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June 2002

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The Orchestra Pit

June 2002 — regular reporter Deb Walz; guest columnist this issue: Jan Bordeleau

Here's a "pit view" of Camelot:

Camelot was a delight -- our Guenevere was lovely, Mordred played his character so well I feared he truly was a bit evil (but was reassured by many a cast member that he was quite a good sort), King Arthur's voice was so strong I feared for our sound board, and the orchestra was *wonderful*. To add to my delight, the orchestra column features a guest writer, Jan Bordeleau, who played keyboard in the pit. This was Jan's first show with Actorsingers and we hope to see her back again real soon!

Enjoy ...

The house lights darkened and a hush overcame the audience sitting back in their seats to enjoy the evening's production of Camelot; as the Overture commenced, Diane-the-flute-player's husband did a double-take. Was that a recording, or his wife's orchestra? He opened the program and scanned the personnel listed only to read ten names. Whoopsie! The accidentally-omitted 7 other names were included in an extra insert page. That still didn't explain the phantom bass player who played but was invisible and... oh, this WAS confusing, wasn't it? Counting our fearless leader, Michele Henderson who wielded the baton like a sword, that made a total of a 17 piece orchestra who sounded like the soundtrack. We were QUITE the motley crew. (Not to be confused with Mötley Crüe.) Although we did play so well together there was talk of going on the road as the opening act for Cher at Verizon.

But I digress...

Michele had been nervously making jokes about the crack the techs made that they didn't know how she would get into the orchestra pit and Sunday evening of Tech Week all rumors were confirmed; although we could fit 17 pieces down there, there simply was no way to get in and out of the pit because the stairs at either end had been blocked by one helluva PA system. I looked at the pit, then at the faux castle stone walls lining the stage and drew the only logical conclusion possible; we weren't playing in the pit, we were playing in the castle MOAT. The only way to get the orchestra members in and out was via drawbridge.

William's character, Pellinore, had a traveling companion named Horrid; the actor's Real Life name was Bradley, and he appeared incapable of learning either his stage name or his lines. He didn't take direction very well either, unless it was from his own people. During rehearsal, William even tried luring Bradley around the stage with doggy treats, but finally wound up keeping "Horrid" on his leash. Well, Bradley may not have remembered his blocking, but he remembered there were people who would give him doggy treats, if only he could find them. Sunday night of Tech Week I felt water dripping onto me (a bad thing when you're in a pit surrounded by wires and electrical outlets) and I looked up right into "Horrid's" face. Bradley apparently had just had a drink of water and now was trying to locate someone to give him a doggy treat. NO BRADLEY, DON'T JUMP INTO THE MOAT!

Friday's performance went well. Saturday's performance went well. Sunday, however, Bradley apparently heard a rumor that there were doggy treats in the top of Nancy's bassoon and managed to get loose and came over to the orchestra moat again. The little scene stealer proceeded to look right out into the audience while the rest of the actors continued the scene; I kept waiting for him to whip out a top hat, jump up on his hind legs and start dancing. That's what happens on Bugs Bunny, right?

We are the orchestra; we accompany. That's our job. The actor does something, we make sound. It is our mission in life, our raison d'être. Saturday night's audience got all the jokes, except one. In fact, none of the audiences got the joke when Guenevere's character got nervous and said she was glad the Aberdeen Angus had won because the cow had tried so hard. We didn't trust the Sunday audience to get it either, but we didn't want Nicole to be disappointed again, so we agreed before Sunday's performance that the entire orchestra would laugh at this joke.

We were STILL the only ones that laughed. And Nicole, if you're reading this, now you know...

There were two female french horn players -- Suzanne and Trishadee. There was one female english horn player -- Sharon. Both french horn players were pregnant. The english horn player was not pregnant. I can only conclude that playing french horn gets you pregnant.

There is a legend about a musician who sight reads so well that "if a fly landed on the manuscript he'd play it." Well, I can tell you for sure it would have to be a guy because my natural reaction to a multi-legged creature crawling around in my book has always been to scream and run. King Pellinore's character in Camelot quests after The Beast with the head of a serpent, body of a boar and the tail of a lion but in 18 years of living outside in his suit of armor he never could find it. Hey William, I have news for you-- it was in the moat all along, terrorizing members of the orchestra. On Wednesday of Tech Week we had just begun Ariel's entrance as Lancelot and Michelle-Our-Fearless-Leader-Who-Wields-The-Baton-Like-A-Sword hit The Beast with a mighty *WHACK*... and didn't even know it. I, however, knew it, because I saw her baton sweep up as The Beast was flung into my book, quite stunned but still moving its many legs. William left a few details out of Pelly's description of The Beast... it also has 6 legs and great big huge fangs. AND IT WAS BUZZING IN MY BOOK! My gut reaction was to bolt up onto the stage, but my many years of extremely costly music school training forced me to continue playing with my right hand and turn the page with my left hand.

I could kill it by pressing (don't miss a beat) the page on it but (don't miss a beat) then it would squish and crunch (eww gross!) and then I'd have to (don't miss a beat) pay for the danged book with a splattered horsefly in it (don't miss a beat). OK, page turn. Good, (don't miss a beat) now return my left hand to the keyboard (don't miss a beat) put more distance between The Beast and my hands and OH DEAR GOD IT'S THE ONLY PIECE IN THIS DANGED SCORE THAT HAS A REPEAT AND I HAVE TO TURN BACK TO THAT PAGE!!!!

I flipped two pages back to the repeat and the now-enraged Beast buzzed itself off my music stand and onto my keyboard. Again, I forced myself to continue playing with my right hand -- $20,000 I paid for this training at Berklee -- while I grabbed my pencil and tried to duel The Beast off my keys below middle C. Ariel, meanwhile, continued singing unaware of the drama with The Beast in the orchestra moat. I might add at this point I was totally oblivious to Michele's conducting. The Beast was threatening to devour me and I had to destroy it. It reared up and leapt at me only to be foiled by its own wings, rendered useless earlier when it was beaten by Michele. The Beast was now on the floor on its back.

Ariel finished the piece. I finished The Beast -- with my shoe.

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