thank you for the music, carrie michele

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in january i took a leap of faith and auditioned for reston community player’s production of mamma mia! i was beyond nervous not just because i was auditioning but because working with reston would have definitely been a highlight in my community theatre career. reston is known for their next-level sets, the height of their professionalism, and the caliber and quality of their shows. i’ve loved this group since i saw my first show eight years ago, which is still my favorite musical to this day: i love you because.

i’ve auditioned for a few reston shows before but before i really understood how to audition properly, i was always rejected, much to my dismay. i honestly wasn’t too excited for mamma mia, but it was the only upcoming show that i was really interested in so i just went for it. (though, after watching the film version a few days prior i almost decided not to audition. so glad i took the leap of faith anyways!)

i am a solid mover. meaning, i’m not a dancer by any means – i can definitely learn choreography and after a lot of work, i can be put on stage, but i was not even a little confident in my dancing ability. i was feeling a little better after how to succeed, but since mamma mia is such a dance heavy show, i had pretty much resigned myself that even if i auditioned, i wouldn’t make it anyways.

at the audition i learned that the director and choreographer for the show were both in i love you because, and if you know me, you know i completely fangirled. i was so excited to meet two people who had brought to life the musical that i still listen to regularly. so i was even more determined, not just to get cast, but to show them i had talent, too! if i could even get the chance to work with them, i felt i could really grow in this passion of mine.

i remember getting that phone call, hearing i had been cast in ensemble, and how beyond happy i was. once rehearsals started i was honestly so amazed at the technical level of everyone in the room. we went through the music so easily and even learning the choreography, though challenging for me, went quickly. we were taught and learned at such a quick pace, i felt like i had entered a whole new realm of musical theatre. each person in the cast kept impressing me and i just kept thinking about how incredible it was to have been cast with them. i never felt all that talented, but knowing i was on par with these people brought my confidence up.

not only that, but everyone was friendly! i expected there to be people who felt “above” others since everyone was so talented, but instead everyone was down to earth and really respected everyone’s art. it was so enriching and i felt like this was the perfect place to grow. i was amazed with myself as each week learning new choreography got easier for me and i started to feel more and more comfortable in my own skin dancing. i can’t credit enough our choreographer for being so great at explaining the moves thoroughly and making learning the choreography fun.

we were even encouraged to give our characters a name and personality. i wasn’t just ensemble, i was one of sophie’s friends! i decided i would be this uppity person who thought she was better than everyone else, snobby and judgemental. i settled on the name carrie since i don’t like carrie from sex in the city and i felt like she embodied that. (unpopular opinion, but i oh well!) and i selected the last name michele from lea michele, since she’s renowned for being a total stuck up diva. i couldn’t wait to bring her to life on stage.

a new technique i picked up from some other people during rehearsals was to record the harmonies so i could listen to them later at home when practicing. i can’t believe how many new tips and tricks i learned just being in the same room with others! our music director was really fun and worked hard to make the nine-part-harmony madness work for our small cast of just twenty. our director was there at every single rehearsal, encouraging us and making us feel like we were really bringing his vision to life. the producers and stage managers, too, were there so often, ready to answer questions and make all the behind-the-scenes things work smoothly. every rehearsal, i felt more in awe of the how smooth everything was going. (the only thing that didn’t go well was when we broke the bed that rolled on and offset, but it made for a very hilarious inside joke!)

about a week before covid-19 began being talked about, we had a music rehearsal to sing through the whole show with the entire cast. the leads were all so amazing and perfect fits for their roles, i teared up several times, because the music moved me so much. i already knew that on our closing performance, i’d probably be a wreck during bows. i was so overwhelmed with how happy and blessed i felt. i went to our director to thank him for giving me the opportunity to be in this show, and although i still can’t explain it, i got in my car after rehearsal and cried the whole drive home. i was just so happy!

costumes came together, half of our set was built, we only had two numbers left to choreograph, we were about to start putting the show together! and then social distancing started. we took a two week hiatus to wait out this whole thing, never thinking for a moment our show would get cancelled. when things started getting really bad, we even discussed postponing until june. i felt like with how far we’ve come there’s no way the show wouldn’t happen. we were just too special.

we had a schedule zoom meeting to at least get to see each other’s faces amid the chaos. i remember logging in and realizing how much i had missed all these people. seeing everyone, albeit through a screen, made me feel so warm. i was so glad to “be” with them again. but unfortunately, the call was a goodbye as we learned that with the virus spiraling as it has been, we couldn’t put on the show we’d worked so hard for. honestly, seeing half of my cast mates crying made me feel like i wasn’t alone, and this disappointment wasn’t just mine to bear, we would all carry it together.

saying goodbye to carrie michele before i even got to show her to anyone felt very lonesome. i wish i could have given her life in the stage lights and honored her the same way i worked hard to think her up, and that, in some ways was the hardest. each time we went through the dances, i imagined my family and friends in the audience, watching. i had so much i wanted to share and so i felt such a great loss from it.

although it never came to stage, this has been my favorite experience in community theatre so far. the time we spent preparing for this show i’ll carry with me as a special treasure and reminder to not taking things for granted. i’ve grown so much in my art through this show, and i made some great connections to people that i know will share this memory with me. do i have regrets? oh, absolutely. but beyond that, i feel like i gained so much more than i could explain.

so to my dear cast mates of this wonderful show:

no hard feelings between you and me, if we can’t make it, we’ll just wait and see.

 

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