Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fiddler: The Story of a Friendship

Top picture: full cast

Second picture: me and David, out of costume

Third picture: David as Avram

Fourth picture: From left: Sharon (mama), David (Avram) and me (mama)

Fiddler On The Roof is over. And now we can all rest.

Several people have asked when I was going to post about this production. Well, you kind of have to know the background of this show to fully understand why this production was so important. I had alluded to this in an earlier post about Fiddler, so if I repeat myself, bear with me.

More than anything to me, this production was about a friendship. A very strong, loyal friendship between two women. Sheila is the drama director at the local high school. She directed this show several years ago with her best friend Debby as the musical director. The two met in college and they shared the same birthday. They were best friends for 36 years. Both single women, they shared the bond that only single women can share.

My friend Sharon and I have been friends since birth. I remember well our single days. Friday nights at China Gate Restaurant. Saturday nights watching Fantasy Island on TV. We eventually married and had families of our own, but the single women friendship is a unique, solid bond that I will always remember.

Eventually Sheila and Debby worked together on high school musicals. Sheila was the drama director and Debby was the musical director. They agreed on pretty much everything, and they put on some wonderful productions. In 2001, they together directed Fiddler on the Roof. It was a major hit in our small community. The shows were sold out. The production featured students and staff in the cast.

Five years later, Debby was diagnosed with cancer. She was looking forward to working with Sheila again on the next production of Fiddler. They had decided to do it again together. Unfortunately, Debby lost her battle in 2008. Sheila was determined to continue with the production, and to devote it to Debby.

As she details in her introduction in the program, the tough part was finding a new music director. One man's name kept coming up - Brad - and here I'll use Sheila's words to descibe what happened next:

When I first met Brad face to face, I remember telling him that I was not going to try to turn him into another Debby. I then told him that this show was going to be a very tough one for me to get through. I broke down. I'll never forget. Brad, who was a perfect stranger up until that meeting, took my hand and said "Don't worry. I'm here for you. I'll get you through it."

And Brad kept his promise to Sheila. And Sheila kept her promise to Debby.

And those of us who participated in this production felt very fortunate to be part of this devotion between friends.

On opening night, Sheila did a formal tribute to Debby, presenting her mother and sister with a scrapbook she had prepared from email letters written by students who had worked with Debby.

As for the production itself, I have to say it was just fun (other than rehearsing til midnight the few nights before the production). My husband David played Avram the Bookseller, and Sharon and I were mamas and villagers. None of us had performed beyond high school.

It is interesting to watch how a production evolves. Every part of it starts from nothing - an empty stage turns into a realistic looking set created by Ron, a solid guy in overalls who has a full-time job and created this set after working all day. Sandy, the pretty costume lady who amazingly took our shirts and removed the collars (that was probably the least skilled thing she did but we were all very impressed!). Brad, the music director who added a spirit of fun to the musical numbers. Joel, the tech guy, who injured his leg and needed surgery one week before the production - he also had a part in the play that included dancing. We assumed he would need to be replaced, but he continued in both the acting and the tech roles - I have never seen anyone with more energy.

And the cast - the high school kids all knew each other, but many of us adults came into this as strangers. As we got more comfortable, we opened up to each other. Ileen, a grandma, loved to bake and provided us with baked goods for all 3 shows. She also entertained us cause Ileen knows everyone and everything. She probably should have been cast as Yente. And Laura always made me laugh. Two menopausal women trying to remember the basic blocking moves - an almost impossible task, but made much easier with the laughter. Even in the sad scenes, we had to be careful not to laugh. Jean, who was in the show with her talented son Cody, started out very quiet but then opened up and she is the one who decided the mamas should supply all of the snacks for the shows (we did a great job). And the last mama, Sharon, was my reason for being in the show. When Sheila called Sharon to see if she would be in the show, Sharon suggested me. Sharon and I have spent most of our 50 some years together in a friendship that involves laughter more than anything else. In our last production of the show, there is one number where Sharon and I and 2 others are to rush over to lift the bride in a chair and turn around with her in the air. Well in our rush, we smacked into each other and we couldn't move cause we had smacked into each other, and I laugh now at that image as I write this, and we laughed then, and we will hopefully spend the rest of our lives laughing together.

And for David, well, it turned out that he is a very talented actor! Sharon and I loved watching him at rehearsals. His facial expressions were priceless. We are wondering if this is the start of something new for him.

We are all so engrained in the Fiddler mentality that every time we hear any phrase at all, we tie it in to a line in Fiddler.

It felt like this weekend would never get here, but it did, and it went by so quickly. My email friend Ellen, who hears from me many times a day, told me I would go into withdrawal after the show. So far, though, I'm just enjoying the relaxation.

Three days before the final show, I was sure we had no idea what we were doing and that it would be a flop. At dress rehearsal, I had more hope. Then came the performances, and we had 3 great audiences who laughed in the right places and appeared to enjoy themselves as much as we did.

David's Cousin Deet and her boyfriend Rick drove in from Lansing to see the show. Other friends and relatives came to see the production, and I believe they were all very impressed. I am grateful to all who took the time to come see us. It meant a lot.

Just before our last show, Sheila thanked us, and told us we were a "comfortable cast" and by that she meant, there were no egos involved as you sometimes see in shows like this - we all came together to do a job, and we did it. And did it well.

But it was more than just putting on a show. It was about helping one friend complete a promise to another friend. As part of a strong, long-standing, loyal friendship that started when two college girls realized they shared the same birthday. And that seemed to mean the most. To all of us.


Sharon said...

This is a beautiful post, Bonnie.

Funny, too - especially the part about bumping into you during the show. I can't get the picture out of my head. But somehow it worked on stage anyway, because if we were at a real wedding, and not acting, the same thing would probably have happened. It added realism!

I am glad to have some time at home now, but I really miss seeing everyone from the show. And I, too, want to thank the people who came out to see the show - it means so much!

ljbeytas said...

This was a special performance for me, too.I haven't been in a show since my opera days in college. Sheila saw me at Giant Eagle and I told her that David was very excited to be the Fiddler. She heard that I could sing and asked if I wanted to be in the show, too. I said "sure". I was totally aware of the time commitment and that is why I haven't been in a production since 1976. Unless you sat with me at services, you wouldn't have know that I sing. I felt that this would be the last time David and I could do something musical together for he is heading off to college in the fall. I am so glad I did this; we had a lot of fun back stage. We'll have to have a reunion at Ed's winery this summer. laura

Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you had such a marvelous time with the show and the cast. It sounds like it was a very lovely experience that lots of people don't get a chance to experince in their lifetimes. Being on stage and part of a live performance beats out a lot of other experiences and the bonding opportunities are fantastic and it sounds like you had a marvelous group both cast and crew. Congrats!

Jeanie said...

Bonnie, this is a wonderful post. It amplifies things I already knew, but so beautifully.

First of all, as an (almost) unbiased observer -- and one who has done a boatload of theatre -- it was a very strong production; excellent performances, and it didn't drag. Fiddler is a long show. We didn't notice that. Lots of time with HS or community theatre, you REALLY notice it!

And it was clear, the warmth on stage.

For me, a joy to see my family (yes, Sharon is family, just a little more removed!)on stage -- and doing it well!

I am sending you the photos from Dave (who took those production pix) and you can add some others to your post. (If you don't know how, let me know!) It was a wonderful weekend in every way for us. You should be proud and happy.

Bella Rum said...

This sounds like so much fun. I love local theater. In fact, I enjoy it even more than the bigger productions in large cities. We lived near D.C. for awhile and went to theater in D.C. and Baltimore, but I loved the little productions in Annapolis most of all. It was so intimate and much less expensive.

Carole said...

What a beautiful story of friendship. I wish I could have seen your show!

Mich said...

Congratulations on what I'm sure was a fine performance. It sounds like the entire experience was rejuvinating. Isn't it great when things like this come along and make life interesting?