A little theatrical adventure
By now, some of you may have realized I get unusual jobs. Be a strolling player at a Renaissance festival? Play electric violin for a private studio concert? Sure, why not? But the job I took in mid-November (smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo) was probably the most unusual for a while.
Wanted: One violinist. Must be able to memorize music. Also should feel comfortable walking/dancing while playing. Wardrobe should include boots and fiddler’s cap. Must not be afraid of heights.
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how it played out. But that’s what was eventually asked.
And in case you haven’t guessed, the role to be filled was the fiddler in a private school production of Fiddler on the Roof.
(deliberate pause as the little violinist in me squeals in disbelief.)
You have to understand, there are a lot of things associated with violin. Mozart, classical style, modern pop stuff, oy the number of times I’ve heard about Lindsey Stirling…But sooner or later, you’re going to realize two things recur again and again.
- Almost every violinist is eventually asked to play “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
- Almost every violinist would much rather play Issac Stern’s solos in Fiddler on the Roof. His sound–aaaagghh! Some of us work our entire lives to sound that glorious. And few enough succeed.
I can remember listening to that overture when I was little, relishing every last silver, shining note. After hearing about this job, I finally remember Little Me saying wouldn’t it be amazing to play that part?
I never actually thought I’d get to do it. And yet here it was, a coworker directing the play and asking around for a fiddler.
So I sidled up to him after getting off work…okay, more like materialized behind him, and cleared my quiet bookish throat.
Here’s the thing: he was asking a group of high school students for volunteers. And I didn’t really want to swoop in and take the role from a bright-eyed student if they had their heart set on it as much as I would have.
So I said I knew he was probably going to be swamped with violinists jumping at the chance to do this (because seriously! Life goals, people!), but if he still hadn’t heard from anyone, would he please keep me in mind?
Guess what? Nobody else had asked about the role.
Bizarre? Indeed. The director figured they were daunted by the prospect of dancing with Tevye…but thinking about my Dragonfest experiences walking and playing, hopping over logs, curtsying…I just laughed. That really wasn’t going to be a problem.
This may also have been the one time I can recall my fate of looking younger than I am working in my favor. All the times of being slighted at music shops because I looked young, new parents at work giving me odd looks when they see me working with little violinists–apparently it was all worth it because I blended in with the cast of the play perfectly.
So, surprise! I was suddenly the Fiddler on the Roof.
(feel free to imagine little girl inward squealing for the next three days in my brain. You won’t be too far from the truth.)
I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect showing up for the first rehearsal.
What I found was the wedding scene taking place on an incredible set the students and teachers had built themselves.
I’ve been around theater (and most other performing arts) enough by now to learn the closer you get to performance, the crazier everything gets. I managed to get a brief “Hi,” from the director before he plunged back into what he was doing. So I sat back and watched. It was a good scene already.
One of the actors ran up to me after it was over. Introduced himself.
“Are you our fiddler?”
I grinned and shook his hand. “Yes sir, I am your fiddler.”
It wasn’t until after he’d run off again I realized I hadn’t even thought of using my name.
After the director had a moment to breathe, we ran one of the scenes with the fiddler and discussed details.
The actors were quick to explain scenes to me, mood, etc. I tried not to laugh and wondered if they realized I could sing along on half the numbers just because of how well I knew the story.
The director was actually super sweet about making sure I was comfortable with everything. Particularly the part about dressing as a male fiddler.
So very kind. But it was all I could do not to laugh in his face.
I’ve been around theater, even if I’ve never really been “an actress.” I know how small productions work. As Kvothe says in The Name of the Wind, “If you were clean-shaven and the dress fit, you played the part…” That’s just how it goes.
So I assured him I’d be fine, dragged some garb I already had out of my closet, stole Dad’s hat, and threw it together.
Voilà! One fiddler on the roof.
Which brought us to the other exciting part of the job.
I’m not actually afraid of heights. But holding my violin on a stepladder on a platform that wobbled–that made me nervous. Very nervous. I wasn’t afraid of falling. I was afraid of falling with the violin.
But the director swept in to my rescue again. Took the ladder off the platform, grabbed two actors to hold it and my violin as I climbed up and down, and let me play up there for a bit until I felt comfortable.
Or at least more comfortable.
And it was fine.
Another silent thanks to Perchik and the rabbi. I think I actually said “May you both be blessed with perfect pitch,” when I climbed down once during performance. They were so good about holding my violin carefully. I’m not sure if the director (also a musician) scared them into it or if they were just perfect. Either way.
We had one last thing to work out before the show. The student actors had so many friends and family members coming we were going to have full house/standing room only. After some consideration…
Two messages on my phone and an email later…the director was trying to make sure I could come to a second showing.
(cue me glancing at piles of work. Eh, who cares. I can swing it.)
And I did.
Night 1: Did not fall off ladder. Did not trip and fall on face going down steps I couldn’t see in the stage lights.
Made faces at actors hiding backstage waiting for the show to start, laughed myself silly at all of us peeking out from the house set’s curtains, discovered Tevye apparently doesn’t know sign language and I may have creeped him out…(sorry, Tevye!)
Did trip over a stray electric cord and nearly splatted on my face then, but that’s another story. And we also discovered it was total blackout behind the house when I would be climbing the ladder. We hadn’t rehearsed it that way, so there was a collective “Oh,” from the three of us back there. Fortunately, everything went well.
There also wasn’t much of a backstage, so the director planned to have me sit in the audience. He’d claimed a seat himself in the front so he could cue actors and lighting, so I’d sit next to him.
Not like I was in time-out or anything. Just so he could smack me if I missed a cue.
Except when I scurried offstage after the opening number…there was a lovely family sitting on the front row. Luckily I’d left my coat on the seat, or the director might not have saved me a place.
As soon as I’d settled in, the man I found myself sitting next to leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“I’m proud to be sitting next to Tradition.”
I laughed. Said “Thank you, sir.”
Yeah, he totally made my day.
Night 2: Did not fall off ladder. Did not trip over steps.
Actually had more fun in the dance scene with Tevye the second time around. It was set so I sneak up behind him before I start playing…I tend to enjoy sneaking too much.
Sat next to director’s family the second night, and they saved me a seat, so no worries there. The only really sad part was night 2 was the last show.
Pity. I’d forgotten how much I loved theater.
It was about as glorious as I’d hoped it would be. Everyone hears nasty things about the theater world sooner or later, “Oh, they all want to be stars,” “They’re not very nice,” etc. Not true with this group. It was one of those rare places you find people who just care about making a good play. Telling a good story. Building sets, perfecting the wedding dance with balancing bottles on actor’s heads (which I am apparently sworn to secrecy as to technique now), making every moment something to remember.
It was the best.
One last fun fact. Even though the director did make the effort to introduce me to the cast (the first day I headed out after rehearsal, he had everyone say goodbye to me and they all applauded…so sweet), for some reason I kept being a little enigmatic. People weren’t entirely sure what my name was…where exactly I’d come from…how they’d gotten a fiddler…just that the director had pulled me out of a hat, apparently, and they were happy and busy enough not to ask too many questions.
I guess I could have corrected that. But this was so much more fun.
Most of rehearsals, if people had to say something to me, I was just “the Fiddler.” And that was perfectly fine with me.
Actually, some kids from work came by to the play and saw me on the roof…the next time they saw me at work they all said “Hello, Fiddler!” making me feel like a real celebrity.
I’ve never really had a nickname stick before, but I think I could get used to this one.