This article was contributed by Derek Barnes with San Benito Stage Company.
"My Fair Lady" closes this weekend with shows on Friday 7/27 and Saturday 7/28 at 7pm. We hope you will attend.
This story is dedicated to the journey it takes San Benito Stage Company to put on a show for our community.
Eight weeks ago auditions were held at the Granada Theater in Hollister for a very ambitious show entitled "My Fair Lady." When a show is currently on Broadway and your small community theater organization takes it on, how do you prepare? That was the question as a director I (Derek Barnes) had to ask myself. This show which is a musical, but has a tremendous amount of dialogue posed challenges that I wanted to make sure were reflected well on stage. In addition this show would be the last big summer musical for the organization at its current location and you want to end with a tremendous effort. This included building a large set that could spin, bringing back an orchestra to play live music, and insuring the audience was engaged in the show.
So as we prepared for this show, we had to find a team of individuals that were willing to dedicate eight weeks of time to get this show ready for the stage. Three very dedicated individuals took on the responsibilities of the producers (Anne Hall, Suzanne Proctor, and Mary Chase). As producers their job was to help prepare for auditions, set show dates, market the show, print tickets, find volunteers to help with the show/tasks and create programs. These tasks that seem small are actually important to community theater because without actors, audience, and an understanding of the show, there is not a show to put on.
With producers in place next is finding the creative individuals to help establish the vision. This being my seventh show as a director for San Benito Stage Company I had to establish a vision for a show that would convey the relationship between Higgins and Eliza in more of a friendly love-hate way. This show has a lot of sexist tones, but it is also a show that is about feminism with Eliza being able to stand on her own in the end. My team really wanted to convey that. Musically, Kayla Murphy who just came off being vocal director for our children's show "The Grunch" joined the team to not only vocal direct the show, but also as our music director for our orchestra. Making this show feel like something on Broadway requires an orchestra and Kayla really wanted this feel so we chose this route. Musicals also include dance numbers and "My Fair Lady" has a few numbers that need movement and dance. Veteran choreographer for San Benito Stage Company Stephanie Hicks joined the team to design dance numbers that would fit the fun, posh, and charming themes of this show.
In order for our vision to come about we needed to find actors that could fit the characteristics of the actors they were going to portray. We also understood that you would need a strong group of ensemble players (kids to adults) that could perform various roles. We also needed to find actors that could do different British accents. So as auditions took place we looked for all of these aspects. The leads were probably the easiest to cast because we had really strong auditions. Isabelle Menez, who plays Eliza Doolittle, had a tremendous amount of vocal training at Monte Vista Christian, and had the vocal range to hit all of the notes that Eliza needed in her songs. Her charming personality as a person in real life fit the go-lucky but tough character perfectly. Robert Christopher as Henry Higgins is a veteran actor with South Valley Civic Theatre in Morgan Hill who described this role as a bucket list for him, so his preparation and understanding of Higgins has served him well onstage. Colonel Pickering played by James Swan who has been in a large amount of our shows with San Benito Stage Company as an actor, vocal director, and director is such a kind person with great comedic timing is just what Pickering needed. For the role of Mrs. Pearce we needed someone who would try and keep Higgins in check and also could convey feelings with not just her words but with her actions. Jenny Arbizu who has been involved with San Benito Stage Company for many years has played this role tremendously. Ron Firstbrook, who is making his stage debut as Eliza's father Alfred P. Doolittle, brought a blank canvas that was able to mold into this complex character. Johnny Moreno, a former Baler, was cast as the fun loving Freddy who tries to win Eliza's heart. For our supporting and ensemble roles we decided to cast a solid mixture of adults, teens, and kids so that this would truly be a family show. We have fathers and mothers who are getting to act with their daughters and sons, siblings, cousins, and lifelong friends on stage together. These actors became a family very quickly and supported the process of the show from the beginning.
The rehearsal process had actors learning dances, songs, blocking, and dialogue at a quick pace. People may think eight weeks is a good amount of time, but actors are not there every night, and with this being summer many actors were gone at different times. This time crunch forced everyone to be prepared quickly. As we got closer to the show the orchestra and our tech team arrived and we had to tweak numbers/scenes to make sure the flow of the show was possible.
So we move into heck week (the week before the show opens), where we finalize costumes, make-up, hair, and run the show over and over. We dealt with 90 degree temps, five hour plus rehearsals, and fatigue but by the end of that week we had a very strong show for the public.
Opening weekend was great, good crowds, an opening night reception, and the show improved each time they got out there. During the second weekend we received a standing ovation and had our biggest crowd of the run.
Now though we come to the end of the run. Unlike Broadway we only have eight weeks and then we have to make way for the next show (13) to begin. Our run at the Granada is coming to an end, but what "My Fair Lady" has done in the past eight weeks is shown that San Benito Stage Company can put on shows that are also on Broadway in a very professional manner, and I am extremely proud of all of the people in the cast, crew, production team who helped make this happen.
My hope in writing this story is to inspire some of you out there to think about taking part in this organization. We always need actors of any age. We need producers. We need directors. We need vocal directors. We need choreographers. We need people that may want to help backstage. Most importantly we would like new members who love the arts and want the arts to continue to flourish in San Benito County. So please checks us out at www.sanbenitostage.org and we hope that you will come see "My Fair Lady" on its closing weekend.