It’s seconds before the curtain rises and you can feel the heat coming off the large fluorescent lights from the other side of the stage. The performers are already sweating, but with pure concentration in their eyes. The curtain rises slowly and as it rises it’s apparent from the side of the stage that each performer’s stomach drops further and further the higher the curtain reaches.
It’s show time.
But what happened in the hour before the curtain rose? It’s a side of a production few ever see.
There are countless people involved when putting together a production like A Chorus Line and they all prepare mentally and physically in their own different ways.
“I try not to think about the show all day, and once I get there, I go through a mental check list in my head, ‘Is my costume on right? Is my make-up done right? Do I have my shoes?” said performer Staci Jedlick, who played the role of Connie in A Chorus Line.
In the girls’ dressing room before stretching began, performers were reassuring each other that it was going to be great.
They stretched in various ways to the blasting sound of Florence and the Machines, an artist and music style that had absolutely no connection to the musical itself.
On stage, the orchestra was tuning and warming up as well. The brass players were emptying out their mouthpieces, dumping their saliva all over the floor and making sure their instruments were ready to go. They could then rest until show time.
With about 40 minutes to go and before the audience was allowed in, the performers headed to the stage to do voice exercises. A variety of sounds flew from their mouths that to the untrained ear sounded like synchronized gibberish.
“It’s when everyone really warms up their voices and gets their mindset ready for projecting their voice and singing,” said actress Sarah Connor, who played the role of Cassie.
After about 15 minutes, it was back down to the dance studio.
With 25 minutes until show time, it was total chaos. Every performer began flailing about and jumping around like animals just released from the zoo. There was yelling, dancing and laughter filling up the studio.
The performers then formed a big circle, with one in the middle. They began dancing around, as the one in the middle would say a random phrase, not even words in the English language, and the others would all repeat as they danced around like native warriors preparing for worship.
After about five minutes of this, they all came together holding hands in what appeared to be a last minute prayer.
One performer would begin, with the all the others in repetition.
Finally, it was time for the show-time chant. Everyone put a hand on top of another in the circle, just like any sports team before a big game. “1-2-3 TO GOOD HEALTH!” the group shouted.
And that message hit home.
Several of the performers became ill throughout the production since work began in November, Connor said.
Jedlick was one of them. She became sick about halfway through the eight show series, having to leave stage to vomit during one performance. Nobody even knew the difference. She had to miss one show because she was too ill, giving her understudy Katie Curler the opportunity to take over for her.
“When I found out I had to fill in for her, I freaked out. I was crying all day – it was awful. But, thankfully everyone supported me so much and reassured me that they all knew I could do it and they had absolutely no doubt in me,” Curler said.
Curler, who is neither a theater major nor minor, said performing is such an exciting rush.
“I just love it,” she said.
Even though she had an understudy, Jedlick still pushed through and performed in all but one show.
“When I was sick, all I thought about when preparing was hoping to God I didn’t pass out on stage, or especially vomit when on stage, because that would have just been a total fail,” she said. “I also always made sure that before a show I was drinking a lot of water, more than usual, and always had cold compresses on both sides of the stage so I wouldn’t over heat.”
With only a few minutes until show time, it was time for “places” on stage.
“When you stand in place before the curtain rises, you think you’ll forget every single word, and every dance step, but then once the curtain rises and the music begins, your brain just goes into auto pilot and you instantly know everything to do and when you have to do it,” said Jedlick. “Then you just. do it.