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The power of ‘Yes’ leads to Carnegie Hall

Dr. Ben Pryor, dean of the College of Innovative Learning and assistant vice provost, and UT alumnus Pete Cross rehearsed with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra at the Peristyle while projections designed by UT film major Brandon Boettler played behind them.

Dr. Ben Pryor, dean of the College of Innovative Learning and assistant vice provost, and UT alumnus Pete Cross rehearsed with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra at the Peristyle while projections designed by UT film major Brandon Boettler played behind them.

The phone rang early last August; it was Bill Connor from CAPA, the group that manages the Valentine Theatre, where the Glacity Theatre Collective performs. He said the Toledo Symphony Orchestra (TSO) needed a theater component for a piece they wanted to do in the spring; it was going to be big, but he couldn’t say much then. Would Glacity and/or UT be interested? I said, “Yes.”

That “yes” led to a lunch meeting with the president and conductor of the symphony and I learned more of the details — that the “theater component” was a play and a symphony by Tom Stoppard and André Previn called “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour,” and that it would be performed in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle and at Carnegie Hall in New York as part of a new festival. Did I think I could put a group together to do it? Again, I said, “Yes,” and went back to my office to e-mail my UT and Glacity colleague, Cornel Gabara, who was in Italy: Could I count on him to direct? Another “Yes.”

Dave DeChristopher, UT theatre instructor, and Toledo Symphony Orchestra Conductor Stefan Sanderling are seen in this rehearsal scene.

Dave DeChristopher, UT theatre instructor, and Toledo Symphony Orchestra Conductor Stefan Sanderling are seen in this rehearsal scene.

Months later, we were at the Peristyle. “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” is quite a unique piece, and the difficulties involved in staging it have caused it to be infrequently performed, even more infrequently with the full orchestration as originally composed. But it’s a privilege to do anything by playwright Tom Stoppard, and we were thrilled to work with the symphony. Assistant Professor Gabara, lighting designer and UT Visiting Assistant Professor Donald Robert Fox and I had been in weekly production meetings by conference call with Tim Lake, UT alumnus and TSO stage manager, and the other members of the symphony’s production team. The actors rehearsed daily for two weeks, but now we had just six and a half precious hours of rehearsal to integrate the actors and the musicians into one coherent piece.

The Peristyle performances went very well. Audience members, who as symphony patrons were somewhat startled to see actors talking to the musicians, interrupting the music, and running around the stage at a concert, adjusted to the oddity of the piece and responded positively.

This was the flyer listing dressing room assignments at Carnegie Hall.

This was the flyer listing dressing room assignments at Carnegie Hall.

Friday morning, the company gathered at Toledo Express Airport for the charter flight to NYC. The largest instruments — everything bigger than a cello — traveled to New York by truck, but all other instruments went through security screening along with their musicians. The cellos were called first, and other instruments followed. After wrestling the huge suitcase holding all the costumes out of my car, I was happy to turn it over to the baggage handlers.

After the flight came the bus ride to the hotel — and an evening off in the city. Load-in at Carnegie started at 8 a.m. Saturday, with a tech/run-through rehearsal scheduled for 3:30 p.m. I had my wardrobe duties to attend to — unpacking, pressing, arranging wig prep for actress Pamela Tomassetti, and other highly glamorous jobs. On our way into the hall, we saw a flyer on the bulletin board listing our dressing rooms, and we couldn’t resist taking a photo.

The floor where the dressing rooms are is lined with pictures of those who have performed or spoken there. Such illustrious company we were keeping! To see my own name taped to a dressing room door in Carnegie Hall was, as my students would say, “pretty awesome.”

The rehearsal went well. Those who were not too nervous to eat headed over for TSO’s dinner. And then it was 7:30 p.m.

The sound quality on the dressing room monitor was not good enough for us to hear exactly what was said as President Kathy Carroll and the TSO were introduced, but there was no way to miss the roar of enthusiasm when the audience was asked to “show some hometown spirit.” The musicians tuned, there was applause as conductor Stefan Sanderling walked out, a moment of silence, and then the opening notes of Shostakovich began to play. Since our piece was in the second act of the program, I stayed backstage with the actors in case there were last-minute problems. There were none; the actors went through their warm-up routines while Gabara paced. At intermission, I applied the maestro’s mime face makeup and headed out to the house to watch the show.

Cornel Gabara, UT assistant professor of theatre and Glacity Theatre Collective artistic director, posed for a photo with actor Yazan “Zack” Safadi during the flight to the Big Apple.

Cornel Gabara, UT assistant professor of theatre and Glacity Theatre Collective artistic director, posed for a photo with actor Yazan “Zack” Safadi during the flight to the Big Apple.

The acoustics at Carnegie truly are amazing. The symphony sounded fantastic, and the actors were clear and easy to understand.

As actor Zack Safadi sang his last line, “Everything will be all right,” and the last instrumental notes died away, I switched my attention to the audience reaction. A large number of audience members immediately leapt to their feet, others quickly followed, and the applause was strong and sincere. Sanderling, actors in tow, was called out for four bows; on the third bow, he brought Gabara with him, and all gestured out to the house, where composer André Previn sat. Previn waved back, smiling, pleased with the debut of his composition, 40 years after he wrote it, at Carnegie Hall.

Then it was backstage to pack up the costumes and accessories, which had to be loaded on the truck before our four-hour performance-and-strike window closed, and then on to a party at the Russian Tea Room.

There’s been a lot of positive press about the performance. In addition to the review in The Blade, excellent reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. If you weren’t there (or even if you were), you can hear the performance and an interview with Gabara on WGTE’s website, wgte.org.

And all I had to do was say, “Yes.”

Monsos is associate dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and executive director of the Glacity Theatre Collective. She designed the costumes and props for the production.