December 4, 2011

The End is Only A New Beginning

Picture this: it’s 1906, you’re on a farm, the sun is boiling, someone is churning butter and you’re taking down the laundry from the clothes line. You hear a rooster and all of the animals stirring. In the distance a cowboy is woken up from the noises and sees the love of his life, a feisty farm girl named Laurey. Can you imagine working outside in the heat all day, using horses to get anywhere or only engaging with the opposite sex at a town social event? Having tension between cowboys and farmers? How about getting married at the young age of 16?

The cast of OklahomaWell, in this time period all of this was normal.  People weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty; people were rougher in general. In addition, girls made their own clothes, something that I can’t do. Basically we as performers had to embody the people of that time period. Be it their mannerisms, physicality, speech and mentality. In doing so, we were able to take the audience on a journey to Oklahoma and instead of seeing us as actors the audience would see the characters come to life.

I made it to the home stretch. Oklahoma as a show went very well in both performances. The audience responded so well to the show it was unreal. I didn’t know it was so funny until we put it in front of an audience. I think it was because we heard the text so many times that we as a cast were all laughed out and nothing seemed fresh to us. After running the show or specific scene so many times we got to be robotic and sometimes forgot the fun of the show.

The show in itself is vocally and physically demanding. The amount of energy it requires is unreal, especially in the dance numbers. However, we did it and everyone was pleased.

I swear some days I really had to push though. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but I was physically and mentally exhausted. Normally when you’re in the last week of show rehearsals everyone is bonding and getting closer but my group was so stressed out that at first in our extra rehearsals we couldn’t agree. Whether it was dance counts, blocking, or song dynamics. Due to the stress of the show we were at each other’s throats. All of us were stressed because we finished staging the show two days before our first audience. In addition, we were still cutting parts of the script because our show needed to be 90 minutes long.

I was frustrated because I’m used to blocking/staging the entire show the first week of rehearsal. I had never worked this way before. Sometimes we’d run one scene over and over for hours long because our director was looking though every detail.

For me, Oklahoma was a huge improvisation initially, which then evolved to a stage production. Instead of being given everything at the start the performers had to create and be imaginative. We had full freedom to create our character as well as our scenes. Thus it was all about being bold and taking chances with your character. This way the director could tell you if he liked it or not or if he wanted it bigger. However, I don’t think I’ve ever came up with a character entirely on my own before. Or maybe I haven’t done so in this manner. Acting normally comes naturally to me so maybe the difference is I’ve never worked so hard to create a character. In addition, I had a director that wouldn’t give me a specific direction because he wanted me to figure it out.

When it came to my character, Gertie, I had no idea what to do with her, what her background was, why she laughed so annoyingly. When it came to my accent I could do that just fine and I discovered the character’s flirty sexiness with her love infatuation, Curly. Initially, I tried to do her laugh musically and it adhered to the script, but the director wanted the laugh to be authentic. This is when I had to learn how to laugh on command as well as how to laugh from my stomach on command.

I don’t think I have ever had so many strange laughs come from me. Some were high, low, cackley, then in rehearsal my director put me on the spot to change my laugh again and my head almost fell off. I was getting so worried about this laugh. Then a friend suggested I add a snort, but I thought I still needed a distinct laugh that I can replicate over and over again. Finally, it just came out as we were doing our scene.

Out of all the things I could be stressed about in my lifetime I never thought a laugh would be one of them. Still, my director wanted it to be bigger. Sometimes I felt he was just picking on me but in the end I learned that I’m going to work with all types of people who want different things out of people. In addition, it’s my job as an actor to adapt and pull as many tricks out of my bag as needed. All in all, I haven’t received my marks (grades) yet, but I hope I did well. I hear my director is a tough grader.

After watching the other shows’ (My Fair Lady, the Sound of Music and The Postgraduates) songs I was in awe of the talent that I was surrounded by. The students here are truly phenomenal and when I think about it we still have seven more months of training to go. Then the students in my year have another year before they are into the West End. I just feel so grateful and privileged to work with them.  I also find it interesting because before watching their renditions of the shows I didn’t enjoy The Sound of Music and I couldn’t understand everyone’s infatuation with it. But now I like it a lot.

I’ts crazy to think that I’ve been here since September. The months have flown by. But now I have to keep it up. I haven’t been working out for a week and I already feel as though I’m losing my muscle strength. I find myself doing 50 sets of crunches, squats, and press-ups to attempt to keep it up. So when I get home I will be working out like it is nobody’s business. I’ve already worked it out to have a private dance teacher to keep up my ballet technique. I also pulled a bunch of music I have to learn for next term. The only thing is on top of having two lessons a week with my singing teacher, I have five lessons to make up with him. So I want to get my entire repertoire learned so that he’ll focus on technique when I get back.

However, as I said, I’m in my last stretch. As the saying goes, “It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” but in Mountiview’s case it’ll be a huge choir.  I can’t wait for this Christmas concert because in my head it is going to be visually magical. The setting kind of reminds me of Mary Poppins. Apparently, we will be in pairs holding black umbrellas, lanterns with our binders, wearing black white and red. Well, I don’t know if the picture is coming across to you but in my head it’s amazing. The only thing is that we have six to seven hour rehearsals for this concert every day. I guess perfection comes at a price.

So in six days I’ll be back state side. I wish people could see what I’ve been doing here because it’s crazy and sometimes I feel as though people don’t believe me when I say this is hard. But hey, if it wasn’t challenging then I wouldn’t be here. It’s good to rise to a challenge because personally I’ve grown as a person as well as made new discoveries about myself. As a performer I’m learning that I have more to offer.

In my last acting class the head of the acting department came and had us laying on the floor and finding our bodies. We had to completely forget about the stress of our shows, the workload, and injuries. She wanted us to relax. Something I forget to do. After a while she asked us to let our body move bit by bit. We then had to have a conscious thought; yet surrender to our body’s will. It could be to stretch, wiggle a finger, roll over, sit up or stand. Then we had to move around the space while allowing our body to decide. In some way it allows us to let go of society’s social standards in order for us to be free. Some of us ended up portraying animals or playing with each other. We all let go and began to play as a child would. Someone started throwing a water bottle and it burst. My instinct was to sing Wade in the Water, and then my friend started beat boxing. Next thing I knew everyone was participating.

I realized that it was the first time I actually let go at the school. The first time I was completely comfortable with my talent and my peers here. For me the feeling was exhilarating, especially because I don’t feel as though I’ve done as well as I am capable of doing. I’ve been too worried about absorbing everything immediately rather, and not having a good voice then just doing me. Thus remembering that doing me is what got me here in the first place. Luckily, I have 7 more months to really do me and let this lil light of mine shine!  ;)

Until next time, Happy Holidays and every one have a Happy New Year!

Brandi

posted in Brandi Porter

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2 Comments

  1. Brandi- I was wondering how you were doing! Can’t believe you are almost on your way home. Did you even have time to be homesick? I would have loved to see you in Oklahoma! My husband is from OK and we were going to see it a few months ago in the DC area but ended up not going. Sounds like you are growing and growing and there is still room to grow more each day. I am so impressed that you have followed your dream ……no one ever said it was going to be easy but I had no idea it would be so hard! Keep up the great work!

    says Andie Rowe
    December 5, 2011 at 7:08 pm
  2. Merry Christmas to you Brandi. Loved following your blog this year!

    says johnny
    December 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm
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