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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Part 2: Elphaba Debut Redux

When we last spoke I left you with an outrageous cliffhanger, in the style of ABC's LOST, except I will not invoke misaligned space-time continua and/or bodysnatching as a means to resolve it.  (In fairness to LOST, I haven't watched it in a while, so it may have in fact improved since I abandoned ship last year.)

Tangent much, Felicia? Right.  Okay.  So.

First day as a standby.  I'm psyched because, by all viable accounts, being a standby means taking up French, or taking up knitting, or taking up French knitting (like making berets and such) to pass the time in between performance gigs -- which, after three months of crazy rehearsal and cross-continental travel while working for WICKED, is, in my opinion, truly exciting.  (There it is again: dramatic irony!)

Presenting: Part 2! Which begins around...


Tuesday, March 30, 8:25PM

I'm sitting in the audience near the front of the house watching Act 1 alongside the delightful Libby Servais, our Glinda standby.  If you're a cast member taking the night off to watch, you get to wear an extremely stylish "All Access Pass" lanyard around your neck, which, like all officiated displays of toolishness, is both fun and embarrassing.  We're getting a kick out of the whole affair, taking great joy in seeing our friends perform their talented little butts off.

The rule about being a standby is you always have to be accessible to the stage manager, in case there's a glitch or you're needed backstage.  This means either being in your dressing room (where you can hear the intercom pager) or having your cellphone handy.  While sitting in the audience, I am equipped with the latter.

Eden Espinosa (our dazzling Elphaba) sings "Wizard and I."  She is, as per usual, amazing, but I notice that she doesn't hold out the final note the usual duration. No biggie, she'll power through. "Loathing" happens, and is swell.  The classroom scene, and "Something Bad," all great to watch.  Dum dee dum, WICKED is such a great show! I think.  La dee da, I'm in the audience, la dee da, this is a breeze!  Then, right before "Dancing Through Life," when Eden has the chance to be offstage for a bit, I get a text.  It's from my stage manager.

"Come backstage, please."

Um.

Eden is sick and doesn't think she can finish the show.  The plan?  Replace Eden as Elphaba mid-way through "One Short Day" (or, the Emerald City song).  There is an ever-so-brief moment after the train station when Elphaba and Glinda run off up right and do a quick change to emerge in new costumes in time for the Wizard's Chamber and, eventually, "Defying Gravity."  Eden will run off, and I will be poised to run on, as if nothing has ever happened...  Such is the plan.

But first, the greenification!  Getting green takes somewhere between 15 to 20 minutes, so, as soon as we get word that Eden is going to call out for the remainder of the show, the makeup, wig, and costume team, which comprises three or more people, sets to work on me immediately.

The atmosphere in the Elphaba dressing room was surprisingly bustling, bordering on frenetic.  As I wrote in an earlier post, "it takes a village to raise an Elphaba" -- and (as I've seen, now that I've done the role five times total (yep, that's right, more on that soon!)) so much of my pre-stage-time prep relies on the finely tuned craft and coordination of the "Elphaba team," as it were.

The good news?  All the dressing room activity on the night of March 30 didn't afford me a single moment to freak out. Rather, it forced me to carve out my own space for focus while still maintaining the ability to talk, interact, even joke around with everybody in the room.  All in all, I think this was advantageous, because it primed me to be active, and in the moment, and just to take the plunge; I didn't psyche myself simply because I couldn't -- I had no time to dwell on the situation or get hyper analytical about the challenge that awaited me.

And, yes, indeed, it was a challenge, and there was much doubt.  Particularly menacing, I thought as they speckled my face and neck with green, was the fact that I had to make my entrance only moments before the most vocally challenging song in the show ("Defying Gravity"), which is, on its own, difficult to sing, but even trickier if you have to do it while standing on the levitator (the contraption that makes Elphaba fly), a feat which I had done only once before at my put-in.  Anyway, I was nervous, to say the least.

But, yep.  I went on!  And I did it.  I did it!  At this point, a straight-up linear narrative won't be the best way to capture it... so let me instead write down little bits from here and there...

Presenting: Glitches, Challenges, Discoveries, Tidbits, Revelations from My Elphaba Debut!
  • Breathe.  Just breathe.  Seriously, Felicia. Breathe.
  • Whoa, the lights onstage are bright.   This is good... I almost don't see the audience!  I almost forget they are there!
  • Almost.  There are hundreds of people watching.  Thousands?
  • I have never rehearsed with Kendra Kassebaum, our Glinda (had rehearsed only with Libby and Alexa Green, the Glinda understudy).  This is exciting and forces me to stay in the moment.  Kendra is fantastic to watch, and it's even more fantastic to perform with her.  I step outside myself momentarily to admire her talent... then remember to get back into character, foo.
  • In order to set the green makeup, our makeup artist has to use a ton of white dusty powder; as such, it's important not to breathe in as he applies, in case this should accumulate in your throat and dry you out before singing!  Retouching happens frequently in the wings, particularly after rigorous songs like "No Good Deed," or ones where you have to rub faces, like "As Long As You're Mine."  
  • On a related note, Nic Dromard, our Fiyero, has to endure my nerve-induced sweatiness, and, moreover, its collateral green-makeup rub-offage. (Sorry, Nic!) 
  • Backing up to "Defying Gravity".... Getting into the levitator before I fly has always been really tricky for me. It's something that comes only with practice and repetition.  Why is it so hard?  Well, it's a multi-step process, that involves 1) moving your wig hair to the right to make sure it doesn't get caught as you 2) unhook your napsack on your right side, stage right of the levitator, 3) move center to step onto a tiny platform that's about as large as a laptop, all the while 4) sweeping your cape over the whole contraption with your left hand and holding the broom in your right and then 5) using your lower back to push a switch back to close a pair of metal clasps in front of your abdomen.  This all happens in a matter of seconds.
  • I am extremely nervous moments before this occurs.  My mind is racing through steps 1-5 and, as I walk upstage to execute, I forget a crucial preparatory measure, which is to hold my broom vertically as I move in order to clear the narrow width created onstage between two "towers," or shelving unit set pieces.  The cost of this minor oversight?  I BROKE THE BROOM.  It got caught horizontally between the set pieces, and I, determined not to miss my cue, just kept walking upstage toward the levitator unit.  And then... craaaaaack.  Broken broom.
  • I performed "Defying Gravity," and it was pretty alright!  Intimidation factor of high belting was offset by my desperate attempt to hide the fact that I was holding a measly broom tip that closely resembled a dustpan sweeper.  Not exactly Act 1 Finale material.  But I made due! 
  • My costume includes a green leotard that colors my arms and shoulders green during Ozdust and Popular.  The material is HOT. And makes me sweat.  A lot.
  • Jumping to "No Good Deed," the dark horse, and therefore most sinister, song Elphabas everywhere must endure.  It has a million high notes, comes late in Act II, after you've already been singing millions of songs, AND, in the case of sit-down productions like San Francisco or Broadway (as opposed to the national tours), requires that you exit stage R and then literally sprint backstage, down the stairs, under the stage to the orchestra pit, where a caged elevator awaits you to bring you up through the trap door in time to belt out a high, atonally pitched belty scream.  You have to do all this while wearing a thirty pound dress, and you must simultaneously undo your hair in the back by removing a small bobby pin. 
  • After doing it myself, I totally take Eden Espinosa's advice to heart, which is to practice singing "No Good Deed" after running up and down stairs.  Hot damn.  It is hard. This will be one of my main goals as standby, to keep up with this vocal beast even if I'm not performing the role nightly.
There are, of course, many more details-- too many to list!  During my first week as standby, I performed the role five times (er-- four and three quarter times), and it was thrilling!  I will, assuredly, return to the topic of performing Elphaba, but will try to parse apart the different aspects into more manageable chunks. For example, some people have asked pointed questions about the experience, and I'd like to allot one post per answer (for example, someone asked me what I do for vocal maintenance and to stay healthy between performances, and I can expound for a while on that topic!).

In the meantime, please feel free to comment below or email my webmaster at felicia@feliciaricci.com.  Thank you, all, for your support and enthusiasm!  I so appreciate the wonderfully encouraging responses I've gotten so far.  Again, forgive me for my sporadic blogging, but know that I will continue to try to keep you all abreast of my various Elphaba-related whereabouts.

As always, thanks for reading, and until next time, I remain, humbly,
Felicia.

32 comments:

  1. Did you ever see the show prior to becoming an ensemble member/understudy? do you remember who was on as Elphaba and Glinda?

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  2. "....I was holding a measly broom tip that closely resembled a dustpan sweeper." LOVE LOVE LOVE this. Look forward to reading more of your adventures, Elphie-related and otherwise.

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  3. AWESOME!!! Thank you for blogging!

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  4. Again a well written, entertaining blog. Thanks for sharing the role of Elphaba sounds like a lot of work, but very exciting and worth it.

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  5. I love it!!!! I'm so proud of you Felicia, you're my hero!!!!! Hopefully I'll get the opportunity to see you performing such an amazing role!!! :)

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  6. Highly entertaining read, Felicia! Looking forward to any/all details you care to share.

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  7. LOL FOREVERRRR AT THE BROOM. That's hilariously fantastic. Well, I'm glad to hear you survived, and rocked it... You should come hang out at the stagedoor tomorrow afternoon! :)

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  8. As the proud recipient of the green off-age during our song, I must inform all the readers that you PHENOMENAL. It was a joy to perform with you and look forward to all the fun next times we will sing together and the many opportunities that you will get to rub off some green on me. Keep up the amazing work Felicia. Your blog is great and inspiring.

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  9. I was center aisle row h the Tuesday you went on and I certainly did not notice a broken broom. I thought you did an amazing job and I love hearing the behind-the-scenes details of what happened that night!

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  10. Your blog is amazingly well-written. I love it!

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  11. Hi Felicia, I saw the show Friday night (for no particular reason) and was there tonight when you tweeted right after the opening curtain that another blog post was finished, well I love your blog so much that I almost opened it and started reading it during No One Mourns the Wicked. (I exercised restraint for once and waited) Thanks for another great blog, I was starting to get withdrawals... ;o)

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  12. Wow!! That's a lot of steps to go through in a matter of seconds, glad you pulled it off!! :) Can't wait to see Wicked again this month!! Maybe you'll be Elphaba! :) Good luck and congrats!!

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  13. Awesome, Felicia! I just got back from the show to finally watch Eden and Neka's debut as Nessarose but I wouldn't sleep until I have read the ending of your Elphaba experience. I hope you get to go on soon... like Wednesday evening next week. ;-)

    P.S. Nobody mentioned a broken broom after your debut so you did great. They were probably stunned by your powerful voice!

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  14. Haha, can't believe you broke the broom! Congrats on your debut, from what I've heard, you were fantastic!

    (Oh, and don't worry, Lost hasn't improved. Only 10 or so episodes left till it finishes forever and I STILL have no idea what's going on.)

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  15. You are SO witty and wonderful! Thanks for infusing vicarious thrills into my serene and happy, (but often, mundane!) life.
    I'm immensely relieved that you have returned bloggerifically and I can, once more, avoid withdrawal and ozabilitation.
    With immeasurable pride and love,
    Momphaba xoxoxo

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  16. So as I standby it means you no longer perform in Ensemble, thereby "saving" you for when the "Come backstage, please." buzzes you?

    PS. Your blog should be a must-read for anyone with high-profile theatre ambitions! Very fun and educational.
    ( Translation: It's the Shiz! )

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  17. Wow. Just...wow. Please keep writing as much detail as you can about your experiences. It's absolutely fascinating and, at times, hysterically funny. Your experiences give a whole new dimention to a play I love deeply.

    Your comments on "No Good Deed" really enforces a point I've made to people on-line who may "diss" one actor or another's performance of this song. They don't realize just WHAT is involved prior to and during this song. In fact, what you've said here makes me realize it's more involved than I thought..."Defying Gravity" too.

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  18. So incredibly excited for and proud of you, Felicia! Hope you're well!
    xo

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  19. Way to step into the role, Felicia! =D Broken broom or not, you did a great job it sounds like! All the best to you! :)

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  20. Congrats, Felicia! You've proven you can handle pretty much anything and rock the stage while doing it. I hope I get to witness the awesomeness in person one day. Keep sharing whatever you can!

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  21. Fantastic, Felicia! I recommend this blog to my middle schoolers who love musical theatre-- they love it too! It's great to hear about you kicking butt on the west coast!

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  22. Hello There!

    What a great story! Keep on Keepin' on!

    Love you tons...

    Dennis
    xo

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  23. I keep imaging Elphaba trying to ride the dustpan sweeper. It's like a Vespa for witches.

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  24. Hey Felicia,
    We're all so excited for you. What an amazing experience! Thanks for blogging. It's a vicarious rush to read about your exploits! Otter and Ms. Williams

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  25. I love your life! Thanks so much for the inside view of a life-changing show. Keep breaking legs...

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  26. So, shoot me, it took me a long time to peruse this post. Probably, I was reluctant to read it, because I am still pissed at Tim for telling me to come Thursday, the 1st, instead of the Tuesday, the 30th as I had planned, so I could see him at his best as the Wizard. Damn him!(and don't think I haven't told him my feelings on this subject already)
    This post is so full of win, I hesitate to single out anything, but I will, because I must. The detail about not breathing in the fixing powder just exemplifies why your blog is marvelous. Where on the fraking planet could we learn those facts (and I do think I need to know these kinds of things), except here at your literary lair. THNX and now I must go back to work to earn the $25 to cover my next lottery ticket.

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  27. I love your blog!

    I'm also going to see Wicked late next month to see you as Elphaba! I'm super excited :)

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  28. Felicia, I was there on the night of your first time as Elphaba in front of a live audience. Can I just say, "WOW!" You did such a wonderful job. I was totally taken away. When you came on stage during "One Short Day" a whole new energy filled the theater. You rocked the role of Elphaba. Right away I started looking around me to see if people noticed, but then I realized other people probably hadn't seen it 6 times like I had. Then I leaned over to my husband and said, "Honey, that's a new Elphaba!" He responded, "Really? Oh yeah, you're right." I sat in awe as you totally stole the show. During intermission I was scrambling through the program to figure out what was going on. I was asking around and no one knew. Then I saw your picture and knew it was you. After "Defying Gravity" my husband and I started clapping and we looked at each other while nodding and smiling. "Nailed it!" You truly did such an amazing job. I have a picture of you signing my journal after the show. If you want it let me know. loranjl@gmail.com. Congratulations and best wishes to you with all your future musical theater excitements. I'll be cheering you on.

    -Loran

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  29. ' Retouching happens frequently in the wings, particularly after rigorous songs like "No Good Deed," or ones where you have to rub faces, like "As Long As You're Mine." '
    Don't you mean regreenifying?

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  30. I think I remember in your book you said that someone caught your first Defying Gravity on film and posted it on YouTube... Is it still there? Is that the one where you clutch a broken broom?

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