Thursday, December 12, 2013

Angelina Ballerina National Tour Recap Fall 2013

I know I haven't blogged in ages but thought this might be of interest and this was the best place to share my experiences :) Hope to post more soon!

I just finished my first national tour: dancing in “Angelina Ballerina, The Musical!”

My role, Serena Silvertail, is the “most famous ballet dancer in all of Mouseland.” I don’t know about famous, but I certainly was one happy mouse!
I had auditioned for Vital Theater Company’s production at least three times before I landed the part. One Wednesday afternoon this August I was sitting at Kinkos on 56th Street printing resumes for yet another audition when I saw my phone blinking. I always keep it on silent, so it was a good thing I had it out to see it going off. An unknown New York City number flashed across my background photo of Lincoln Center.


“Hi Taylor, it’s Holly calling about Angelina Ballerina. We’d like to make you an offer!”

I’m pretty sure I started laughing.

Rehearsals started only a week later, so I had already given up waiting for that phone call and arranged my life for autumn in New York. Hearing Holly’s voice was thrilling!

In the next few days I visited their theater on the Upper West Side to sign my contract and pick up my script. I received two DVDs of the show and a CD with the tracks I’d have to sing.


Ok yes, we “sing” in the ensemble at Radio City, but we aren’t mic’ed. Looked like I’d be actually singing and speaking onstage for the first time ever.

The first day of rehearsals was just to learn music. I sat amongst 7 other actors and a piano in one of the smallest studios at Ripley Grier. The musical director was asking them to sight read and create beautiful harmonies. I was shaking in my seat praying he wasn’t going to ask me to do the same!

Luckily I only sang in one number, so I got out of there early and embarrassment-free.

We had one day learning choreography, one day with the director, and then a run through. After a full day of tech (learning how to hang and fold drops, build the set, tally props…) we set off for the first leg of tour to Ohio.

That week was a trial run. We played two cities in lovely old theaters. It was our first really long drive, first hotel rooms, first of many nights getting to know each other.

The cast was 7 actors and myself, and traveling with us were a fantastic stage manager and sound guy. Their big, theatrical personalities came out immediately. It was interesting for me, as I’m always the quiet one, to figure out where I fit with this group. In other groups of friends I am frequently the leader, the planner, or the “good girl.” This group already had many of each of those. It was a process not just of finding myself but finding myself in relation to other people.

We returned to NYC for a week and a half before leaving for the full tour. In that time, I packed up my apartment, got a subletter, and coordinated substitutes for all of my many jobs and classes I teach. I have a LOT of friends to thank of helping me out during that time!

The first week of the full tour we drove and performed through New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, among others. We traveled in a white 15-passenger van and a Sprinter truck carrying the set and luggage. I cozied into my second row window seat for each travel day and found a surprising amount of ways to keep myself busy on long drives. I was writing freelance for Veteran’s Advantage (link?), making plans for my winter Europe trip, and possibly watching an episode or two of Scandal or Glee J

One thing I couldn’t stop myself from doing was checking audition listings in NYC. As a freelancer constantly searching for my next performance opportunity, it’s just habit to keep an eye on the future. That was probably the hardest adjustment for me to tour life: accepting that I was really away from my regular life and friends, and enjoying the fact that I could live in the moment with my current job performing. The contract was for two months – that’s a pretty solid fall performance plan, when I finally thought about it!

The show itself got better and better as we went on, too. We did a total of 26 performances by the end, and each was more fun and interesting. Getting into microphone, doing sound check, and saying lines became second nature for this silent bunhead who rarely speaks anyway! Haha. I became more creative in making choices in my finale dance. I found moments to relate to the other characters onstage just as our real life relationships developed.

After many of our performances we would do “Meet and Greets” with the children in the audience. Besides melting my heart with their doe-eyed looks at my tutu and crown, their enthusiasm for ballet was invigorating. Even in the smallest of towns, girls came out in their pink leotards and fluffy skirts to hug us and sign up for classes at their local studio. Part of me wanted to say, “Don’t do it! You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into! Ballet is crazy!” Haha. But the better part of me was humbled to see such an appreciation for an art form that argues its losing its audience.

There are so many great things about touring in general, but one of my favorite parts was being in so many historic, gorgeous theaters across the country. I have a thing for big stages and empty audiences. Every time we arrived at a venue and went to drop our bags in the dressing rooms I’d head out onstage to take it all in. Some had incredible chandeliers. One was built like a castle on the sides. Others had unique artwork along the aisles. And almost all were really large stages! The performances I have most of the year in NYC (aside from my time at Radio City and the Met) are on smaller stages or intimate performance spaces. How wonderful to have space to travel and look out to the back of the house!

The other highlight for me being on tour was having the opportunity to take class with several ballet companies en route. I sent emails a few days before we approached major cities to see if I might be able to take company classes. Most responded very positively and were happy to have me for a day.

The first was Alabama Ballet. I took an open class the night we got to Birmingham, which had been my first class since we left for tour over a week ago! I was SO ready to move. It was a small class, but the teacher was positive and very complimentary. The next morning I took company class with their director. I felt encouraged to see many dancers similar in type to myself.

The next classes I took were at University of Texas at Austin. My friend Roman Baca connected me with his mentor who works in the theater department there. I was so inspired touring the college campus (that’s the nerd in me. I miss school.) The two classes I took were absolutely incredible: the teacher gave corrections and combinations that made me look differently at the way I’ve been executing certain steps for so many years. It was amazing to be exposed to new approaches and ideas. The second class was on Halloween, so it was also fun to see the students dressed up as I’ve always done on that day in my training J

On our weeklong drive to shows in Iowa, I took class with Oklahoma City Ballet. Their company manager was super nice and introduced me to the director before class. By this point I had a bad cold, was tired of hotels, and hadn’t had a real class in 2 weeks. Though I wasn’t at my personal best, I took the class and really enjoyed it. Center was much more technical than what I usually like, but it was just what I needed to keep myself in shape. The company was also preparing for a Balanchine ballet in the spring, so jumps were quick like I like.

Iowa and all the middle states we passed through were not too exciting (sorry mid-westerners!). We had several one night only stops in a row, so I didn’t get to see much of the cities beyond the hotel walls and restaurants. I did get to meet a lovely Twitter follower and dancer in Iowa, who asked for my advice about dancing in New York. As we spoke between shows I realized how much I wanted to share with her and how many mistakes I’ve made and had to figure out in my nearly 9 years in the city! I felt old, haha.

After Iowa, we drove all the way back south to shows in New Mexico, which was a welcomed change.

The warm weather was much friendlier for my body (the cast made fun of me for stretching in the van by sticking my foot on the ceiling. Whatever, my hamstrings liked it J). I took class with Ballet Arizona when we made it to the Phoenix area. That was a little more intimidating – they are tall and beautiful! It was a challenging class (for everyone, I realized later, not just myself) but a few dancers were friendly and all were a joy to watch and learn from.

The most interesting class I took was with LA Dance Project. I showed up Monday morning for class but apparently the ballet master forgot there was a meeting instead of class, so I returned the next day eager to be seen. I thought it was going to be a ballet class – wrong! It was much more contemporary than classical, though we did do barre work. Many of the dancers were recent Juilliard graduates, so I enjoyed reminiscing about New York with them. It was cool to find new ways of moving in a low key environment (grande allegro was to the song, “Hot Stuff!”)

I also took a fantastic class at Dance Arts Academy in LA. My friend and LA Ballet Dancer Christopher McDaniel suggested it to me. Reid Olson gave interesting combinations with fun challenges, like a cartwheel out of a tour jete! I wrote down the entire class so I can steal some ideas when I go back to teaching, haha.

I knew Chris was going to be in class, but as I went to hug him walking into the studio I heard someone else call my name. It was my friend Laura from a decade ago at The Rock School. I totally forgot she was living in LA doing comedy now. It was a pleasant surprise to catch up with her! I had just mentioned her when I saw my roommate from that year, Lindsey, after one show in Texas. We hadn’t been in touch in since 2004 and had fun gossiping about where classmates have ended up.

The other good friend I got to spend time with in LA was former New Yorker and dance blogger Tonya Plank. We had dinner one night and then she showed me around Hollywood and Beverly Hills. She was generous enough to drive me all around that huge city and show me the sights! We, too, spent a lot of time missing New York together and recalling the golden age of dance blogging we both were part of.

I really liked LA. I’m pretty sure I was biased because we were finally in a true big city with civilization. I had friends there and ways to get around independently, unlike the rest of our stops on tour. We also had a gorgeous hotel on the beach, so that didn’t hurt J

I paid a visit to Disneyland, too! My roommate from 11 years ago (!) at Rock’s summer intensive lives near there and knows the park like the back of her hand. Michelle was the best tour guide I could’ve asked for, and we had such a wonderful day returning to childhood. There is no better way to do Disney.

After Thanksgiving (spent by the water in a t-shirt – thanks California winter!), our tour moved to the San Francisco area. Two of my best friends from year round Rock dance up there and came to one of my last performances. Katie has visited me in New York, but I hadn’t seen Alanna in at least six years! It’s always amazing to me how the ballet world has given me such close friendships that expand around the country and remain solid after so many years. I absolutely loved seeing them and exchanging life updates.

The day we visited San Francisco itself I was able to take one more class, at Alonso King LINES Ballet. The teacher was really nice and offered advice for the other towns we were visiting. It was a dance-y class that felt great. I wanted to return another day but transportation issues kept me away.

I owe a special thank you to my stage manager and a few other castmates who drove me around to various dance studios. Not having my license was a blessing in terms of not having to share driving duties cross country, but it made it somewhat stifling to not have a way of getting around by myself. I’m so independent in New York (even if I do complain about the MTA) so having to depend on other people was an adjustment.

Besides the dancing itself, there were so many other great moments on tour. My outgoing, outrageous cast introduced me to experiences I would never have had if I were traveling alone. I ate fried food at the Texas State Fair in Dallas. I rode a mechanical bull on Halloween in Austin. I climbed a mountain in Sedona. I saw the Hoover Dam in Nevada. I spent an (mostly) free night in Las Vegas. I followed the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I enjoyed a delicious wine tasting in Sonoma. And I made some incredible friendships. If I’m lucky enough to book another tour someday and I’m in their area, I’m SURE we’ll be laughing and reminiscing about our two month adventure on the road.

I have mixed emotions about it being over. I must admit that I actually cried the night before we first headed out in October, wondering if it was a mistake to leave the city. In fact, I really needed a break and I am SO thankful for all the opportunities and experiences I’ve had. And every moment onstage is one to be grateful for.

Twelve hours after my flight landed back in New York City I started two solid weeks of Nutcracker performances, which were only booked two days before my final Angelina show. I am awed at how life works, sometimes. What a gift to do what I love, make a living from it, and share it with audiences young and old, near and far.

I will end with the closing lyrics from our show: “Whatever you dance, whatever you do, whatever you think you might want to pursue: do it with your heart.”