This is going to be a tale. Hold onto your butts, kids.
So…starting at the beginning. Early on at Star Tours, I met a cast member who told me all about this theatre group he started and how he eventually wanted to do the musical Carrie. I was intrigued! Auditions were posted in February and I signed up. I wore one of my favorite little black dresses and sang “Dead Girl Walking” from Heathers for my uptempo and Olive’s solo from “I Love You” from Spelling Bee for my ballad. I got an email a few days later saying I was cast as the understudy for Chris. I was ecstatic. I hadn’t done theatre in four years at this point (that’s another story- comment below if you want to hear it!) and this was perfect. I would get the chance to play a lead role, since I was getting one guaranteed performance, but it would be so much less pressure than if I had been cast in the role full time. I went to the first read through and was super excited.
And that’s when everything took a turn for the worse.
Our first rehearsal was a music rehearsal. We did not have a music director. Or a keyboard. For our first rehearsal we practiced the opening number, “In,” by singing along to the cast recording. Which is okay, but no one knew what we were doing, and that is a tremendously complicated song.
Our next rehearsal was choreography. This is when I discovered that the director, while passionate, had absolutely no idea what he was doing. The choreography was stupidly complicated, but without any technique. Not even any counts. And he couldn’t remember his own steps, so they changed every time. It was an absolutely frustrating experience. The best way I can describe the dance style was “middle school girls making up a music video during a sleepover.” It was bad, y’all.
Things continued to go downhill. The director had temper tantrums that left him tomato-faced and crying. The stage manager coddled him. The cast was all trying their hardest but were given incredibly poor direction. Tommy and George dropped out and had to be replaced (George was now played by a girl who did her best to disguise herself as a boy).
My favorite incident (and the term favorite is extremely…sarcastic) was what we Carrie survivors call “the 9/11 incident.” We came in to block the big prom death sequence, and the director was hopping around telling us that he “knew exactly how he wanted the scene to go” but somehow he “couldn’t find the words to explain it,” so he was going to show us a video.
He then proceeds to show us videos of 9/11 set to the music of Kelly Clarkson and Avril Lavigne.
Short version- the cast revolted. Half the cast was in tears and the other half was shocked into silence. Several people left the room. The director had a temper tantrum. He then gave us a non apology, saying he didn’t realize we would react like that, and then immediately started rehearsal. He kept telling our Carrie to “sing out, why aren’t you singing out?” Well, she was still crying, that’s why.
Rehearsals continued at this stellar pace until about maybe two months before the show opened, when the director realized that the understudy for Margaret hadn’t shown up for a single rehearsal since our first read through, and he asked me to take it on. Since I am a people pleaser who was also desperately eager to use her expensive theatre degree, I said yes. It was a trial by fire, but I managed to learn the part.
Flash forward two more weeks. We still don’t have our backing tracks. The director had maintained since day one that we were going to have a local rock band (unnamed) and a local recording studio (also unnamed) make our background tracks for us. Turns out he expected these resources to donate their time and talents and record this entire three hour score for free. Yeah, that was never going to happen. So in the meantime, we’d been rehearsing with illegally downloaded karaoke tracks and the original Broadway cast recording. Our Carrie asked what we were going to do instead. Our director had no idea.
Around this point, Carrie and Tommy both dropped out. I honestly can’t even blame them. Here we were, doing a show with questionable staging and even more questionable legality (let me also point out here that we never received actual librettos for this show, just PDF files) and since both of them had ties to professional theatre communities, they didn’t want to be attached to this show. The Carrie understudy stepped up to take on the role full time (and did a really nice job, I might add) and the director cast himself as Tommy (complete with varsity jacket that he bought from the girls’ section of Forever 21 and a wig that he claimed “made him look just like Zac Efron.”) Oh boy.
The music problem was finally solved by the stage manager and her husband feeding the sheet music through a program that read the music into midi files. Yes, midi files. We were singing along to a Geocities website circa 2003. It wasn’t good, but at least we finally had the full score.
Around this time, the stage manager realized she was in over her head with costumes, so I jumped in (please refer to the above paragraph: people pleaser with a theatre degree). I revamped costumes, did alterations, helped people find new pieces, and most importantly, remade the Carrie prom dress. The original costume was this horrendous monstrosity of crinkled chiffon and salmon satin that did not fit either of the Carries (and it itched too). This poor excuse for a garment was cut as a princess seam dress with no waistline and with Juliet sleeves- poofy on the shoulders, tight to the wrists. And it made both Carries look dumpy; this was no ethereal life-changing pink prom gown. (The stage manager claimed the dress was supposed to look like the book description of the gown, but if the book was written in the 1970s but the production is set in modern day it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t.) Also, the plan was to have a hero dress and a destroyed dress, and to “take in the dress with safety pins” to make it fit the Carries.
Now that we only had one Carrie, I took one dress, took off sleeves, cut down the neck and the back, hemmed the whole thing by several inches, and finished the seams so they wouldn’t itch. I then used the Colette Crepe pattern to make two dresses of pink sheer voile, with a pink grosgrain sash and pink bias trim, to put over the old dress. One dress was the hero dress and the other was destroyed; all it took for Carrie’s quick change was to pop the magnets at the waist of the pretty dress to take it off, slide the destroyed dress on and fasten those magnets, and boom! Good to go. Carrie loved it, and the soft pink looked suitably simple and prom-y.
Also, the girl playing Helen found out she was getting a new job without the show dates guaranteed off. Guess who was now playing Helen? And guess who also volunteered to clean up the choreography for multiple dance numbers? (See again: people pleaser with a theatre degree.)
We finally moved into the theater for our May performances. I got to run a couple of scenes as Chris, a couple of scenes as Margaret, and one scene as Helen. Cool, cool, it’s fine. I also assembled my own costumes for each character, because at this point the stage manager didn’t care.
My first performance was as Margaret. That’s when I truly realized how much I loved that role. I would play Margaret again in a heartbeat. I have almost no pictures, but for my main costume I wore a peasant type blouse with navy and red embroidery, an ankle length navy skirt I made out of a sheet from Walmart, a schlumpy gray cardigan, my character shoes, and my old rectangular glasses. I also clipped in my eBay weave, gave myself a Kim Davis poof at the forehead, and braided my now long hair over my shoulder. For the finale scene, I undid the braid and left the glasses backstage, and wore a white flannel nightgown.
Here’s the kicker though. I was backstage at the top of act two, running my lines for my next scene to make sure I knew them, and the director runs past in his ridiculous wig. “Hey,” he whispered loudly. “We’re not using the prom dress you made. Okay, thanks!”
Turns out that despite keeping the stage manager and director in the loop and getting their approval for everything I did for the prom dresses, they decided that it didn’t “match their vision” and not only were they not going to use the costumes, they weren’t going to reimburse me. I was furious. Carrie was furious. It was a shitshow. The best part was that they decided to yell at me about it at length before I went onstage as Chris.
Oh boy. So for Chris I wanted to go for “prep school bully.” After all, it’s established that her dad is a wealthy lawyer, right? So I wore a cute little white lace dress and a navy knit blazer, and a pair of floral knockoff Doc Martens. For act two, I swapped out the blazer for a cropped denim vest.
I was truly excited about playing Chris, but the problem was I wasn’t given adequate rehearsal time. I knew my lines, I knew my blocking, but I had never gotten the chance to rehearse “The World According to Chris” in the space with the new midi file background track. As a result, I got way off from the music, which made me forget my blocking, which made my voice crack and wobble. I got offstage after the number and burst into tears. Luckily my Billy was the kindest guy and gave me a huge hug, and the rest of the cast was super understanding and supportive. But I still felt awful. I had never done anything like that in my whole history of performing. The rest of the performance went off without a hitch (other than accidentally smearing my red lipstick all over Billy’s face during our makeout scene at the beginning of “Do Me a Favor,” but that was hilarious).
By the time my performance as Helen rolled around, I did not care anymore. I wasn’t going to stress myself out for this show or bend over backwards for a production team that didn’t care. I hadn’t even had the chance to rehearse as Helen- I learned the dance for “Do Me a Favor” literally half an hour before we opened the house. My costume was a super comfortable black and tan striped tank, denim shorts, black converses (from my Tina Belcher cosplay) and my Rey cardigan from the Her Universe line. For prom I wore a black and gold ChiChi London dress from Modcloth that I wore the Oscars the previous year with my character shoes. And bless the rest of the cast, because they all helped me through the show, whether it was reminding me to take a prop off or guiding me to the correct exit. It all worked out in the end.
And then when the show closed I slept for about fourteen years because dear god, I hadn’t breathed in a month.
A few weeks after the show closed I met with the stage manager to give her some costume pieces. We had a nice chat (because after all, I didn’t like her as a stage manager, but I had nothing against her as a person) and I asked about some of the upcoming events; she promised she would let me know.
Less than twenty-four hours later I received a nasty email formally kicking me out.
So that ended my brief and exhausting career with that particular acting group. I actually met with them a few weeks later to talk things over, because I was convinced that I could help them with my theatre background. During the talk it dawned on me that it just wasn’t worth it. The director- who sulked through the entire conversation and said very little- made it very plain that he had no plans on listening to anyone who might have more training and experience than him. It was his way or the highway.
Joke’s on them, because despite the “you’ll never work in this town again!” attitude, I have indeed worked in this town. So far I’ve done six more shows in the year since they kicked me out, and they got in trouble for trying to do an unauthorized production of a Very Potter Musical. I think I’ll be just fine.
Overall, I’m glad I did Carrie. I learned a lot. I learned not to spread myself too thin, especially for people who don’t appreciate it. I learned that I have it in me to play a lead role in a musical (I’d only ever been a minor soloist before). I made a lot of friends- I’ve done shows with both our Carrie and Freddy, and the Sue understudy, Helen, and Billy are still good friends of mine. I’d still jump at the chance to perform in Carrie again, especially as Margaret. But I also learned to heed those red flags when they pop up. A lead role is not worth dealing with a questionably legal production.