, we worked together. We helped each other, and gave each other tips. We accepted those tips graciously. It was a lovely partnership.
One example of a victory that came from us working together, was when the three of us started researching tantrum videos for toddlers. We weren’t getting the tantrum scene just right, and wanted inspiration. Well, we found a video of a kid who was hitting irrationally, and we had an Aha moment. We spent quite a while taking turns trying new ways to do our tantrum, and by the end, we felt so much better about it! It ended up being one of the most fun and hilarious scenes of the show (maybe we are biased, but my friend, Kimberly, did say she was laughing so hard, she cried, when she saw that scene).
- You rejoice in the success of others.
I think this goes along with humility. In a musical, you can choose to only focus on yourself and how well you are doing, or you can take the time to observe others around you and appreciate their grand performances. It always meant so much to me when someone would smile at me and tell me I did a great job on a song I sang, or a tantrum I did. It really helped motivate me to continue on and do my best. I also tried to do that for the rest of my cast. I truly did admire everyone for their hard work, poise, professionalism, can-do attitudes, helping hands, and cheerful demeanors. We sure had a cast full of hilarity, awesome dance moves, and angelic singing voices.
I remember a few times while watching the show from the sidelines (either during rehearsals or performances) that I felt just how wonderful people were. Some examples were:
- Hearing the audience cheer as they saw the tiny blimp carry Grandpa’s tiny laboratory across the sky (Lisa, our stage manager, spent many hours perfecting it, and it was perfect).
- Watching the bamboo dancers do acrobatics I could never do, and cheerfully too!
- Seeing our new turkey farmer for the first time do his scene, and how he did it perfectly.
- Hearing how Anjuli perfected her accent for Violet.
- Listening to the angelic music of “Hushabye Mountain” or “Lovely, Lonely Man.”
- Laughing hysterically at the inventors, or at the spies as they moved across the stage.
- Watching Bethany do the tantrum so perfectly, I laughed like I had never seen it before.
- Hearing Taunja excitedly praise the puppies for being so adorable, and the kids for making her cry when singing “Teamwork.”
- You understand that each and every person plays an essential part in the success of the show.
It would be a mistake to assume that the lead actors are the most important part of a musical, or that really any one group of people (cast or crew) is more important. All of us make those wheels turn, from the person who opens and closes the curtain, to the people who move the props, to the sound and light technicians, to anyone and everyone. We are all crucial to believability and enjoyability of the musical.
Someone who cannot be missed is President Hansen, who not only played an inventor in the show, but also introduced the show each night, and gave the opening prayer. On opening night, when he gave the prayer, I felt a sudden calm and peace come over me. I knew that everything would be okay. Even if I, or anyone in my beloved cast, didn’t perform everything perfectly, the audience would still love the show. Because of his prayer, and the prayers of others, we were successful each and every night of the show.
I hope nobody in Chitty every felt insignificant. I got to be on two sides of the acting spectrum, being a lead on two nights, and being ensemble, with a small speaking role, the other two nights. I may not have had as much to do on stage on my ensemble nights, but I sang my heart out on side stage, I was there for Bethany to help her change her clothes and make sure she had her props, I owned my little speaking part, and I reacted as much as possible when in the Vulgarian scenes. Were those little parts important? Of course! And every single person in the show who did anything, played an essential role.
- You realize that the show isn’t about you.
Our director, Taunja Ingram, helped us always remember that we were doing this show for God and for the benefit of our community. Through our performance, we would be lifting others’ spirits, and helping them feel God’s love. Our performance was for God, and it was for His children. It wasn’t for our own fame or accolades, but it could nourish our souls as we nourished others. I think the show meant so much more to us because of that.
Before one of the shows we did, Taunja read this scripture, which touched us all:
But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that they performance may be for the welfare of thy soul (2 Nephi 32:9).’
It filled my heart with gladness when I saw the smiles on the faces of my family, friends, and people of the community after each show Their joy was evident and I am grateful that this cast and crew was able to bring laughter and love to each of them.
- The music becomes a part of you forever.
This goes for the actors, crew, and the audience. My children have not stopped singing the songs since they first saw it. My son, Rigel, will sing “Me Ol’Bamboo” almost all day long.
Driving in the car to and from rehearsals and performances, Casey, Annika, Katie and I would have a blast singing the songs at the top of our lungs in our accents.
I always would light up hearing children in the cast sing “The Bombie Samba” or “Choochie Face.” They would have so much light in their eyes as they imitated these fun songs. (As a side note, the first time I heard “The Bombie Samba,” I thought it was really dumb. Now, I know it will never leave my mind and heart as long as I live).
As a cast, we would sing “Teamwork” before each performance, and then chant “Oh yes! Go Go!” It really did bring us together and pump us up for the show.
- You get to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I played a few characters in the show. Pulling from that, and also from past shows I have done, I have to say that I feel most satisfied with my performances when I am no longer pretending to be a character, but when I have stepped directly in that character’s shoes and become her. When I am on stage, I am not Mandy, and the actors around me are not known by their names. No, we are our characters. It makes all the difference in delivery. If you believe, the audience will believe. This is not easy to do. It takes so much preparation.
This also includes learning their accents, and finding the intonation of voice that makes the most sense for them in different situations. I got to learn the Vulgarian accent, and also use the British accent on my off nights. Zometimes I find myself speaking in Vulgarian in mein head, and it delights me because it means I haven’t completely removed her shoes from my feet.
I always like to have heart to hearts with my characters and ask them their back stories, and why they feel the way they feel. Why are they compelled to do what they are going to do, or have done? Who do they love? Who do they hate? What do they fear? What do they love and loathe about themselves? What habits do they have and why?
You can do this as a lead character or an ensemble member, and it will change you as a person as you build this empathy.
- You are the most honest version of yourself.
Some people equate actors with being good liars. I don’t think that is true at all. I think actors are the most honest people there are. They are vulnerable and fearless. They portray emotions that others hide inside. It could be true love, irrational fears, insanity, childishness, sexy confidence, uncertainty, tenderness, utter hatred, and so much more. Actors have to find a way to dig deep inside themselves to find a memory, or a thought that will help them show the audience exactly what their character is thinking, feeling, or doing. This is hard, and it takes complete honesty.
- You can do things on stage people would think you were crazy for in real life.
I chuckle as I think about some of the stuff I did as the Baroness. I am pretty sure if my face were that animated, my voice that high pitched, my singing notes that off, my movements that exaggerated, my vanity so apparent, that people would never talk to me or come around me again. That is one thing I absolutely love about theater. You can be completely over the top and nobody will get freaked out. Your movements, diction, and facial expressions are supposed to be more deliberate and expressive. As you learn to do this, it can be intimidating at first, but oh, how it enlivens you.
Now, I won’t do everything on stage. For example, Christian and I played husband and wife, but we knew without talking about it we wouldn’t kiss onstage because we were both happily married. We were still able to give a believable husband/wife relationship without kissing, which was a fun challenge to conquer.
- You gain a tremendous amount of confidence.
I realized this early on in my life. I used to be so shy, and really uncomfortable in my own skin. But, once I started taking acting classes, and being challenged to do things I had never done before, I transformed. I no longer have anxiety about singing, speaking, or acting in public. I can do it. I can do humorous, tender, flirty, angry or devastated improvisations any time now because I have taught myself how to, and am not afraid to be vulnerable.
If you work hard, and really own everything you do in theater, you will overcome shyness, and you will realize that you can do anything if you believe in yourself. I love not caring about what everyone thinks about me all the time. Theater helps with that. You just are you, and that is wonderful!
The confidence also comes because if you are given a task in a show, you do it. You may be a little scared, but you take on the challenge, and practice it until you get it right. For the longest time, I was so nervous about dancing “The Bombie Samba” choreography. There was one part I didn’t get right for the longest time. A week or two before dress rehearsal, I finally got it because I kept asking for help. I didn’t give up. I also never thought I could sing and dance at the same time, but by performance time, I could do it, and I did, because I didn’t give up. I practiced and practiced, and had faith that if I was given the task, it was because I could accomplish it.
My heart lit up after my final Baroness performance when Taunja excitedly told me that she thought my Samba was perfect that night. She said I owned it, and that it was mine. The one scene that always scared me I did perfectly? I thanked God for that blessing.
You may wonder how one can be humble and also confident in theater. It is possible, and I can assure you, if that gets hard, God will have a sense of humor and help keep you humble. The same night I felt I did super well, I actually had burning, watery eyes all night. I had a fake lash blunder, so all night my eyes were swollen, and my eyes leaking. It kept me humble, but also gave me an opportunity to stay in character and continue to be confident no matter what. I thank God for that opportunity.
Are 15 reasons enough to convince you to try musical theater someday? I know I could come up with more, but these are at the forefront of my heart and mind.
I will cherish my time with the cast and crew of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the rest of my life. I will never forget my love for the Baroness. She is a part of me now. I know her completely.
The people I worked with I will always admire and be grateful for. I am grateful for their talents, their advice, their encouragement, their smiles and laughter, their dedication, and their hearts. We were a good team. I am also so grateful for my family, who was a huge part of my team – especially my husband. With his support, I was able to consistently go to my rehearsals, that took up much of my time. And I am grateful for all who came to see the show – without an audience, the dream can’t be realized. Much love to you all!
Teamwork, can make a dream work, if we all pitch in and try.
Teamwork can make a dream work, and no mountain is too high!
If the same great dream is beating in each heart,
There’s no stopping what a fighting team can start.
For, all together, a team can weather, any storm they may go through.
Yes, teamwork, can make a dream work, can make the greatest dreams come true.