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GrooveLily's Striking 12: Valerie's Blog #3

Striking 12: A New GrooveLily Musical
Valerie's Blog #3: "Settling In"
By Valerie Vigoda

(STRIKING 12 officially opened on Sunday, November 12.  The following is a continuation of Valerie Vigoda's online blog, chronicling the events leading up to GrooveLily's momentus Off-Broadway premiere...)
The theater is incredibly beautiful! We drive from Times Square (where our rehearsal room was) to Union Square to load in our gear, and arrive in the midst of frenetic activity all over the venue. Outside, it's an imposing white Romanesque bank building; inside, it's a construction zone, with accompanying din. Big riggers and crane operators are driving around on the floor – it's a vast empty space that must be configured with risers, seats, stage, everything from scratch. 
It occurs to me that this is the first time ever that I won't get to meet every person involved in working on our show. Some of these folks will have done their entire jobs and be gone by the time we step onstage.  It feels like a milestone, a rite of passage…and a little disconcerting too. 
Writing-wise, we are happy with what we arrived at during rehearsal. We tinkered a lot, and kept a little, just filling out the eleven o'clock moment with a reprise and some additional dialog. Other than that, all the experimenting we did was really valuable, and much of it would have ended up on the cutting room floor, if there were cutting rooms in theater. We did streamline and change some tiny things, which only the most ardent "Striking 12" devotees will notice. 
The set and lights are almost in place. It's taking longer than expected, due to a safety issue with the light rigging, which apparently took a while to resolve…so we wait around for a while, watching all the hubbub, and finally get to put our gear on stage in early evening. 
One of the fun elements of the set is white shag carpeting covering the entire floor area…which means no shoes on the stage, ever, except for our show shoes. There's a giant bag of white booties hanging stage left and another one stage right – and whenever anyone prepares to walk onstage for any reason, they must cover their shoes with the booties. A few of the guys, too impatient for this, quickly perfect the art of kneeing around the stage, keeping feet well off the ground. 
Brendan makes the mistake of napping in place while we're being lit. (This is one of the major elements of tech rehearsal, which we're in this week: our lighting designer, the brilliant Michael Gilliam, whom we've been lucky enough to have with "Striking 12" since 2003, goes through each lighting change and writes the corresponding cue, programming it into the console. Writing these cues generally involves lots of tedium for the performers, who must stay on stage in costume ready to go but not doing much for hours on end.) The white shag carpeting is really comfortable to lie on, but has been treated with a flame retardant which acts as a skin irritant, as Brendan finds out later when his hands and cheek become red and itchy. Our production manager, Jason, officially warns us the following afternoon about the skin irritant in the carpet, and there will be no more naps. 
A long frustrating day, with some pretty serious sound problems…our in-ear monitors are picking up TONS of RF interference, which sounds alternately like deafening jet-engine blasts and loudly burbling water inside our heads – so we look like crazy people getting startled by sounds only we can hear!…the headset microphones we're supposed to use don't sound good, and won't stay in place, especially on me with my (who knew) tiny pin-head. Rob our sound designer and Kim our stage manager try everything: neck tape, moleskin, bending the mic every which way…to no avail. My neck is sore from the many pieces of tape attached and then ripped off; rehearsing is futile because we can't hear much of anything through the din of the RF in our ears; and Rob can't get anything accomplished at the sound board because the mics keep moving around. 
Ted finally calls everything to a halt and has us work on dialog with no mics or ear monitors for the rest of the evening. It's Halloween night, and when we leave the theater at 10 PM, Union Square is thronged with costumed partyers and so is the subway. Instead of being charmed by the spectacle, I'm consumed with worry about our show and it all just seems pathetic. It takes forever to get home to Brooklyn. 
New month, new day, new attitude. Everything is better. Rob has gotten an all-new ear monitor system for us, and the RF is completely gone. It's like magic. 
Also, we're using different headset mics, which are lighter-weight and sound SO MUCH BETTER. Mine is adjusted perfectly to my tiny cranium. All my worries dissipate and suddenly it feels great to be playing again. We launch into high gear, running through songs/scenes/sound patches to make sure Rob can program his board correctly…and finally Ted gets to hear the beauty of the sound system! There is a gorgeous, curved speaker array that somehow allows the music to sound like it's at the same volume no matter where you're sitting in the theater. Since sound is such a crucial element of our show, this is of course a priority. It's gonna be great. 
Hair! I have an appointment, not at a salon, but in the hair and makeup area of "The Drowsy Chaperone" theater (the Marquis Theatre on Broadway). Sandy, who does hair for "Drowsy," is a friend of Jen's (our costume designer), and has agreed to cut and color my hair for the show. I feel like a real VIP as I am ushered through the stage door into the inner sanctum. Wigs and costumes hang all around, in addition to copies of reviews of their show, photos of "Drowsy" stars and writers from the Tony Awards, and lists of birthday reminders for the cast and crew. Two sweet-faced men are sewing costumes, and they look up to greet Sandy as we walk through to her station. It's a friendly place. 
Sandy spends 3 hours with me, cutting a LOT of length and volume off my quite-long reddish hair. I haven't had short hair or bangs in many years, and it feels wonderfully new, light and kind of exhilarating. She uses 3 different shades of red for different layers, with lots of vertical cutting for movement, plus a few streaks of light blonde…and the results are terrific. Ted and Jen love my new look, and so do I.
I return to the theater, and immediately go to the dressing room for another costume fitting. Jocelyn is the person Jen has hired to create the bustier/corset I'm supposed to wear; and apparently it is the most difficult thing she's ever sewn. (Lots of silky piping, stretchy velvet, many panels and tricky stitching with fabrics that don't stay put very easily.) It's not totally finished yet - there are pins all over it - but it's already gorgeous. Lush purple with black lacy silkscreening, it's a truly beautiful piece of work and I am amazed and delighted at all the care and art going into this garment, just for me. It's quite an honor. 
Another surprise: Ted would like me to wear a skirt. I haven't worn a skirt or a dress onstage in years…mostly because I'm always having to bend over and set up equipment…but of course that's one of the beautiful things about being in theater – not having to set up and break down gear every night! My new skirt will arrive on Monday. 
Jen is a little stressed out, because she was tapped for jury duty yesterday, right in the middle of her "Striking 12" work. (Not only was she selected for a jury, but they also made her the foreman. All our fingers are crossed for a short trial.) We are very impressed that she's managed to get costumes ready in spite of it all! 
Brendan's look has to be kind of a cross between office wear and downtown/hipster clothing. The first option was a truly snazzy Armani suit, and I have to say I was really blown away. Rarely have I seen Brendan wear a tie or jacket, and these were gorgeous… but Ted wanted a little less Pierce Brosnan, and a little more Ben Folds. 
(Maybe I'll try to negotiate a little deal with Jen and buy Brendan the suit on the sly for future date nights…don't tell anyone.)
Gene has some great-looking vest and T-shirt options, plus some very luxurious felt pants, and hilarious extra prop/costume pieces that will have to remain secret for now.

David Korins, our set designer, has come up against some technical issues involving a key element of the set (which I cannot reveal here – come see the show!!)…and there is much discussion between him and the workers "on the rail" – meaning the people operating curtains and other items backstage. Jeff, assistant stage manager, is pressed into service, with a miner's light on his forehead and a worried expression on his face; he's never done this type of work before, and it's surprisingly difficult – plus then he's not available to do his actual job of assistant stage management. 
Later in the day, our producer Nancy decides to hire an additional curtain operator – a much-appreciated move which lets Jeff take off the forehead light and return to his spot at the production table beside Kim.
We end the workday by doing a runthrough. It goes well, and everyone is relieved. We have longstanding out-of-town gigs tomorrow and Saturday – so we load up our gear into the van and head for home. The next time we enter the theater will be Monday, the day of our first preview – and while we are gone, tech will continue without us. 
Click here and here to view Vigoda's previous blog entries.

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