Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Amazing Technicolor Dream Date

I wrote this a few weeks ago, after a wonderful night out with my huzz.

Carol, one of the women my husband knows from his office, told him a few weeks ago that her son was soon going to be in a play and how excited she was about this. Her son is 9 years old, the venue was his school’s auditorium (which was all part of their church’s complex), and the tickets were $8.00. He immediately said the he would love to go and see her son in the play, and asked to purchase two tickets. When he told me about it, I wasn’t really super thrilled about making a courtesy appearance at an elementary school event for someone I didn’t know. But, it would probably be a fun thing for us to do together, and I thought why not?

That’s how we ended up, last night, going to a school play to see a 9-year-old boy with a small part singing in the chorus. We arrived at exactly 7:00 PM, show time.

Bakersfield is a strongly Christian community. You will find large, exquisitely maintained and well-attended churches on what seems like every corner. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on So. Real Road was no exception (and I must specify the address because in this city with a population of about 500,000 there are hundreds of churches, a good number of them with this name).

As we pulled into the expansive parking lot, we drew a simultaneous breath. The lot was nearly full. Wow, all this for a small school play? I had been thinking homemade costumes, cardboard sets, and a crowd of parents cheering their kids on. My gears began to shift.

Entering the building, we were warmly welcomed and directed down the hall toward the auditorium. The room, which could probably seat close to 500 people, was completely packed. We felt lucky to find two empty seats on the far end of the back row, which was perfect. We are both tall, we could see well enough, and wouldn’t be blocking anyone else’s view. Carol came over and greeted us and introduced us to her husband Don (who was a scenic assistant for the show) and son Gregory. We promised to cheer when he was on stage.

Looking at my program (4-color glossy pamphlet) I saw that the “play” was actually the well-known musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.” Well, that will be quite something for a group of 4th graders to pull off, I thought. But, looking around the dimly lit auditorium, I noted professional lighting, sound equipment, and 3 stages; left, right and center. The room buzzed with an incredibly high spirit of festive expectation.

The show began a few moments later and any lingering preconceptions I had about this being a small school play immediately vanished.

As we learned later in the evening, every three years the community of South Bakersfield puts on an “amateur” musical production. Sponsored by the Bakersfield South Stake along with R&H Theatricals and The Really Useful Group Ltd, participation is open to everyone in the entire community. Each and every task involved, from set design, set and prop construction, costume design and creation, choreography, casting, directing, acting, singing, lighting, music performance... is on a volunteer basis. It is purely by and for the community. Tickets are priced so everyone can afford to come. The proceeds cover production costs, and probably barely. They offer 7 performances over a period of one week, and then pack it up and start planning for the next show in three years.

The cast of nearly 100 ranged in age from small child (and there were well over 50 kids of all ages in total, in various chorus, dancing, stomping, and acrobatic parts) to the elderly, all who had auditioned along with hundreds of others to obtain their roles. Highlights included a high school senior named Steven Kinnison, who played Joseph. Remember this name! He is a huge talent, with extraordinary stage presence and a voice that is clear, pitch perfect, and captivating. He is tall and handsome to boot. My husband and I made a point to meet and congratulate Steven after the show. If I’d had a scrap of paper to write on, I would have asked for his autograph.

Another favorite was a young father of three, Matt Wheelwright, who played the role of Pharoah (which is hysterically based on another king, Elvis). We were nearly rolling in the aisles. This young man, by the way, had no prior stage experience except for a role in a high school play years ago. Never considering himself an acting or musical talent, he tried out for the show just for fun. He ended up one of its brightest stars.

Costumes were on par with what you’d expect in a Broadway show, all designed by Steven’s mother, Suzanne Kinnison (who was also the assistant Director). Her husband Dana Kinnison created the synthesized music for the production. Steven’s brother and sisters also helped with scene design and other production tasks. This is a family dedicated to the arts!

The show was cast in January. In under four months, after several nights a week and full-day Saturday rehearsals, they pulled it all together.

The only possible reason it is called an amateur show is because nobody is paid.

This is true community theater. It was as much about process (bringing hundreds of people together, creating life-long bonds and memories during their months of rehearsals, stitching costumes, building sets and props, and so on) as about the actual production (bringing thousands of people together for an outstanding performance – each show was sold out – and building community bonds).

I think I’m going to try out for the next one. Watch for my name in lights in 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment