The Grinch: A (Long) Day in Whoville!
"Wednesday at 2 & 8!" Saturday at 2 & 8!" "Sunday at 2 & 7!" Typically, Broadway shows play eight shows a week with a maximum of two shows a day, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays. There are many reasons for this - technological and wardrobe considerations, the pull of tradition (before the launch of "Tuesdays at 7" in January 2003, aberrant curtain times met with little success), and perhaps most importantly, the guidelines set forth in the standard Actors' Equity contract.
And then there's Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which during its 15-performance-per-week limited holiday engagement offers "Saturday at 11 & 2 & 5 & 8!" What is that day like for the cast? On December 1 we discovered that, generally, it's hard over in Whoville. No one leaves the theater from morning arrival until after the final curtain has come down....
Look for a special behind-the-scenes video of The Grinch with Patrick Page on BroadwayWorld.com coming soon
THE MORNING SHIFT
The cast starts arriving at 9:30am. The Grinch himself, Patrick Page, usually leads the pack because of his long preparatory time. Next up is the children of Whoville, most of whom commute with a parent from outside the city and leave early to insure they arrive on time in the event of a traffic mishap. The children head downstairs to relax and begin getting made up. Page goes up to his second-floor dressing room with little dog Sophie to relax for twenty minutes or so before beginning his official preparation. As the others file in they go to their respective places and start their own makeup.
Page, who is onstage almost the entire show, has the biggest job of the day and he knows it. His morning is spent doing vocal warm-ups, stretches and sinus cleaning to make sure he makes it through. At a little after 10am, makeup artist Angelina Avallone arrives to begin Page's official transformation into The Grinch. "She does the makeup freehand everyday," he says. "It took over an hour when we started, but we have it down to 45 minutes now." As Avallone works, Page plays an iPod mix and does some more vocal warm-ups. Some stage managers come in to go over various matters, such as misplacement of the prop presents during the "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" scene and how something Page has to grab needs to be in exactly the right place or else his inflexible gloves won't let him do it. Also, even though the show is officially open, there are still changes the powers that be want made. There is a new line in a song "Cause you've got charge ac-counts! Or something like that..." that a stage manager urges Page try out in the first show, despite the fact that the actor "isn't too keen on it." And Page is told that despite the fact that for every performance for two years he has been saying "Cindy Lou" in the final scene, it's actually "Cindy Lou Who" in the script.
"This show is really all encompassing," he says. "I really don't have a life when I do this show. [But] I wake up every morning and remind myself that the kid who memorized the book at age seven gets to perform it on Broadway. It never gets old."
At about 15 minutes to showtime, with makeup still being applied, others come in to apply Page's headband and microphone (green to match his makeup). Next comes on the hair stocking and wig. The whole process ends extremely close to curtain up. At 10:53am, with Avallone still standing by, Page paints puts on menacing eyebrows himself. Avallone leaves two minutes later and Page sneaks his own makeup touchups. At about 11am, he begins playing "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch," his mood music. With the help of his dresser Danny Paul, on comes the suit (in layers). Boots and gloves go on right after, bringing the time to 11:05am. The show has already been going on for three minutes and now its Grinch time. Page shoots out of the dressing room via the special stairs that go right to the stage floor.
There are extremely few costume changes during The Grinch and the set isn't very complicated, so, during the show, it's fairly peaceful. During the brief breaks, Danny and some others are in the wings with small hand-held fans, towels and water to cool the sweating actors off. While the rest of the cast is singing "Now's the Time," Page gets one minute to run upstairs and cool off in front of a fan. Danny puts ice packs all over Page's body, some of which Page wears out onstage under his costume for the rest of the show. Avallone is also there with a few makeup retouches that will last Page through until 12:25pm, when the curtain comes down.
Page and the rest of the actors quickly strip off their clothes as soon as the curtain comes down. "[The costume] is completely soaked through as if I'd been standing in the shower," Page says. "I always feel like I've jumped in a pool," adds Rusty Ross, who shares a suite with Page and plays The Grinch's dog Max in his younger years.
The company has catered meals now and during the last break. Some of the actors head down as soon as they are out of their costumes, grab food and run right back to their dressing rooms. Page heads upstairs to his dressing room--complete with red couch, green pillows and a Christmas tree-to chill out (literally) for 15 minutes. "I'm still sweating and it takes 15 minutes for my body to stop sweating," he explains. Then he goes for his swipe at the food, today sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.
Page does not take his makeup off, which is a strategy most of the case utilizes. "There isn't that much time," says ensemble member Hunter Bell, best known for starring and co-writing [title of show]. "We eat and cram as much as we can from our other life in our breaks." Bell takes his munchy breather and then starts to call friends. There are, of course, the [title of show] show YouTube webcasts to plan. (To denote who each ensemble suit belongs to, they are all named. Bell's is labeled "Palm Springs Who," which he takes to mean his Who is like a "travel director in Reno.")
Ross, who, like most of the other adult principals, is in charge of his own makeup, is one of the rare case members who typically does a rinse after each performance. "I like the later audiences to have a fresh face," he states.
Before the cast knows it, break time is over. All the cast needs makeup touchups. It takes Avallone 20 minutes to touch of Page's complicated makeup before each show, but others spend considerably less time on this process. Ross needs 20 minutes to fully apply his. The actors either slip into the outfits they just wore (dried of sweat) or the alternates that are handy. The curtain comes again.
So much for the set not being so complicated-there are some automation problems during this performance. But they don't amount to much, no one need fuss. The performance lasts 2:02pm to 3:23pm, no muss.
THE LONG BREAK
Because there is no food during this break, the actors have extra time. Bell and some others occasionally sneak an extra snack and a nap: "We call our dressing room 'the nap zone' and to do a 15 minute group nap." Others, like Page, take advantage of the company-offered physical therapy during this slot.
Ed Dixon, who plays the older Max, mostly stays in his first floor dressing room bearing a sign that reads: "Please do not disturb in between shows." Mama Who and Grandma Who, Tari Kelly and Jan Numberger, primarily spend the time quietly in their third-floor dressing room. "I'm addicted to email communication, so I sit with my trusted laptop," Neuberger says.
"We're pretty quite over here," Kelly, who spends a lot of time reading Oprah Winfrey's magazine O, states. That is in opposition to folks in the neighboring dressing room, occupied by ensemble members Janet Dickinson, Amy Griffin, Carly Hughes and Josephine Rose Roberts. "I live vicariously through the tales of their love lives," Neuberger laughs.
The children hang out with their parents and each other. The youngsters of Whoville have 15 to 20 hours of tutoring per week (there are two alternating junior casts, the appropriately named Red Cast and White Cast, and usually when one is on, the other is being tutored), but they have Saturday off. So today it's all fun, well, other than the "work."
Even during these long breaks, Ross--whose dressing room door boasts a sign telling friends they don't have to knock, they can just come in--doesn't like to do much. "I don't have cell service here, so I'm a little cut off from the outside world," he says. "I do have a weak internet signal, so I do a little web surfing. I just try to bring my energy down a little. I don't nap, it's not how my body works, but I sit. I spend the time drinking a lot of juices, water and seltzer." Ross adds he doesn't "believe in boredom," so the break isn't tedious for him: "If I can't amuse myself, I'm doing something wrong."
Pretty soon it's back to start the process over.
5:03pm to 6:25pm, another show, another happy audience of children.
It's chow time and the pasta is piping. Ross orders food because the heavy catering fare is not to his liking. "The kids love the pasta and the burgers and stuff, but that's not really for me," he states. "I do my own thing."
The cast is getting a little fatigued. "It's a lot harder than I thought it would be," Kelly says. "To be here all day exhausting."
As Neuberger puts it: "You have to prepare yourself psychologically for the weekend. But if Patrick Page can do it, we all can do it."
Page does his normal cool-down and then reads Shakespeare or writes (he is working on some plays and also keeps a journal). Although he notes that he is glad the run is only limited, he is happy, as they all are. Those with big parts and little parts alike. Those that wear fur and grimace and groan. Those that act jolly and wear shapes unknown.
"I'm living out my dream," Page gushes.
"For my character this is a walk in the park," Neuberger says. "If we played eight performances it wouldn't feel like work. It wouldn't feel like making a living."
Each cast member says they wish they could go outside and greet fans during these times, but it would just be too difficult. Darin DePaul, who plays Grandpa Who, had been going out in the very beginning of the run, but it just became too much.
"You're sweating and you go out there, it's just not good for you," Kelly says.
The show gets underway a few minutes late tonight, starting at 8:05pm, but there are no glitches during the performance. "You're tired, but you see the smiling kids and you think: 'I can get up for that,'" Bell says.
Ah, the final curtain is down and the work day is complete. The actors have worked hard and they must get off their feet. Before venturing outside, most of the actors do cool down. Soon they'll sign their first autographs of the day, so the children don't frown. Then there is rest to be had, no time to roam. As there are three more shows Sunday, almost all the actors head straight home. They go to bed knowing that tomorrow all of Whoville can play. After all, the Grinch's small heart grew twelve sizes this day.
Photos by Genevieve Rafter Keddy (top-bottom): Patrick Page; Ed Dixon; Tari Kelly, Caroline London and Aaron Galligan Stierle; The cast