In Beijing, our musical director Michael Duff gave Peter and me the heads-up on what could have potentially been a disaster... because of visa problems, our touring musicians from Canada and the Ukraine were going to arrive later than expected. The Xi'an presentor had to then hire local musicians to cover for the missing players. At first, it seemed like something out of a musical director's worst nightmare: one player wouldn't produce the best sound, but read music like a demon... another would make the most hauntingly beautiful tones, but can barely read. Michael said that it would take a ton of work, and that he himself didn't know how things would turn out. Peter (God bless him) kept calm and cool and said, "It'll be fine, no worries." Michael had been working with them, and said that this young group (very, very young... a bulk of them are in the local conservatory, still in training, I think) was incredibly hardworking. I'll be honest... there was a part of me that was very doubtful of how opening night would be... and then there was another that would work with whatever we were given, and hope for the best. I just had to trust that it would all be fine...
And thankfully, it was.
(l-r) Brandy Zarle, Peter Saide, Charlie Parker
Sheilla Habab (my adopted sister, personal assistant and dresser)
and Lynn Zhang, my translator
Rehearsing "Loneliness of Evening"
(l-r) Priscilla Duff, who was subbing for our Keyboard 2 player,
and Janet Roma, our associate musical director and Keyboard 1 player
Peter Saide and Steve Gagliastro,
who would be playing the King on opening night in Xi'an
Jen Bechter and Brandy Zarle rehearsing "Stepsisters' Lament"
At our sitzprobe on September 10, for the most part, we heard the sounds that we were used to hearing in Manila. It was evident at this music rehearsal just how much work Michael had put into making this orchestra sound good. Sure, there would be a few bad notes here and there, or one player would go ahead of everyone else, but this was going to be one invaluable experience for these young musicians. Michael pointed out that these kids had probably never seen the inside of an orchestra pit before... which, if you think about it, was an exciting prospect. This was going to be a time in their lives that they won't soon forget. We were rooting for them. Sure, I was angry at the problems that the visa hullabaloo was causing, but I couldn't think about that at this moment... we had work to do.
Only the principals were called at this sitzprobe... the ensemble would get to hear them on our adjustment day on September 11, which was the date of our opening night. After getting the rundown of what our stage adjustments would be (here's a partial list: no palace terrace drop [the red set], no kitchen railing on the bridge, no blue drop in the prologue [we used the bedroom doors instead, and they floated upstage of the bridge and were therefore unusable], no ballroom drop [the purple drop]). Plus, because of the where the scrim would be hung, so much had to be adjusted upstage of their original spike marks that were set in Manila. Plus, because of how the fly system works at this theater, there were sacrifices that had to be made. The speed at which the drops rise and fall is incredibly slow... as in, it would take the better part of one scene to complete a set change. Interesting.
Our theatre, the Grand Theatre in Renmin Square, Xi'an
Doing stage adjustments for the opening number
Looking up at me is Amy Nelson, our 1st trumpet player
Michael, looking like he's got a migraine coming on...
This is the house...
Jen Jenkins (Dance Captain) adjusting choreography for the theater
Jefferson Slinkard (who watched opening night and enjoyed it),
and Peter with his goofy grin
We also had to get acquainted with dressers and backstage crew that spoke very little to no English... there are interpreters stationed on each side of the stage to help the American crew give quick instructions for set moves and whatever else (our head props person brings along her electronic English-Chinese dictionary with her everywhere to communicate)... plus a few more for the hairdressers and dressers. To be sure, this has been a very interesting as well as educational experience for all of us, and we're having a pretty good time. (The only downer for me is going past the very -- ahem -- "fragrant" men's room when I need to go to the wardrobe room or to stage left. Phew!)
The audiences here in Xi'an have been really, really great. We were told to expect a conservative, polite crowd that only really erupts at the very end during curtain call... that possibly there wouldn't be applause after song numbers because, it was explained to us, that the audience doesn't want to interrupt the show as it's going. That's really sweet! So we go in not expecting anything, but being pleasantly surprised when applause arrives. It's all good. And yes, they really go full out at curtain call. It's really wonderful.
Yes, we've all been learning some functional Mandarin... I can now say "Hello," "I'm sorry," "Excuse me, let me pass," "Thank you," "bathroom," and "What's your name?" It's not much, but it's something! We all try with our very Western (and in my case, Pinoy) accents to learn more and more vocabulary and phrases... it does send our "teachers" (the interpreters and wardrobe department heads) into fits of laughter when we say things with the wrong tone or inflection. But it's been fun!
Our run in Xi'an so far has been really fantastic, despite the challenges that have come our way. The challenges turned out to not be insurmountable, thankfully... all the hard work that everyone in the company is putting in is really paying off. The crew is doing a great job, the dressers and hairdressers as well, and the show is running like a machine once again.
Next stop for me: the Terra Cotta Warriors. I have been waiting for this field trip for so long!!!