Today’s post comes from three members of the Baboon Congress, Barbara, Lisa and Sherrilee.
The Set-up (by Barbara in Robbinsdale)
My little Showtime Chorus is one of the many Twin Cities choruses that have been participating in the Guthrie’s production of The Events, a rather heavy duty one-act play that follows the journey of a choir, and especially its leader Claire, as they seek understanding in the aftermath of a mass shooting in their own community.
According to the Guthrie, the play was written as “… a response to the 2011 Norway attacks in which the lives of 77 people were…[lost]… at a summer camp, this internationally acclaimed production delves into faith, politics and reason.”
A presentation of the Actors Touring Company of the UK, the troupe shares the stage with a different local choir each night. In our “land of 10,000 choirs” I counted 22 different choirs on the Guthrie’s website, including not just my choir but also the First Universalist Church Choir that Lisa and Verily Sherrilee sing in.
Think of the logistics of getting all those people in the right place on the right day, knowing what they need to know! After rehearsing on our own, we attended a 3-hour music rehearsal at the Guthrie with other choirs who would be on deck that week. On the day of our performance, we attended a 2-hour rehearsal with “blocking” instructions – where to be when, who to watch for cues.
The Show (by Lisa)
We were well taken care of by Guthrie and ATC staff and the script, which outlined the scenes and cues (though without details so we could still be surprised as the tale unfolded). The intro to each song made our starting notes very clear (no having to pull them out of the air).
We were more involved than we might have first imagined. Two people were volunteered for somewhat lengthy speaking parts (but they could read them without shame – no memorization needed). A number of people were given lines of a few words.
Our only improvisation came when the character Claire decided to lead us in a Shamanic ritual to try to restore her lost soul. She instructed us to move off the risers and come to the front of the stage, and then to melt. I was near the front of the stage so I am not sure what other people did, but I did my best candle and ended up almost flat on the floor. We were then instructed to touch at least one other person and finally to vocalize and jump up as if struck by lightning, shouting, “Charge!!”
We have a blind choir member with a lovely yellow lab guide dog. I heard later that when J was on the floor, D thought it would be helpful to lick J’s face as it was at a convenient height. The improvising actress asked him, “How do you say “melt” in Dog?” The audience thought it all pretty hysterical.
It was good to have some lighter moments as the whole play was dealing with an extremely disturbing subject without any easy answers. The positive message, though, was that community (such as found in community choirs) is our greatest hope for responding to these tragedies.
The Songs (by Verily Sherrilee)
There were six songs assigned for The Event plus each choir started out their show with a prepared song of their choosing.
We started with the Norwegian Coffee Song as a warm up, each time through a little faster than the time before. Hopefully there weren’t too many Norwegians in the audience to hear how bad the pronunciation gets when you sing that fast. Soul was a very short piece that we did during the main actor’s monologue about losing her soul. Ohm. Soul. Ohm. That was all but it was amazing the amount of work put into hitting those four notes and growing the sound.
The third piece was Bonkers by Dizzee Rascal. This was a big hit in the U.K. a few years ago although our version was slower and “more epic” according to the musical director. The lyrics pointed to a life in chaos and depression but had a beautiful resolution at the end. Then there was How Great Thou Art. As part of the play, Claire was having trouble with the song, since she was struggling with her faith. So she stopped us midstream, asked us to hum, asked just the altos/sopranos to hum and eventually let everybody sing but quite softly.
If there was a production hit, it was Gavrilo Principe, a high energy song about making your mark on the world. We were encouraged to rock our air guitars, throw in a lot of movement and clap. The final song was We’re All Here with a repeating chorus that the audience was encouraged to sing along. After 90 minutes of a tough subject, it was soothing and hopeful.
The songs were all really different and without the play to anchor them, they initially seemed a little bizarre. But with the dialogue and movements of the actors, they made more sense and contributed to a powerful presentation.
Tell us about YOUR 15 minutes of fame?