Monday, August 31, 2009

Hooray, hooray, hooray!

Posted by Molly Brennan (The Professor)

Sunday night rehearsal:

Tonight's only four hours, some Equity thing, “Daylight Rest,” I guess. I don't know. I'm new to Equity. Nearly 40, and having made my actor living thus far without joining the guild, I'm a bit behind in terms of how this whole union thing works.

I'd spent the day rehearsing something altogether different. I went out to Oak Park to sing the songs from 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal with Mr. John Fournier. I was comfortable snarling and staggering and weaving my way around Fournier's basement, belting out his hilarious lyrics in preparation for our appearance at Petterino's in a couple weeks. THAT'S what I'm used to.

But Sunday night is at the Goodman. THE GOODMAN. An involuntary grin or involuntary nausea makes an appearance whenever I think about it. We're running Act II, according to the call. It's shorter in runtime compared to Act I, but more complicated for me in terms of The Professor's prop sets, sleight of hand, changing into a chorus girl, etc.

I had run my beats at home, trying to remember my dance steps to the “Harp Ballet” so I don't break Mara Davi's face with my foot, and I STILL can't get the “Long Island Lowdown” steps: standing up onto the chaise with the uke, getting the “Three Musketeers” number down, etc, etc.

"Don't screw it up, Brennan," I tell myself on my bike ride from the Ukrainian Village to 170 N. Dearborn. I pull up to the theater and see my face HUGE on the marquee between two of my three Marx brothers: Jonathan Brody and Joey Slotnick. "Your face is all over town. DO NOT stink," I tell myself.

I walk in ready for action. As always, I get a little nervous entering that rehearsal room. Everyone is at the top of their game. Stage management is impeccable, the musical director Doug Peck is precise and positive, the cast is PRO. Half New York, half Chicago, everyone FANTASTIC. Paul Kalina, my 500 Clown brother, partner, friend is the Clown Director for this show, and my lifeline to reality. (Or MY reality...which may be unrecognizable by some standards...)

Chicago star Ora Jones gives me a mock scolding look for having missed the cast's brunch at m. henry. Mara, whose energy and talent are matched by her appetite fills me in on what was ordered and eaten. Thank goodness they got the bliss cakes and the Fannie's egg sandwich. Jessie Mueller missed brunch, too, and promises she had her sprained ankle elevated. As long as she doesn't sprain her golden vocal cords, we're good. Enter the handsome Fred Astaire incarnate Tony Yazbeck and we're met. Really? These are the people I'm working with every day? What am I doing here? Heavens!

The ever calm, clear and organized Joe Drummond calls us to order, and our director Henry Wishcamper speaks.

Henry is awesome. What a leader. The type of leader I want to follow. His voice only rises in volume when he is excited about what we're doing. And years fall off when he gleefully gives us fun and funny and beautiful things to do onstage. He becomes a kid. He is also thoughtful, intelligent and a good listener. I want to make him happy. I think we all feel that way.

So, Henry speaks. Solemnly. My apologies for not remembering his exact words, but to paraphrase:

"I decided instead of running Act II tonight, we'd drink beers and watch Marx Brothers’ movies."

A cheer rises. Ed Kross bounds forward to hug Henry. I'm still figuring it's a joke until I see the actual beer, the actual TV and DVD player, and am eating the actual organic chocolate truffles Broadway veteran Stanley Mathis has brought for us.

The lights go down, and I sit with Paul and Ora and the rest of this unique and massively talented cast and crew, and we laugh and clap together through Night at the Opera and Day at the Races, inspired by the genius of these long-ago artists.

We are working very hard on Animal Crackers, picking up new skills, playing multiple characters, singing, dancing, prat falling. What a perfect way to spend our evening rehearsal, celebrating together, and learning from the folks we are playing in this refreshed version of a classic film and play.

I am lucky. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

I'm enjoying the work we're doing now, and look forward to September 18, to play with these amazing folks to a packed house.

Hooray, hooray, hooray!


Molly B

Photos of Molly Brennan and Henry Wishcamper in rehearsal by Eric Y. Exit.


  1. What a great blog post. You really have a lovely style, Molly B! How did you start doing what you do?


  2. Anonymous Meg:


    I started doing what I do during my rural New Hampshire childhood I suppose.
    I had young, poor, creative parents who entertained my sister and I by reading Grimm's Faerie Tales by candlelight. My actress mother was great at making different voices for all the characters, and building suspense and climax when reading. Our imaginations were always encouraged, and we liked to play games inspired by my Dad's tales of Hiawatha and Odysseus and King Arthur.
    In high school, my Mom was the head of the theatre program. This meant I was considered LAST for roles, so things would be fair. I resent her not an iota! In working with my Mom I was introduced to such fascinating groups as Beau Jest, Kitchensink Mime, Avner the Eccentric, and Mummenschantz. I developed a fondness for this kind of storytelling: stuff that hits you in the guts and though you understand it, it's hard to explain.
    I attended the University of New Hampshire, where I studied the classics. Lots of Shakespeare. I learned a lot of technique there, and a lot about production. It was a production-based program, as opposed to a process-based one. I got to play some fantastic roles, most memorably Lady Bracknell and Hedda Gabler.
    I attended DePaul University to get my Masters, but only for a quarter. I was done with school. I had stuff to SAY.
    I hooked up with the Factory Theatre, and performed in a wild variety of comedies there, learning a ton about theatre management, budgeting, and making hilarious work with awesome people. The Factory produced four scripts I wrote: 529 S Something (Science Fiction drama), Rapid Fire (Drunk gals on the town kidnap yuppies and force them to eat twinkies) and Battleaxe Betty (a rock musical featuring music by Scott OKen, with hot, funny gals swinging broadswords, cracking wise, and singin and dancin) and Dragontales (a mask piece exploring faerie tales and fantasty role play).
    Shortly after that, I began working with Barrel of Monkeys, a writing and performance program for CPS. I am still a member of BOM to this day!
    My job at Navy Pier as a pirate among other things had me performing for millions of people, and meeting lots of fantastic Chicago talent, including David Engel, who encouraged me to audition for Big Apple Circus Clown Care, a fleet of Clown Doctors who do rounds at Children's hospitals. I auditioned, I got the job, I clowned at University of Comer Chicago Children's Hospital for almost 10 years. Shortly after auditioning for Clown Care, I saw the single most amazing piece of theatre I'd ever seen: 500 Clown Macbeth. It featured Paul Kalina, Adrian Danzig, and David Engel. Leslie Buxbaum contributed an outside eye to the process. Its live, raw energy, audience interaction and dangerous stunts blew my mind.
    As luck would have it, David moved to NYC and 500 Clown Macbeth wanted a second life. I auditioned for Paul, Adrian and Leslie. I got in. I spent the next ten years ripping myself apart with 500 Clown, throwing my guts down on the stage with my partners; seeing, feeling, loving the audience. We built four pieces together, and have seen much of the country performing them. We even made it overseas!
    In those ten years, I've worked with some other great companies as well: Steppenwolf, Second City, the House Theatre of Chicago, Chicago Children's Theatre, and others.
    My future projects include recording some tunes as Madame Barker of 500 Clown with John Fournier and collaborating with Steve Pickering on a stage adaptation of Auster's Timbuktu.
    Wow. Long winded. I started a while ago, I guess, but everything between then and now is part of how I got here, and what I'm doing next is always on my mind.
    There's that.
    And how are you?