Jan 312010

I just finished my first venture into community theater. My friend Al asked me to join him in a small acoustic band to perform as part of “Spoon River Anthology.” I agreed to talk to the director, and she said she needed a strong fiddler to play on some traditional numbers such as “Water Is Wide” and “Skip To My Lou.” Sounded simple enough, and Al is always a pleasure to play with, so I was in.

I had some really great experiences as part of the show. The actors were awesome, and the script was very deep. Through the rehearsals I found myself touched or stirred by different characters. I had to control myself a few times to keep from tearing up. I also enjoyed the band. We had two singers, Al on rhythm guitar, me on mando and fiddle, and a guy playing guitar synth. All five gave strong contributions.

All of the performances went well, and the opening night was exceptional. Lots of good feedback from the audiences. I didn’t see any reviews, so I guess no one ever came from the local press to review the show. If something turns up, I’ll post it here.

The script is based on free verse poems by Edgar Lee Masters. The characters all speak from the grave and describe the sadness, scandals, and joys of small-town Illinois in the late 1800s. Here is an online edition of Masters’s original work: http://spoonriveranthology.net/spoon/river/

There were some things that I did not care for in this gig. A couple of us musicians started asking for rehearsals and charts about six weeks before opening night. We finally got our first rehearsal two weeks before opening night, and the director wanted us to do new arrangements for most of the songs. So we spent a couple afternoons arranging, and by the time we started rehearsing with the cast, we really didn’t know the music. So I went from playing fiddle on some traditional tunes to also playing mandolin and arranging. The group asked me to sing a song, and I drew the line and said I was at my limit. The schedule was just too crazy. People were still whispering, “What key is this in?” two days before opening night. Somehow we managed to put it together and not make major flubs during the performances, but I found it a huge drain on my energy trying to do too much in too little time.

I also got sick with a respiratory infection and missed a week of work in the middle of the performances. That left me doubly drained, and I was relieved when the last performance was cancelled due to snow.

Overall it wasn’t bad for an unpaid gig. But I’ll be glad to go back to being a songwriter and fiddle punk, back to my familiar territory.

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