Saturday, August 2, 2014

Norm in The Wave: Memo From the RTC: Gypsy Update – Why Do They Do It?

Gypsy high school gals having fun before going on
Tonight is the next to last performance as the show closes with the Sunday matinee. All sold out. Monday we strike the set and start putting up Godspell.

Published Friday, August 1, 2014

Memo From the RTC: Gypsy Update – Why Do They Do It?

By Norm Scott

After a 2nd sold-out weekend, Gypsy heads into the final stretch this weekend at the Post Theatre at Fort Tilden. (See the 2-minute highlight reel – Last Sunday was the annual Carol Jasper Memorial Matinee. Proceeds went to the North Shore Animal League, the largest No Kill animal shelter on the East Coast. A trailer with animals for adoption was parked outside the theater throughout the afternoon. (Photo- Caroline the cow made an appearance during intermission with her look-alike dog.)
Caroline the cow and twin

Luisa Boyaggi as Mama Rose kept topping herself, getting standing ovations. I was in the lighting booth as the show ended and even the pros up there erupted in applause. Luisa’s performance is so strong I want to make sure we don’t lose sight of the amazing job Kim Simek does as the abused older mousy-like daughter Louise, who transforms into Gypsy Rose Lee, the most famous stripper in history. Kim’s acting and singing and dancing rises to the heights. I was often backstage as Kim raced in for costume changes, often assisted by the jack of all trades Matt Smilardi, whose joy in doing whatever he does is a tension-buster.

Being backstage during a show with a cast of 50 is a learning experience for anyone who wants to get the full theater experience. Think of it. Kids from age 7-12, teens aged 13-17, a gaggle of twenty and thirty-somethings, and all age ranges right up to late 60s-early 70s – like me. People racing in and out over a period of 3 hours – the actors also have a schedule of cues to follow for the set changes. I was challenged just to remember when I had to bring out and then remove a small table with a phone on it. I almost walked out by mistake in front of the audience. That a show this complicated goes off with barely (a noticeable hitch) is a tribute to the remarkable training and timing enforced by Director Susan Corning and Stage Manager Nora Meyers.

I love the back-stage banter from the age mix, often about movies, TV shows, music and the theater. The knowledge and interest about the theater expressed by even the teens is astounding. I often feel like a cultural alien. People were pouring over a book brought in by Frank Verderame (stage crew hand and playwright) on the show’s history. I learned a lot about the real story behind Gypsy and discussions took place about the show business mother verging on abuse.

Open an RTC program and see the list of behind the scenes volunteers who make this operation so professional. Almost every performer has a job and in essence have few or no days off. (Many in the large group of teachers in the show at least have the summer free.) Why do they all do it? “Love of the theater” is often the response. I think it is more than that. It is love of the sense of the community. That sense is almost a form of addiction. A 2nd home to many people. I was chatting with the remarkable Danielle Fisher, who has been doing backstage work with the RTC since she was a 15-year old teenager, a decade ago. Danielle is now an artist and graphic designer and now uses her professional skills at the RTC. It took her a decade to actually appear onstage – her first show was “How to Succeed…” Working with the RTC over 10 years has had a major impact on her life.

The same has been true with many of the “kids” now in their twenties who got their start as teens or even younger children and keep coming back for more. This is due to the wonderful Young People’s Theatre Workshops run by the RTC, which begins on Sept. 13 (in sections – ages 6-11 and 12-17) run by Peggy Page. Frank Caiati and Susan Corning will be handing the acting end, with Richard Louis-Pierre and Jodee Timpone as musical directors. Gabrielle Mangano will be teaching dance. All offering professional level instruction, but most of all, bringing the sense of community to a new generation, many of whom we will be seeing on stage for the next decade.

After last Sunday’s show, Suzanne Riggs, who does everything and anything necessary at the RTC, invited the cast to her beautiful home for a pool party. When I went home about 10PM, a good chunk of the cast were frolicking in the pool, including John Panepinto and Matt Smilardi, the front and back end of Caroline the cow, unfortunately, not in costume.

(There may still be a few tickets available for the Friday night and Sunday matinee performances.)

Norm blogs on education and other issues at, often while wearing a cow costume.

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