Standing outside the door


The VOS Oklahoma run is over.

It was nuts like no other nutty thing before it.

The show was a ton of fun to perform in – I would be Curly again in a second if given the right opportunity.

One of the things I’ve talked about was how cool it was to enter from the back of Vic Hall and come through the box-office doors, walk through the audience and then leap triumphantly onstage to meet my daughter (she was playing Laurey’s silent little sister, a new twist).  I was only really triumphant once, and then in the dress rehearsal I tripped and fell, so I dialed it down to “climb” onstage.

The time spent standing outside that door to the hall was some of the craziest “thought-moments” I’ve ever had.  Of course, on opening night (or was it dress rehearsal, again?) I forgot my hat, so I had to run back up and down a few flights of stairs to retrieve it.  Another time I forgot my gun (a matinee, I forget?) but nobody noticed it for the crazy chaps (not pictured).  Luckily the overture is ridiculously long, so running back to the backstage area, although it is a long way, can easily be done during this time – just don’t try to sing the opening number when you’re already out-of-breath and try to leap triumphantly onto the stage.  You’ll probably trip and fall, like me.

By the way in the picture above, I am singing the word “fine”, not something else.

Before one matinee, a guy I know came up to the box office to buy tickets for the next show.  He didn’t realize that I was all prepped and ready to bust through the door into a beautiful mornin’.  In fact, he didn’t recognize me at all, I don’t think.  The production assistant (I love calling her that – you know who you are) shoved him behind the box office door and it was hilarious watching him try to escape while the opening bars were seeping out of the concert hall. 

Another time, just as the aforementioned production assistant was about to give me the opening note on my iPhone piano app (awesome!) a woman burst out the door in front of me chattering away on her cell phone.  She didn’t even see the guy dressed up like a cowboy in a huge hat, red shirt and black-and-white cowhide chaps (yes, just like these). She proceeded to sit on the stairs all through the overture and blindly blathered into her phone.  It must have been important, cause she never even blinked with the production assistant (same one, she’s busy) escorted her downstairs to the benches to talk in greater comfort.

Best advice I got for standing outside a door waiting to hit a note out of nowhere in complete silence?

“Smile, and you won’t sing it flat.”


more later – joel

Week Two

Joel Varty & Marley Budreau in Oklahoma!
You want to know who’s a lucky dude?
Me. That’s who.

I get to stand there beside fantastic actors like Beth, Jamie, Nick, Steve, Marlena, Sam, Grant, and Marley (pictured beside the silly fellow in the red shirt) and do something that some folks just never get the chance, or the gumption, to do. Being on stage isn’t a thing I can describe, it’s a thing that defines me. Theatre isn’t thing that you do, and then put away, it’s a goal that I strive towards, that we all strive towards, hopefully. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s a challenge, and sometimes it kills you inside for all the heartache and crap that comes out. But sometimes it works. And when that happens…

If this production works at all, it’s because of those people who’ve put oodles of time, effort, and tears into making it so. All the things that could go crazy went crazier than I could imagine. Things that were beyond our control went out of control.

And all I do night after night is just stand there and stare beyond the lights (at Bob, but nobody knows that) and wonder at the beauty of it all.

Kinda magical. I’m thankful for the ones who make the magic from the shadows (LC, AF, FF, HS, ES, RM, DC, others…).

Thanks for the opportunity, Anne.

See ya for the next few shows. And then…

more later – jv

Half-way there – Don’t ya wish y’d go on forever?


We completed the first five our our nine-show run for Oklahoma! on Sunday. Tomorrow we run lines, review some dances and fight scenes, then back to the stage on Thursday for the final four shows.

Don’t ya wish y’d go on forever?

In the picture above, there’s me, Beth Hunt (as Aunt Eller), and my daughter Gemma (as Aggie, Laurey’s little sister). It’s pretty delightful being onstage with a family member, but to be honest, being onstage in any VOS show is like something out of a dream (the good kind). Folks are supportive of each other, crew are helpful and cheerful, the techies mingle with the cast and the mutual respect is like this tactile thing that you can feel in the air. It’s just awesome. Heck, even Betty, who does makeup for the fellas, brought in her own liquid eye liner for me! I guess I’m sensitive, or something.

I’ll tell you something, though, this show is not easy, not by a long shot. In more traditional productions, the dream ballet (which is a pretty long sequence) is performed by dancers, not the actors. Well, not this time. All the actors are also the dancers – personally I think it makes for a more seamless production. During rehearsals about a week ago I bit my tongue (literally, not figuratively) and a tore a little chunk out of it near the back (gross, I know). Makes it a little harder to smile that easy country smile, I can tell you. Also, we’ve rehearsed the fight scenes so many times I have perma-bruises where the knaps are. I love every minute of it – and I wouldn’t trade that time on stage for anything.

We’ve got four more kicks at the can this weekend, and I plan on making the most of it.

Hope to see y’all there.


Don’t Forget the Knaps


My friend and VOS photographer Ken Hurford took the above photo from an Oklahoma! rehearsal last week. This is from the smokehouse scene, and while Jud is in costume, I, Curly, am not (except for the gun and the neckerchief), and neither on of us is wearing stage makeup. I think it’s a great low-light photo, from a pretty powerful scene.

Steve Shortt (who plays Jud) has a much different job as an actor in this show than anyone else – his character is dark, brooding, and Steve preps for it pretty seriously. It’s pretty intense to share the stage with a guy who has that much focused energy.  And yet, it’s somehow a positive energy that you can easily play off of an react to. That to me speaks volumes to how Steve’s approach to character is tempered by his own personality and under control.

For my prep before a show (although we’ve only done rehearsals so far, I treat them the same as a show, why not, right?) I like to spend oodles of time thinking about all of the things that I don’t want to have to think about during the show itself. One of these things is lifts – and I have several throughout the show, with a few different actors, one of them over my head, with an inverted flip to get out of it. Look for that one near the beginning of Act 2, for those of you keeping track… but the hardest is during the ballet.  Hopefully it ends up being the lift that looks the easiest.

Another thing I spend time on is first notes – the first note of every song tends to be one that either sets the song up for awesomeness, or puts you in a hole that you have to dig yourself out of. If it’s effortless and on key, the audience will be on your side for the rest of the piece, I figure.

Which leads me to diction. I never EVER think about diction during a scene – it should be automatic, shouldn’t it? Maybe, but having read a ton of theatre reviews in the past 18 months, not being able to hear or understand lines is the number one thing I’ve picked out. Practice it before – get your lips off your teeth, open your mouth, think about where your sound is going, bounce it off a flat surface instead of letting it get absorbed into the wings or a traveller.

And, lastly, I practice knaps.

A “knap” is something you do to make a sound during a stage fight. Sometimes you do your own knaps (when you are throwing a punch or a kick), and at other times you do a knap when you are the one getting punched, kicked, slapped whatever. The thing is, when you are in the moment of stage combat, doing the knap is kinda secondary to making sure you don’t actually punch the other person in the face.  Our stage combat specialist, Daniel Levinson, spent quite a bit of time with us working through the mechanics of our fights and the techniques involved with keeping it safe – this is a lot to keep in your head in the heat of the moment on-stage. Obviously, someone with a ton of stage combat experience has an easier time keeping all the pieces of the choreography top of mind all at once, but this is all pretty new to me. So I like to practice knaps by myself and as part of a warm-up before a show. It’s kinda funny, I think, to see some guy standing backstage slapping himself loudly in the chest (pectorals, come on!) or the rear-end, trying to get a decent sound.

But if you hear the decent smack sound as a fist appears to make contact onstage, you know something went right.

More later – joel

Keeping Count

Since Saturday:

14 hours dancing.
3 hours stretching.
2 hours singing.
9 eggs.
Nearly 10 litres of water (forgot to keep track, so this is a guess).
10,000 mg Vitamin C.
2,000 mg Ibuprofen.
1,000 units Vitamin E.
1 large bottle Listerine.
53 show related emails.

Minutes until my train gets in: 35.

Can’t wait.

Are you coming next week?

Dreams and Things

One of the things about the Oklahoma story is how people dream so much about having the things that they can’t have. It’s something that permeates the plot line and get even a little uncomfortable at times when we learn that Will has been promised Ado Annie’s hand for fifty dollars.

It’s everywhere we look – Laurey wants nice clothes, buckles, a buggy. I wonder if she wants to escape the far where she is stranded and lonesome at night. Jud wants her so bad, but is it like a piece of livestock, or is he really capable of love? Ado Annie is so taken with Peddler with his fancy wares and his exotic words. I think the hotel at Claremore might actually fell like paradise compared to the haystack outside her pa’s barn.

Nobody seems averse to giving all they have away, either. We have Will, giving up all his winnings on presents for his girl, with no thought to the notion that he actually needs to buys this girls’s hand from her father. Isn’t she worth more than a possession? I also wonder how she sees the peddler when he comes back in act 2 with his own bride.

Jud certainly has no qualms over handing over his cash either, not quite as much as Will, but still a veritable fortune. Probably close to two months pay, for those of you keeping track.

And Curly, what will he give up? His livelihood? He already spent everything he had on his plan for the party, and that didn’t go so well. Now what? What does he think when he hears Ike talk about the territory becoming a state, becoming something more than what it is? Where does he place himself in that future?

Until we are ready to give up everything we thought we needed, everything that used to define us, that ties us and binds us to our possessions, we don’t know what that would be like. Only when we’ve gone to that place where we’ve got nothing left but who we are can we know what Curly knows.

Run Through

We started running the show start-to-finish last night. It was a little strange being in a different location (and different again tonight…) but next week we won’t have to worry about that.

I think the flow was pretty good for the most part – there are only a couple scene changes, so there aren’t any spots to stop and think, just keep on tricking. I did pull up short in one of the fight scenes. I though Will had hurt himself, and it turns out he did – poor bugger fell on his keys! Tonight we will nail it and lock it in place even better

Move-in to the hall is coming up in a few days, too, so the energy for that is mounting. Like coming home…

Just read the director’s copious notes from last night, too. Always cool to see my daughter in there with a compliment in the first line. That kid is gonna shine under the lights, and I’m so lucky to be able to see it, just like you will.

I just gotta get these lines tweaked so I don’t mix em up, sing the right notes in the right key in the right time, dance the right steps, enter, exit, fall down, get up, punch, get thrown, shoot straight, get choked, and lift some girls here and there. I might even have time to smile at a little brown maverick… 😉

More later – joel

Coming Home

I think of home when it’s hard to remember why I strive for something that is so far away, so out of reach it’s damn near impossible to visualize. But I know, if I can only get home, it will be there waiting for me.

I have dragged my friends kicking and screaming towards the future that is uncertain. But I know we will be ok, because we are coming home, and we are almost there.

I remember a night last November, at the end of a show. The one second moment when the lights went down seemed to last an eternity. A kind of a glow lit up at the back of the hall. A smiling face on a well dressed, yet doughty lady, friendly looking.

“Who was that standing behind you in the booth?”

“We don’t let anyone up there. Nobody came up.”

We move back in soon, perhaps to a new stage.

I will stand up there. I will try to fid my light and bounce my voice off the walls.

And I wonder if she will be watching, still.

Feels like a kind of home to me.


Colt 45

There really isn’t anything very subtle about a Colt 45.

It’s a hell of a weapon, and it has a single purpose; to think about it any differently would be foolish, at best.

It’s a weapon that demands respect.

In the hands of Jud Fry, it ought to put the fear of God into a man.

But is Curly afraid of it? Does he flinch when Jud flashes that six shooter across his face? Does he cower like a dog when Jud fires that thing off? Maybe. He might even show it, a little, if you watch him real close. But are you watching Curly then? Or are you fixated on the face of the man who’s battling all his nerve just to keep it together with his nemesis in his house?

Isn’t it just a couple of fellas making noises to satisfy their oversized egos? Or are they daring each other to do what the other one hasn’t done yet?

As you might have guessed we rehearsed the smokehouse scene last night. Possibly the strangest scene I have ever encountered in any story. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. Steve and I had already been throwing punches at each other in the afternoon (more on that next week…) and we were set for a bit of a standoff, so to speak. We said our piece to each other, and then the guns came out. All I can say, is that it’s a good thing Steve and I are such good friends, cause he’s a hell of an enemy on stage.

Why is it that the American persona has been so obsessed with the wild west for the past hundred years? Can it possibly be that we’ve never been able to get past that little bit of madness, that dark, pre-historic instinct to over-power something with brute force? We might veil it in rhetoric, or hide behind our civilized mannerisms, but is it ever really gone?

And when we turn to that darkness, can you tell when it happened? Was it when the fear gave way to anger? Can you tell when we came back from the edge? Or when we leapt from it with no abandon?

As Curly, I ask, what else would have me do? But I wonder if you’ll be able to answer.

‘Cause you’ll just be staring at the gun, wide-eyed, wondering if it’ll be the end of one of those men.

It demands respect, but it never earns it.

Only with great and subtle power can the force of that weapon be leashed and held in check.

Where will you be watching?

Act 2, Scene 1

The thing about Oklahoma is the scenes are ridiculously long, and are actually comprised, usually, of several scenes. So Act 2, Scene 1, is actually between 3 and 5 scenes, depending on how you split it up. The fact that we pretty much got through this in it’s entirety yesterday is pretty good. There’s a ton of dancin’, spinnin’, chuggin’, and fightin’ going on, as well as some wheelin’ and dealin’ in the auction.
Steve and I had a chance to do a stare-down during the bidding as Jud and Curly and I think it’ll be tense as all get out when everything settles down a bit. There was certainly a lot of energy hurtling around the room. I think most of us had spinny eyes by the time we were finished.
It brings to mind a few thoughts that I’d like to have out there in the wide world – some stuff that I’ve been thinking about that I find useful when thinking about my own behaviour onstage and off.

Kill the ego

If you think you haven’t got an ego problem, look at all the people who you think do have a problem, and think about how better much than them you are, because you don’t have an ego. Good. Now you’ve got an ego problem, just like me and everyone else. Give yourself a kick in the rumplestiltskin and get back to work.

Get outta’ yer comfort zone

If it’s easy, if you don’t even have to try, than how can you ever grow? You put in what you get out, and killing your ego and getting out of the comfort zone is the first steps, I think, on the path.

Don’t forgit which direction yer looking from

This is my worst bad habit. You think you have a better view than the director? You think you have the right to tell another actor how to do their job? Do you have the capability of being in 2 places at once? Nope. I didn’t think so. Learn your lines and your steps and get your entrances and exits, and sing the right notes in the right rhythm, and you’re almost getting starting on taking care of yourself. It’s a big step from their to make it into a performance, a work of art, you know? And that’s just you, looking after yourself. Leave it at that, and I figure you’ll be a lot happier about the effort everyone is putting in.

The truth is the truth

Until you’ve heard and understood a truth that wasn’t the version of the truth that you wanted to hear, you don’t know what truth is. And if you think you know that, maybe you don’t. Maybe the truth is part of that whole journey versus destination thing? Isn’t it more fun when you’re going somewhere, than being at a dead-end? Even if you’re where you wanted to be, it’s a dead end if you don’t have anywhere else to go.

I’ve got a few more, but the train’s just about at the station, and I’ve got to see a man about a horse.
More later – joel