Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Little Story about our Queen Aggravain

Enough about Queen Aggravain from 40 years ago, let me tell you a story about 42nd St. Moon's Queen Aggravain, Milissa Carey. I met Milissa eight years ago when we were co-starring in Foothill Music Theatre's production of "Kiss Me Kate"

She was the regal (though not really a queen) Lili Vanessi, and I was the...ummm...let's say "saucy" Lois Lane.

Milissa taught me the true meaning, not of Christmas, but of diva-dom.

Now, most people associate the word diva with a slew of negatives, but the fact is there are good divas and bad divas. Sort of like the witches in "The Wizard of Oz." But a diva is simply someone who has undertaken a large role because of their larger-than-life talent and/or personality.

Bad divas think that entitles them to be rude, mean, and to make unreasonable demands. Good divas realize it's okay to ask for what they need, for the good of their own performance and the show in general.

Now, in "Kiss Me Kate" Milissa and I had many costume changes, some quick. The Smithwick Theatre at Foothill is large, but its dressing room situation is not ideal. It's down a long flight of stairs, and there are just two big rooms, one for women and one for men. When they do large-cast shows, the number of people milling about down there can be overwhelming.

Milissa and I had discussed how much we wished there was some place a little less noisy to get ready and get prepped for the show, but I never thought to ask for one. I probably didn't want to seem too demanding. But the theatre has lots of wing space. So much so that Milissa simply asked if we couldn't construct a couple of enclosed spaces up there to be an on-stage spot for quick changes and the like, one for men and one for women.

I actually can't believe no one had thought of it before. But it turned out to be quite simple to set up two side-by-side curtained off spaces complete with makeup tables, mirrors, wardrobe racks etc. We ended up using the space not just for quick changes, but to get ready in general. The fact is that it made life better for us. It made more room for everyone downstairs. It was more practical. And during the run of the show everyone who had a quick change used it.

The only potential obstacle was that the staff did not want to leave the costumes up there unattended between performances. So, we agreed to roll our wardrobe rack to a lockable office each night. (Note: we didn't ask anyone else to do it.)

[Side Story: Now, I wanted to be a bad diva when I discovered that the costume designer's plan included my character always being in some shade of orange...which I loathe...even my wedding dress in the final scene was orange! But the fact is the costumers were pretty, fit well etc. etc...just orange, so i didn't make a fuss.]

From then on we joked about our diva-dom, but the truth is, I learned a good lesson: if you're polite; if you ask, don't demand; if you have a good reason...then requests are perfectly reasonable to make.

To this day, FMT creates those on-stage dressing rooms for the big summer shows. It makes perfect sense, but only Milissa had the confidence to simply ask!

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