I’m sitting in the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Room at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois. It’s in the basement of the building. I’m the “kid wrangler” for today’s rehearsal of A Civil War Christmas, a professional production that Maggie auditioned for and got into. She’s the youngest member of the cast, and right now, the 8 members of the children’s ensemble are sitting around a piano, learning and rehearsing variations of Christmas songs for the production which begins on November 11.
I’m amazed at how angelic and unified the kids sound after only 3 rehearsals. They’re arranged in a half-circle in front of a piano. The musical director is walking them through the words, then adding piano. Northwestern University students sit behind the kids, adding deeper and older voices to their sound.
Around the perimeter of the room, folding chairs are filled with various folks. I’m posted at the door (dressed in orange and black in honor of Halloween). To my right is Khori Faison who plays Jessa in the show (I can’t help but wonder if she’s any relation to Donald Faison on the TV show SCRUBS. If so, I’m going to freak out. She resembles him a bit…so my fingers are crossed.). Stage managers and various important folk are sitting behind a table, working on various things. A craft-service table is off in one corner, filled with chips, pretzels, coffee, Halloween candy, and many other evil things.
Will Clinger just walked in (he plays Abraham Lincoln in the production). He smiled at me and pointed to my Halloween headband and smiled. I’m so star struck. He used to be on a show I absolutely loved called Wild On Chicago. He’s tall and lanky and definitely Lincolnesque — though I doubt our 16th president was as funny.
Across the room from me, there’s an artificial Christmas tree. Guitars and banjos sit on stands, waiting to be strummed.
The beige floor is marked with colorful tape, outlining the stage layout.
Black foam squares line the ceiling. My guess is they provide acoustic assistance to the room (or a sound barrier below the official stage above this room).
The kids are now taking a 5 minute break. I’m trying to look busy and occupied, but I’m fascinated by the comraderie around the room. It’s relaxed and excited at the same time. Kids are gathered around a table, giggling, laughing, snacking on food. Adults are discussing blocking and music arrangements. Northwestern students are chatting about their Halloween costumes for later this evening.
The actress who plays Mary Todd Lincoln, Paula Scrofano, sits at the end of a table, quietly reviewing her lines amidst the calm chaos. She looks like she’s in her late 40s, but Maggie tells me she’s SIXTY. I’m stunned. She’s adorable, with the voice of an angel. She also takes her role extremely seriously.
I’m someone who can’t carry a tune. This is a musical, so I’m in awe of the talent around the room. I hear random vocal practicing (I’m sure there’s a better word for that). The casual way that a young woman lilts her scales with a perfect vibrato chills me to the bone. If she can sound that good just warming up, what is she capable of when she’s belting out her best? What a gift.
I was intimidated and excited to come to this rehearsal. Wasn’t sure what to expect or what my roll would be. Each of the parents with kids in the children’s ensemble must act as a “kid wrangler” during a rehearsal or two. Today is my day to be the kid wrangler. I’m loving it.
I don’t know when she came in, but Felicia Fields is now here, and I know enough to revere her. She’s a Tony Award Nominee, and Maggie gets to hug her in a scene. That’s pretty cool.
Henry Godinez, the show’s director, is now blocking out a scene with kids and adults. He speaks with a gentle, deep voice, and the room falls silent while listening to him. It’s amazing to watch him think on his feet, reading bits of script and smiling as he suggests actors’ movements around the stage. Questions are occasionally posed to him, and he answers them easily and thoughtfully. Everyone’s eyes are on Henry. When his instructions are given, actors mark them in their scripts. His easy manner, saying things like, “Clear as mud?” with a knowing smile, puts everyone at ease.
They’re now about to run through the full show…how fortunate am I to get to see this? Suddenly, a woman’s playing a violin. Where did that come from? Wow.
They’ve just finished the run-through. I’m searching for all the complimentary words to describe how incredible it was to watch scene after scene unfold. How everyone retained all those lines is a mystery to me. Even though it was a rehearsal, you could have fooled me. Seems there’s been a ton of rehearsals I’m just not aware of. The show is fast-paced and dynamic…with several story lines working simultaneously. Actors switch roles throughout the production — onstage. The themes touch not only on The Civil War and Christmas, but also love, loss, forgiveness, hope, heartbreak and promise.
After the rehearsal, a ten minute break…then a quick choreography lesson for the women and girls in the production.
I was never a theater girl, so this is such an education for me as a mother. Maggie’s in 5th grade, and she’s in a professional production! I’m so proud of her.