The production was called Christmas Is Comin' Uptown. As you can imagine there's quite a story and here goes...
I was doing my grocery shopping, actually finding things on a list my wife gave me, and a guy I knew stopped me. He told me about Cultural Fusion which highlights African American and Latino playwrights. I mentioned that if there was any way I could help, I'd be happy to.
A couple of days later I found myself having breakfast with Cultural Fusion's Founder and Artistic Director, Ken Brown. Ken is a wonderful person, smart, talented, and very warm, with his heart firmly in the right place.
|Ken Brown is on the far right|
Here's where the story picks up.
We were talking and if you'd given me a thousand chances I wouldn't have remotely guessed what he said next. "How about you be in the production?"
The next sound you heard was my jaw hitting the floor. Although I'd been on camera a zillion times and had even given speeches on a stage, I'd never acted before. When I'm on live television I'm the writer, director, actor and producer. It's a bit different when you're playing a character. I believe in Cultural Fusion's mission plus I wanted my boys to see their dad onstage so I said yes.
Oh, Ken made it easy; my character, I was the Tenant's Rep, didn't have a whole bunch of lines but still. The phrase two left feet comes to mind. That would be me. This show, by the way, is based on the Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. You know, Tiny Tim, Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past, and all that.
So off I went to my first rehearsal.
It was very, very, cool.
I wasn't prepared for the scope of it. All the characters, all the children! The youngest was five. The rehearsals were on the second floor of a dance studio. Things you notice...one wall of the studio was mirrored and every time during the rehearsals one kid would spend the whole time looking at himself.
|Earl Vennum with his son Kent|
It started with everyone reading from their script and gradually over time it moved to the phrase that I dreaded, "No scripts."
Also, keep in mind it's a musical.
I've been singing Uptown's songs in the car, around the house, in my head, in my sleep, for weeks. And those songs? They should be on your iPod.
Hearing the songs with them was the difference between black and white and color.
|The Pugh Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center|
After what seemed like years in the studio we went to the theater that we actually were going to perform in to do the tech and dress rehearsals. Ken said that Broadway has weeks for each one. He told us how proud he was that we did it in two days.
We had sets. We had blocking. We had costumes.
I had butterflies. Huge ones.
The air was crackling because we were about to go on. The air was also full of the cast being worn out. Everyone had jobs, or were parents, or had other things going on. Even the kids had school.
Troopers, just troopers all.
Also they all have this love and respect for, as the kids called him, Mr. Ken.
You know what's funny? When you're in the audience you have no idea what's going on backstage.
It's a madhouse of people in their underwear getting dressed in their costumes. Actors and actresses loosening up their vocal cords. Characters getting made up. Children playing video games. Everyone on their phones. Props everywhere. Folks telling old friends they look great.
|Me and Kenyarda Scott aka Marley|
Trying not to forget my lines.
In my costume someone told me I looked like a newsman with a touch of Dick Tracy.
I was okay with that.
The audience added a new element. You could feel them, you could hear them. When the house lights went down and the stage lights came up they were a part of the show. How? They laughed at all the right places, they applauded at the musical numbers, they were right there with the story.
It was big fun hearing their reactions.
During the show we were on the sides of the stage trying to stay out of the way of the flood of desks and beds and coffins and sets and characters going on and off that stage. We also congregated to watch great singers sing their songs again and again.
We did three performances and what struck me was this...when you come to see a show you see that one performance. When you put one on, each time is different. To the performers a show is a living, breathing, ever changing thing.
That, my friends, is Theater.
At the end of a show we came out and bowed and then we went out into the lobby, in costume, to greet the crowd. We took pictures, shook hands and kissed babies.
And that was my first acting experience.
One of the best experiences of my life.
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