Next to Normal: Hidden Moments

When you’re watching a show, it is sometimes difficult to see everything that is happening on stage. The blocking or the lighting are designed to focus the audience’s eyes towards certain actors and moments. However, often there are moments happening in background, or off stage, that are just as interesting. I asked my fellow actors to share a few thoughts on their favorite “hidden moments” in Next to Normal:

Will Holly (Gabe) on Kristin Parker (Natalie): “One thing that audience members would be unaware of is how Kristin gets into character. She actually has a little Natalie ‘shrine’ set up underneath the smaller platform on stage left. This includes a photo strip of her as a kid and a ‘Natalie to do list’ with things such as get a boyfriend, find new parents, homework etc. Kristin also exists in this area right before the show starts, working on math problems in her workbook and getting ready for school.” Kristin Parker as Natalie in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Next to Normal.

Deb Lyons (Diana) on Will Holly: “Will’s laugh is one of pure joy. My dressing room is right across from his and when I hear his laugh it fills me with delight! Especially doing a show like this, there can never be too much laughter offstage! There’s a moment at the top of show when Will grabs some dry cereal to eat. Sometimes the cereal ends up in his mouth and sometimes some of it unintentionally ends up on the floor! I can’t focus on it or I’ll start to laugh. But my laughter would never sound as wonderful as Will’s!” Deb Lyons as Diana and Will Holly as Gabe in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Next to Normal.

Mo Brady (Henry) on Deb Lyons: “My character only interacts with Diana for a few moments in the entire show, but one of those moments fuels how I motivate Henry’s passionate dedication to Natalie. In ‘Superboy and the Invisible Girl,’ Diana sings to her daughter, ‘I love you, as much as I can.’ As Deb sings this lyric, she lightly touches her chin, as if she can’t believe the words that just came out of her mouth. As Henry, that simple action makes me realize how desperately Natalie needs his support and understanding, and drives his dedication to be ‘perfect for her.'” Deb Lyons as Diana and Mo Brady as Henry in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Next to Normal.

Peter James Zielinski (Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden) on Mo Brady: “My favorite thing about Mo is the sheer amount of energy he brings to the show….on stage and off. From the laser like precision of the choices he makes in his acting to that extra little hop in his step during set changes or dances. Mo is the caffeine for this cast and it would be a completely different show without him.” Mo Brady as Henry and Kristin Parker as Natalie in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Next to Normal.

Jonathan Rayson (Dan) on Peter James Zielinski: “Y’know, one thing about Peter James Zielinski that may not be immediately apparent in his performance is that he is quite the jokester. One of my favorite moments is when I support Dr. Madden as one of a team of masked surgical technicians. Throughout the scene, we pass around a clipboard, each ‘signing off’ on various parts of the medical procedure. Of course, in typical Pete style, he’s taken to scrawling little messages to us…messages like ‘I love you,’ and ‘I need a nap.’ Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m wearing a surgical mask to hide my huge grin.” Deb Lyons as Diana and Peter James Zielinski as Dr. Fine in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Next to Normal.

Kristin Parker on Jonathan Rayson: “Every time I do a scene with Jonathan it truly feels like the first time, but the moment that gets me the most is at the very end of the show when he finally tackles his grief after 20 years of pushing it down. I¹m waiting in the wings to enter for ‘Light’ during the ‘I Am the One’ reprise. I¹m supposed to becoming from a really magical prom night with Henry; therefore entering in a devastated state would make no sense. It takes every bit of my will power not to lose it watching Jonathan’s work during that song. The raw pain in his voice penetrates right into my gut and when he finally utters ‘Gabe. Gabriel…’ my heart wrenches every single time.” Jonathan Rayson as Dan and Will Holly as Gabe in Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of Next to Normal.

Next to Normal closes at Arkansas Repertory Theatre on Sunday, May 27, 2012.

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net. Follow @mo_brady on Twitter.

Next to Normal: Dance Captain

On our very first day of rehearsal, I asked to be considered for the position of Dance Captain for Next to Normal. So when our director/choreographer Nicole Capri told me she wanted me to have the position, I literally started to jump up and down. I’ve never been dance captain on a show before and was very excited to be taking on the position for the first time.

According to Actor’s Equity Association, a dance captain is “a member of the company who maintains the artistic standards of all choreography and/or musical staging in a production.”  Essentially, this means that I responsible for making sure that all of the actors are performing the choreography as it was intended to be performed.

Diana (Deb Lyons) does a dance with her psychopharmacologist Dr. Madden (Peter James Zielinski).

Even before the company arrived in Little Rock, I was interested in being dance captain for this production. I’ve always been quietly fascinated with the job. When learning choreography, my mind gravitates towards spacing, stage pictures and specificity – all responsibilities of the dance captain. I’ve worked with many wonderful dance captains, who have been part-cheerleader, part-taskmaster and part-confidante, and hoped I could follow in their amazing footsteps.

In a production with more movement, the dance captain would be responsible for making sure dancers’ times steps were crisp, or arabesques were at equal heights. But in a show with such economy of movement like Next to Normal, the dance captain’s work can be even more vital. The specific, precise choreography we perform in our show makes mistakes and inconsistencies even more apparent.

As we staged Next to Normal, I notated all the choreography as director/choreographer Nicole Capri taught my fellow actors and me.  At times, my job was to specify the choreography: asking the questions that others may not know to ask. I also worked to clean and clarify the movements, making sure that the choreography looked the same on each actor.

Diana (Deb Lyons) with her psychopharmacologist Dr. Fine (Peter James Zielinski) with Will Holly, Jonathan Rayson, Mo Brady and Kristin Parker.

Now that we’ve opened, I am responsible for maintaining the show’s staging. During performances, I watch the songs with choreography from the wings to make sure all the movements look clean and sharp. For the sections of choreography that I also perform, I usually keep an eye on the general picture, just to make sure we are all moving together.

I am responsible for teaching the choreography to our understudies, in the event they will have to go on during a performance. To prepare for this, understudy rehearsals are held multiple times a week. Helmed by stage manager Steve Emerson, music director Helen Gregory and myself, we spend the rehearsals slowly working through the show, teaching choreography or clarifying moments they may have missed during the rehearsal process.

For me, working as dance captain has been an exciting addition to the regular duties of an actor. As a person who enjoys keeping multiple plates spinning, I appreciate the challenge of keeping our show looking good throughout its run. If I’ve done my job right, the staging will be so crisp and clean that audiences will hardly notice the choreography, but be thoroughly invested in the story that that choreography tells.

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net. Follow @mo_brady on Twitter.

Next to Normal: How to Make a Henry

How To Make A Henry – An Instagram Photo Blog by Mo Brady

About an hour before each performance, I wash and blow-dry my hair. Henry’s hairstyle is remarkably architectural, so using the hairdryer makes it easier to coax the hair into place once I get to the theater. As you can see, there are three distinct parts to this look: the front swoop, the middle faux-hawk, and the back spikes.

This is everything I use to get ready for the show:

 

Each actor wears two microphones, just in case there are problems with one of them during a performance. I also have laid out all of my jewelry, some makeup (lovingly liberated from the hair department of Addams Family Broadway) and my favorite: Old Spice Showtime deodorant. I like to think that its specific formula is made for the unique needs of musical theater actors like myself.

 

Once I clip and tape my microphone cables into place, I go about styling my hair. I use two products: pomade and hairspray. The pomade keeps the swoops swooping and the spikes spiking, and the hairspray makes sure that none of the structure deflates as I take my hats on and off. You can also see the guyliner I wear in this photo (as well as a little eye concealer (everyone on my Mom’s side of the family has naturally dark under eye circles, myself included).

 

Next, I put on all of my jewelry for the show. As you can see, Henry wears two necklaces and two bracelets for the entire show. Full disclosure: the bottom bracelet is actually my real life engagement bracelet! It has a leather strap and a silver bead that has “LOVE” in Sanskrit. My fiancé wears a matching one (although not onstage, of course).

 

Here is how Henry looks as he leaves the dressing room. The hair is in place and the jewelry is on. I’m wearing my Doors shirt (which I wear for most of Act I) and one of my favorite parts of Henry’s costume: the acid-washed jeans. The first time I tried on these jeans, I told  Shelly Hall (Rep costume designer) that I HAD to have them after the show closes. We’re negotiating a deal as we speak…

 

 

Once I’m dressed, I head up to the stage to check my props and costumes. From then until curtain, I usually sit in the stairwell and  read a book. As you can see, I’m currently in the middle of ABRAHAM  LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. I can’t wait for the movie to come out next month! In this photo, please notice my Old Broadway actor trick of looping my shoelaces through themselves. This way, I can’t accidentally untie my shoes by stepping on the laces (which I have done many times in my career). It’s also a great trick for the gym!

Once “Places” is called, it’s out of the stairwell and onto the stage!

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net. Follow @mo_brady on Twitter.

Next to Normal: To the Patron in Seat AA5

To the patron in Seat AA5:

Thank you for being a part of my performance each night. Without knowing it, your presence has been part of one of my favorite moments in Next to Normal. Let me explain:

During “Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling,” Kristin Parker (Natalie) and I enter on the upstage platforms, singing background vocals. From this moment until we begin our backstage concert scene, we are staged to look directly forward. And directly in front of me is a seat in the first mezzanine of the auditorium: Seat AA5. 

Allow me to share with you a brief history of me as a performer. Although I grew up acting, the experience that made me want to pursue it professionally was when I was in the ensemble of Pippin. It taught me that I love being part of a theatrical family. It taught me that I love shows with darkness about them. But most of all, it taught me that I love singing and dancing with other talented people.

For me, there is something very visceral about ensemble singing and dancing. I get a strong sense of fulfillment from creating stage pictures: matching my body to others in time to create a story. The same goes for choral singing: I love the physical feeling of singing in harmony with others. For me, there’s nothing else more exciting.

I made my Broadway debut last year in The Addams Family, performing in the ensemble and covering one of the lead roles. While I loved the thrill of performing a principal on Broadway, I felt more fulfilled when performing my ensemble track. I loved singing that big, choral music and performing that creepy, kooky choreography every night.

I’ve never dreamed of being a star; my dreams are about being part of a team of incredible performers. My bucket list of shows I want to do includes Godspell and Parade: shows with big scores, filled with thrilling ensemble music.

I share this with you to impart that my favorite moments in Next to Normal are not my solos, but the group numbers. Singing the lush harmonies in the finale “Light” fills me with a joy that no words can fully describe. I get a kick out of matching vowel sounds and dynamics with Jonathan Rayson (Dan) during “A Promise.” And I love the warm, full sound the cast creates in “Make Up Your Mind/Catch Me I’m Falling.”

During this song, as I stare at Seat AA5, I allow myself to step out of the character of Henry for a moment. Focusing on this person sitting directly in front of me, I project all of the gratitude I can towards them: gratitude that I get to sing this amazing score, gratitude that I get to make my living as an actor, gratitude towards this audience member for attending our show and being part of the performance that night.

Maybe you’ve sat in Seat AA5. Maybe you’ve noticed me staring at you during this song and smiling. Maybe you didn’t think anything of it. But I want to tell you that I noticed you, and I thank you for being a part of our show.

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net. Follow @mo_brady on Twitter.

Next to Normal: Hiking as Henry

I’m a hiker. On the very first day of Next to Normal rehearsals, we were asked to go around the table and introduce ourselves. The very first thing I could think of to say was that I love hiking (after saying my name, of course). And it’s true; I feel most like myself when I’m on a trail.

No matter where in the world I am working, I tend to seek out hiking trails. When I was working on a cruise ship in Europe, I would spend hours hiking the Cinque Terre or the hills of Corsica. In my home of New York, I will travel two hours by train to enjoy the trails of the Hudson Valley. Here, in Little Rock, when I told people that I am a hiker, they said make sure you check out Pinnacle Mountain. So that’s what I did.

On our first day off from rehearsal, some fellow cast members and I hiked the east summit of Pinnacle. I fell in love with the views of the valley and the river below. I loved the steep climb over the rocks. I loved the ease of getting to the park. So I vowed to come back. Little did I know that I would be coming back so often.

As we’ve been in previews for Next to Normal, I have continually found myself drawn back to Pinnacle. Something about the greenery reminds me of the Pacific Northwest, where Next to Normal takes place. Hiking is a physical workout that prepares my body and my breath for the stage. It’s also a mental workout that allows me time to reflect on last evening’s performance – things that went well, things that weren’t as clear for me, moments that I’d like to change or try something new.

When I hike, I appreciate the scenery, the warm sun and the crisp air. But I tend to bring my own soundtrack. As I’ve hiked this week, I’ve created a Henry-inspired soundtrack. As you see in the show, Henry is constantly on his iPhone. So as I hike, if I hear a song that reminds me of Henry, I tag it and put it into a playlist.

HENRY’S HIKMIX

  1. “Rio”  – Hey Marseilles
  2. “Paddling Out” – Miike Snow
  3. “Little Talks” – Of Monsters & Men
  4. “Little Secrets” – Passion Pit
  5. “Rome” – Phoenix
  6. “Home” – Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros

These hikes have been one of my favorite parts of working in Little Rock. If you enjoy trailblazing, I invite you to have a hike with Henry and plug these songs into your iPod. Hopefully, it will inspire you to understand Henry a little bit better. And if you have suggestions for other music that reminds you of Henry, leave a comment here. I’m always looking for more musical inspiration.

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net. Follow @mo_brady on Twitter.

Next to Normal: Wanderprobe

This week, we’ve been adding all of the technical elements into our rehearsals. Up until this week, we had been rehearsing in our own clothes, with no platforms and only minimal props and set pieces. This week, we’ve begun adding each in new pieces each day: first the set and the props, followed by the costumes, hair and lights. But my favorite day of the week, and of every tech week, was the first rehearsal we got to work with the band.

This rehearsal where the band and the actors work together for the first time is lovely referred to in musical theatre as the “wanderprobe.” You may be asking yourself, “What does wanderprobe mean?” Well, let me tell you.

To be frank, “wanderprobe” is a made up word. Its derived from the German word “sitzprobe,” which is defined by Wikipedia as a term used in opera and musical theatre to describe a seated rehearsal where the singers sing with the orchestra, focusing attention on integrating the two groups. It is often the first rehearsal where the orchestra and singers rehearse together.” A wanderprobe is where actors, the orchestra, and blocking come together for the first time. Essentially, it’s a sitzprobe with movement.

Wanderprobe day is my favorite day to be an actor. Wanderprobe is like Christmas and your birthday rolled into one, because all of the gifts are sensory. Your ears become vessels for these soul-inspiring gifts of song, presented to you one by one as you work your way through the score together for the first time.

During the first few weeks of any production, the only instrument you have in the rehearsal room is a piano and maybe a drum set. You spend the rehearsals imagining what the music will sound like with the band. But somehow, at wanderprobe, the full orchestrations always sound better than you can even imagine it.

Rehearsing to the full orchestrations (written by Michael Starobin and composer Tom Kitt) reminds me of when I fell in love with this score. The thrilling electric guitar at the top of “I’m Alive,” or the violin at the beginning of “So Anyway” that pulls at your heartstrings seem as vivid onstage as they do listening to the music at home.

But there are other parts of the orchestrations that I’ve never noticed before, and they’ve made me more aware of the subtleties of the score. The gentle guitar strumming at the top of“Hey #1”seems to reflect Henry’s tentative proposal to Natalie, and the drums that come in during “I Am The One” reprise seem as though they are leading a marching band straight through the theater.

When you’ve been rehearsing a show for weeks, it helps to have some extra inspiration. Working with the band has been just that. The energy these orchestrations bring to our rehearsals inspire us to delve deeper into the material, and make me even more excited to begin sharing the show with audiences next week.

Watch a clip of “Hey #1″ with Mo and Kristin Parker

Mo Brady is originally from Seattle and made his Broadway debut in The Addams Family. He performed in the world premiere of Catch Me If You Can at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, as well as in six additional original productions at the theater. His performances inSeven Brides For Seven Brothers and Hello, Dolly! there won him a “Best of Seattle” Award from Seattle Weekly magazine. He has worked on many developmental productions and world premieres, including Villains Tonight! with Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen for Walt Disney Entertainment, Robin Hood with Martin Charnin and Snapshots with Stephen Schwartz, both at Village Theatre in Seattle. This fall, Mo performed in workshops of two Broadway-bound musicals: The Rhythm Club, directed by Casey Nicolaw, and The Honeymooners, directed by Jerry Mitchell. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Whitman College. Read more at www.mobrady.net.