Playing to live vs. living to play

By Ande Jacobson

In December 2012, I wrote an article about the role of the pit musician in musical theatre. That article was written from a musician’s point of view and focused on the physical environment; equipment; training; mindset of performers who worked in the shadows; versatility that was required of pit musicians; and only mentioned compensation as a cursory aside. This article takes a closer look at the differences between pit musicians who live to play as opposed to those who play to live and discusses the challenges community theaters face with respect to pit musicians. Continue reading

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The ‘Shrek’ pit chronicles

By Ande Jacobson

Shrek the Musical is one of those shows that people seem to either love or hate. The story started as a book by William Steig in 1990, became a DreamWorks Animation film in 2001, and finally in December 2008 opened on Broadway as the aforementioned musical. A video of the Broadway production was later released in 2013 on DVD, Blu-ray, and as a digital download. It’s also one of those shows that keeps popping up around the country and around the world in various productions at all levels. Because it features a large cast and is very family friendly, it is a frequent favorite among youth theaters. It also continues to attract adult community theaters and even regional professional companies. Given its ubiquity, one would expect this show to be a perennial crowd favorite, and yet, within the theater community, it evokes strong reactions, both positive and negative. Continue reading

SCP’s ‘Fiddler’ 2017 Tech Week Chronicles from the pit

By Ande Jacobson

Starting at the end of this story, on opening night, this Sunnyvale Community Players production of Fiddler on the Roof received not one, but two standing ovations! Needless to say, all the hard work over the many months, and especially this final week, Tech Week, paid off. This last week was a doozy, but we not only survived, we thrived, and the show runs at the Sunnyvale Theater Thursdays – Sundays through 8 October 2017. Now on to the focus of this article, the path through our final week of rehearsals from the pit.

Tech Week, or more colloquially, Hell Week, is always an adventure in the theatre, particularly for musical theatre. Tech Week is that last week leading up to opening night when all the elements are combined, both technical and artistic, which in the case of a musical also includes the music itself. Everything that can go wrong often does, but somehow, magically, it all works by the time the last element is added – the audience. Fiddler on the Roof is a big show, and this Sunnyvale Community Players production includes a cast of 38 (with around 20 of them wearing individual mics) and a full 25-piece orchestra (with every instrument on its own mic) covering every part in the licensed orchestration. By the time we arrived at the first day of tech, the cast had been rehearsing for two months, and two sitzprobes with cast and orchestra together had been conducted.

The video below is a sample from early in the week. The pictures in the video are still shots of the stage action from scenes throughout the show, and the audio is from our recording session of the John Williams mini-symphony on the second night of tech. Note that this Williams piece was originally written for the 1971 film version of Fiddler on the Roof covering the opening credits, the Entr’acte, and the end credits. We will be performing this work in its entirety each show as intermission entertainment, featuring Eric Sun playing the iconic Isaac Stern solo violin part:

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Climbing out of the pit

Fiddler_0332By Ande Jacobson

In the fall of 2012, A Good Reed Review published a commentary entitled “The role of the pit musician in musical theatre”. The article discussed the unique role pit musicians play along with some of the challenges they face. Part of that discussion focused on some of the differences between being a pit musician versus a cast member. While I am a pit musician and musical director (normally the reason for periodic breaks from publishing theatre reviews), last fall, a different opportunity presented itself. For a change of pace, I climbed out of the pit and onto the stage as a cast member in West Valley Light Opera’s production of Fiddler on the Roof, an experience which confirmed, amplified and expanded upon much of the discussion in my previous commentary. Continue reading