Monday, December 7, 2009

David Rodgers - playing The Miner - on being "The New Guy"

This past Monday I was invited to become part of a new family, I’m now a new actor in the tradition that dates back a millennium (okay maybe not that long, but it goes back into LAST millennium) called Actors Theatre's Christmas Carol. The tradition is part of my real family too. My father, Ralph Rodgers, managed the Promised Valley Theater in Salt Lake City when I was young. As a teenager I played Peter Cratchet, as a young man I played Bob Cratchet. Dad always played Scrooge. Even the Christmas before he passed away, in 1995, he played the part from a wheelchair, making me cry for the hundredth when he sang “I’ll Begin Again.” So you can imagine how excited I was to be invited to join other friends in a new Christmas Carol tradition, coupled with the fact that I would be performing Dicken’s icy story in a place I could wear shorts and flip flops while driving to the December rehearsals.

What I didn’t realize was that the entire cast had, apparently, already plotted to haze the new guy. First rehearsal, Monday November 23, the cast gathered around a large square of tables to read and sing through the script. I’m one of the new guys, I have a name tag saying “Dave,” and I’m seated next to David Barker, a friend and ASU theater professor. We start and Director Matthew Weiner welcomes everyone, including the “newbies.” He points out that the new people have never seen the script or score before, but that we’re just going to be thrown into the water – he hopes we can swim. Swim? I’m about to become a Jack Dawson ice cube. Nice innocent little set up Mr. Benedict Arnold.

Off we go. First song. Third line into the first song, I’m supposed to sing-- but no one told me. So third line in, 3 minutes into rehearsal, I cause the first stoppage in work. Everyone stares; no one says “here, I’ll sing it with you.” Nope, just stares from the veterans. “Did you get the sheet there Dave?” Uh, no. “Oh yes, you did, it’s conveniently buried in the reams of paper we gave you.” Fine. I’ll be the new guy.

Three pages later, the Gent’s are going to sing a duet, yeah, me and another new guy; just a little two-line phrase. Easy, huh? I’ve sung before, but no. This little two-line phrase looks like some composer has dumped every single hard note and accidental symbol onto the page. It looks like an old comic book swear word of punctuation marks. It’s like four key changes and thirteen sharps and flats over the course of ten words (yeah, I know there aren’t that many … but this was my first time). The composer, Alan Ruch, who is also our music director, is sitting in the corner with the look of Putty Tat just after Tweety Bird vanished into his mouth. I’m not saying anything, but I swear I saw a little yellow feather on the corner of his lips -- just sitting there, watching the torture proceed. Very slight grin. I try singing the line, which was like trying a Japanese reality show obstacle course. After waiting an appropriate amount of time for the torture to settle, Alan says “it’s actually the same tune as ‘I Feel Pretty’ from West Side Story.” I look at the line again and think to myself “yeah, dude, if this is how you feel ‘pretty’
you’re as demented as your chord structures.” Yes, three pages into the show and I’m 2 for 48 in getting the notes right. I’m a bigger loser than the Clippers.

But then the real fun starts during Christmas present. This guy next to me, David Barker, is going to reprise his role as the Ghost of Christmas Present. He’s a friend of mine; we play golf sometimes. Well, he’s got this line where he yells “Boo” as loud as he can, then cackles a hyena laugh. And I’m right next to him. Oh, and he’s a professional actor. He can support his yells. A lot. And of course my ear is right next to his mouth. In fact, I swear I saw him lean a bit to the right (I was sitting on his republican side). And trust me, I know how hard it is for him to lean to the right, considering that he’s already politically to the right of Glen Beck. But he leaned just for me. Thanks. And how many times does he yell this “BOO” – for comic effect, of course over the course of a few pages? You might guess three times, cause anything isn’t funny after three times, right? No no no no, you’d be wrong grasshopper. Six times? You’re still cold. Ten times? Oh no, this “BOO” joke goes on and on and on and on. Ever had a meat tenderizer pound your eardrum? What about Mike Tyson?

Now I’ve thought about this and I’m convinced that Barker was hazing the new guy. He picked my seat for me, and there is no way in Provo that the Ghost of Christmas Present actually says “Boo” for comic effect that many times. No way. I mean, how many times can you tell the same joke. No, I’m convinced that Barker sat up all night re- writing that part of the script to add in 43 more Boo’s just so he could keep yelling in my ear. You have to remember that Barker and I play golf … for money. BIG BIG money. Well, okay, enough money for the winner to buy a handful of fancy French beans, but to us it’s big. So he wasn’t just doing his part -- he was conditioning me. Just once, when I go to hit a golf ball, he’s going to whisper “BOO,” just loud enough for me to hear, and my ball will go sailing toward El Paso. Kerching kerching. My golf swing will never be the same. He’s cheating, I tell ya.

Even the Director got into the act. The next rehearsal, with everyone watching from the wings, Matthew had me and one other new guy practice funny walks across the stage. “Here, hold a stop watch, stare at it, and do a funny walk across the stage.” Huh? Really? Yes sir! He even referenced Monty Python’s Ministry of Funny Walks. “Go ahead, just come up with funny walks.” So with everyone watching, we tried different speedy walks across the stage. Happy, legs kicking, low- head-down walks, slow, fast, dorky, -- everything but Nathan Lane doing John Wayne -- everything. I did happen to notice how everyone was watching and snickering. Hmmmmm, even the Director in on the hazing -- Et tu Brute?

Don’t think the Choreographer was innocent either. Robby Harper, my friend Robbie Harper from Producers, was in on it too. Yep. See, me and the other new guy have a little song and dance routine in an English Pub – with food. We sing about our food. Snoopy stand aside! And I was okay with holding a plate of food and singing about wonderful eats, that’s pretty much type casting. It's a cute little song. I mean, it's not Putting on the Ritz from Young Frankenstein (and neither is my dancing), but it's not bad.

But then Robbie went on and on about what side of the plate the asparagus was supposed to be on. You got it. If the asparagus isn’t on the correct side, critics will pan the show. He kept on and on and on about the precise location and positioning of a little sprig of asparagus. And it wasn’t even asparagus, it was a freaking artichoke! But no, we had to rehearse and rehearse to satisfy Robbie that we had the asparagus on the correct side of the plate. But I’m not too dumb, I could see Alan and others sitting in the corner, again with that Putty Tat grin on his face. Funny dudes.

Now I’m quite sure that after we leave, these veterans sit around and talk about the hazing. Yep, “did you see how we got the new guys to do the goofy walks,” or “try to sing that alphabet-soup music,” or “pratice the asparagus choreography?” Laugh laugh laugh. Then Barker would say “Boo,” and they’d laugh and laugh again. Nice work there, FRIENDS. I see how it is. But don’t worry, I’ll take the hazing, I’ll take the laughing and the jokes. Robbie, I’ll even try to hold the Aspari-choke on the proper side of the plate. Because this is one family I really want to be a long-term part of. I can’t wait until I get to watch faces of children in the audience laugh and cry at the humor and heartbreak of this wonderful story.

See I get to sing for Christmas this year, like I did as a boy with my Dad. Now that’s a Merry Christmas. Oh, yeah, and for the rookies who come in next year -- have I got plans for you.

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