June 22--Fan kick? So not happening.
The request came from choreographer Dawn Notagiacomo when I auditioned this week for Comedy Tonight Productions' summer musical, "Oklahoma!"
I lifted my foot, lost my balance and nearly toppled into the woman trying to dance beside me.
But, I can carry a tune, so I'm going to dust off the pipes and join the cast of "Oklahoma!" as an embedded reporter for the production, which will be onstage Aug. 16-18 at the Poinsettia Pavilion in Ventura.
This big summer musical is Comedy Tonight's first show as a very-nearly-almost nonprofit community theater. Comedy Tonight, founded in 1996, filed for 501(c)(3) status in October, and the troupe expects the final paperwork to arrive sometime this summer.
(Follow Kim Lamb Gregory through her experience: Details below)
Also, "after 17 years of being a gypsy troupe, we finally have a home," said Comedy Tonight artistic director Gabriel Vega, who is coproducing "Oklahoma!" Comedy Tonight hopped from place to place, finding a semi-permanent home at Oxnard High School through drama teacher Bob Decker, whose students were able to appear in the community shows.
When Decker retired two years ago, Comedy Tonight was homeless again, and nearly out of money until 2012, when a benefactor presented a grant to help the troupe apply for nonprofit status, and foot some of the bill for "Oklahoma."
Almost every other city in the county has a community theater, but since the Plaza Players dissolved in the early 1990s, Ventura hasn't had a community theater group where amateurs can perform, Vega said. The Rubicon Theatre is nonprofit but uses professional actors.
"The beauty of community theater is it's the theater of the people," Vega said. "We all do something else during the day, then at night, we all come together with this love we have."
So, by day I'll be a reporter and at night I'll be a reporter/performer providing photos, videos and a blog about what goes into putting together a big musical with an all-volunteer cast and crew. (Follow my foibles at vcstar.com/kim_sings.)
"I'm kind of new to theater," said fellow auditioner Maria Odell, 27, of Camarillo, as we waited for our names to be called to audition Monday night at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Ventura. "I've only been doing it for three years. So I'm not quite sure I have what it takes to do a lead role, but I wouldn't mind a little something smaller."
I, too, was auditioning for a spot in the chorus. I told Vega I would do a behind-the-scenes story whether or not he cast me, so he was under no obligation to "embed" me in the show. I wanted to earn my way in like everybody else. I wanted to feel the anxiety of an audition -- the way the sheet music stuck to my sweaty palms when I handed it to the accompanist. I did not want to spare myself the fluttery stomach and the dry mouth that so many performers have -- even the veterans.
"I always am a little nervous auditioning because I'm me, not the character," said Damian Gravino, 52, of Newbury Park -- a familiar name in local theater.
Gravino auditioned for and won the part of shady farmhand Jud Fry, a part Gravino relishes because "I like playing bad guys."
I haven't done a musical in at least 20 years, but do know I sing in the same register as Elvis and Frank Sinatra, so I chose "New York, New York," Ol' Blue Eyes-style, as my audition piece. I had my sheet music ready, and my sneakers, because I knew there would be an easy dance audition: "Just to make sure you can move and follow stage direction," Vega told me.
So imagine my horror when Notagiacomo told us that the ladies in the show will do a lot of ballet. As in "just pirouette three times, lift your arm and on your tiptoes, one, two, three, four and fan kick."
Notagiacomo, who can balance on her toes in her sneakers, led us through a few stanzas of "Many a New Day," a song sung by the female lead character Laurey. While Laurey sings, other women in the scene all pirouette and steppy steppy steppy on their toes while dressed in corsets and bloomers.
I hustled my 57-year-old carcass around the floor, bad knees, arthritic ankle and all, trying not to crash into the snack table.
I don't think I could do a fan kick even in my 20s.
When I had to do an ensemble dance in a show decades ago, I heard a lot of "Stand behind those actors, Kim. No, farther back. Farther."
I sweat my way through it, gulped some water, and waited until it was my turn to do the singing audition. I was a little tense, but OK.
Until the pianist hit the first note and I realized my sheet music was in the wrong key, so I sounded like Barry White through the beginning. The last part of the song went better, and Vega and co-producer Tamara Ashton cast me in the chorus. Phew.
Ashton was already cast in the role of Aunt Eller, so I was surprised when Vega called me and told me Ashton wanted me to understudy the role, and actually perform the role of Aunt Eller in the Saturday matinee.
It's a plum role for an older lady and no pirouettes are involved, so I'm all in. And comforted by Vega's concept of community theater.
"We don't try to put on the best show ever," he said. "We try to put on the best show this group is capable of doing."
An adventure in "Oklahoma!": Ventura County Star features writer Kim Lamb Gregory will spend the next eight weeks as an embedded reporter performing in the musical "Oklahoma!" Kim auditioned and landed a part, not because she's a reporter, but because she can sing. To keep up with her theater adventure, and see photos and video of her audition and rehearsals, go to http://www.vcstar.com/kim_sings or follow @kimlambgregory on Twitter. Comedy Tonight Productions' "Oklahoma!" will be onstage Aug. 16-18 at the Poinsettia Pavilion, 3451 Foothill Road, Ventura. For tickets or information about the show, call 949-542-6371 or visit http://www.comedytonight productions.com.
(c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)
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