Friday, May 11

A dearth of divas...

Dearth = an inadequate supply, scarcity, lack (

In this case - a dearth is a good thing!

I've been involved in a lot of theatre productions through the years. Literally thousands of performances (ok - one reason for that is the three years at Kings Dominion with over 500 shows per season) and I know quite a bit about dealing with divas. #1 - don't take them as seriously as they take themselves. #2 - don't become one. Oh sure, I joke about being a diva in the church choir...but I hope nobody really think that I act like one for real! Mostly I try to defuse any attempt for real diva behavior by poking fun at diva behavior.

Diva = prima donna, from the latin divus - goddess. Prima donna = pain in the tuckus

I have spent a little more than a week working on the Bedford Little Town Players production of Larry Shue's The Nerd. And one of the greatest things about this cast is the complete lack of diva behavior. And it isn't that there aren't talented performers - quite the opposite in fact!

About 6 weeks ago I went to auditions for the show. It was a good experience (even though I wasn't cast) because everyone seemed to have fun. This was the first time I had been at the Elks Theatre for an audition (mostly because of the 40 minute drive) and although I saw a few familiar faces - I knew I was an outsider. The amazing thing is that I actually would have cast the show exactly the same way Karen Hopkins cast it! OK, I might have cast myself...but that is just because I have an oversized ego...

Each cast member is perfectly suited for their role. I know that is the result of long weeks of rehearsal and study...and the exquisite talent of the beautiful Karen Hopkins (sucking up in case I audition for her again...). And this cast had some interesting obstacles to overcome during rehearsal! During the early weeks of rehearsal there was a stand-in for Jamie Watson, guest Equity actor from NYC, who is cast in the titular role. Titular. Great word. Just means the role in the title - in this case "the Nerd" - but it makes me giggle like a kid anyway.

In addition to the stand-in for Jamie, another key cast member decided to kick off rehearsals by having heart issues that led to a triple bypass! So Karen had to find someone to stand in for Brian Lee's Axel. By the time I started working on the production (assistant stage manager / food wrangler) the cast had already melded into the cohesive unit that audiences will enjoy May 11, 12, 18, 19 (8pm) and 13, 20 (2pm). I never would have suspected that they hadn't been together all along.

I remember Brian Lee's audition. He read several roles - but his deadpan delivery of Axel's lines and his effortless adoption of the world-weary theatre critic were spot-on. Axel has been around the crazy people of show business and has seen it all. I get the feeling that Brian Lee has seen quite a bit of it all too! He has some of the best lines in the show...and he keeps me on my toes, finding different places to secrete deviled eggs on the set...

Danny Grigsby's portrayal of Warnock Waldgrave (rags to riches businessman) is fantastic. I think that I would have just told him to start highlighting his script the night of auditions. When Waldgrave gets frustrated with the antics around him...Danny conveys that without turning him into a caricature. Sometimes one scene becomes so realistic I actually fear that Danny is going to have some sort of stroke! But then offstage he returns to the happy-go-lucky Danny Grigsby. Real talent.

Oh, and the lovely Mrs. Waldgrave! I can't reveal too much, because I don't want spoil the fun...but I'm not sure how the relaxed and generous Lisa Butler becomes the uptight and neurotic wife of Warnock Waldgrave. It is quite the transformation! And she saves my butt by helping me with all the dishes that have to be washed and food that has to be run up and down the stairs! I love her!

Which leads me to the gorgeous young woman who plays Tansy, love interest of Mr. Willum Cubbert (whose home is invaded by The Nerd) - Andrea Gillespie. Bless her heart - until I arrived last week, she was running amok trying to keep all the dishes and cups and such straight. For some reason, since she brings most of those props on stage...she took on that responsibility in addition to learning lines and getting into character. She thanks me every night for being there! Holy moly girl!! You should be sainted for doing all that you did during rehearsals! I barely have time to get everything in the right place - and I spend NONE of my time delivering lines!

Now...I have to say...because most of my friends are aware of this...I hate kids. I have worked with a LOT of kids in my years. Munchkins in Wizard of Oz, children in the Nutcracker, orphans in Oliver, and dreadful singing children in a musical version of Cinderella. I have very little patience with them and prefer that they stay out of my way. But I have to say that the young man who plays the Waldgraves' son Thor is a delightful change of pace. He has taken responsibility for making sure that his costumes and props are in the right places, knows his lines and responds pretty well when I have to move him out of the way. Mr. Bobby Bays is very talented - and in spite of that talent...he shows no signs of diva-ness.

One man who could easily get a swelled head is John Langston who plays the long-suffering Willum Cubbert. John came to auditions with almost no theatre experience. Apparently he DID play a shepherd back in the 1st grade. He had one line - but he doesn't remember what it was. Since then, he's been doing silly stuff like becoming a certified physician assistant during a career in the Air Force. So far I have resisted calling him Doc... (but when I gave myself a brush with anaphylactic shock the other night - by ignoring my allergy to apples - it was vaguely comforting to know that there was medical personnel nearby). We are fairly stunned by John's talent...and although we mention that on a regular basis - he also has resisted becoming a diva.

And the one guy who you would expect to be a diva - the big star from New York - "appearing through the courtesy of Actor's Equity Association and the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers of the United States"...he is the least diva-esque of them all. Mr. Jamie Watson is pretty awesome. He is a fantastic Nerd. But he still will fetch stacks of plates for me from downstairs...he does his own makeup and sets his own props. And tonight when everyone was gathered together before the show...he actually said some pretty nice things about how much he appreciated everyone in the cast tolerating the extra obstacle of having a lead join rehearsals a couple of weeks before opening. And how much this experience has helped reinvigorate his love of the craft of acting.

yep...working on this show has definitely been worth the drive. And it's a damn funny show to boot. I will say this once more: do not miss it. Audiences are in for a real treat!


  1. Thank you so much for the kind words... LTP has always been a wonderful sandbox to play in... Karen Hopkins gives us pleaty of room to explore and have fun. Thank you for the kind words.
    Danny Grigsby

  2. I've known Jamie for a long time, including being on stage with him at Lynchburg College, so I'm looking forward to his return to the Bedford stage. Great blog entry!