It is Wednesday evening in the New York Building in downtown Helena. We are in a vacant commercial space transformed into the rehearsal space for Helena Theatre Company’s production of the musical comedy Spamalot.
A simple set is staged along one wall, off to the side there is a space for the actors to warm up, and there is an old lazy-boy in one corner for a little down time. Before rehearsal, the players are lacing up dancing shoes, stretching, and working on particularly difficult dance moves before starting the run-through of Act One. Their energetic chatter echoes through the building.
The actors are enthralling to watch, and I have to remind myself to seek out the individuals whom I came here to see: the music makers.
Where once there would have been a rehearsal pianist, there is now a folding table with a network of laptops and soundboards behind which sits Lenny Eckhardt, the show’s music tech and sound engineer. Beside him sits Patricia Ponich, the musical director, and in front of them, the choreographer, Sandy Rothe, does Pigeon pose on a yoga mat while watching her dancers work.
These three specialists are working with a company called Right on Cue, which created a new way for local theater troupes to produce musicals: software called Show Ready.
This software enables them to edit the music during the rehearsal process. Rothe can change the tempo of the songs to suit her choreography, Ponich can work with the key to complement the specific ranges of her singers and ensemble, and Eckhardt can engineer the cues. Once these edits are made, they are sent to Right on Cue, which puts them to an orchestra. The end result is a professional grade score for a local theater production.
The work does not end there, however. This is still a very hands-on approach. The success of this software is in its application. Eckhardt is responsible for manually triggering over 100 cues during the show. This is not a matter of pressing play and letting the score run its course. If Eckhardt’s cues are off, he could throw off the production. When asked his opinion about the software, he said, “It gives us an opportunity to constantly work and change.”
According to Eckhardt, this is the first time this software has ever been used for Spamalot.
Ponichhas worked on the music for over fifty productions and says working with this software is “definitely different than using a rehearsal pianist and orchestra” and she is anxious to see what the end result yields.
Rotheaffirms this program as a really good way for lower budget productions to go, particularly because each actor can upload the music and rehearse at home with the actual music from the show.
At the end of their first run-through of the night, Spamalot director John Rausch enthusiastically says “Pandemonium Reigns!” and incites everyone to run through it again. I take my leave more appreciative of the work that goes in to these productions, and excited to hear the polished product.
Spamalot can be seen this November 1, 2, 7-10, 14-16 at 7:30 pm. You can visit the Myrna Loy Center’s website or Box Office for tickets.