Four years ago today was opening night. The four of us warmed up, ran up and down the hall at the Best Western, straightened bowties and cummerbunds, had our hair slicked down, and practiced the harmony for “Scotland the Brave” one more time… then places was called, and “at nights and on weekends, we became Forever Plaid” (that was one of my lines).
But becoming Plaids didn’t just happen because we were finally on stage.
We moved to Port Hope in the summer of 2016. I was familiar with the Players, having done summer camp as a kid because my grandparents live here. I wasn’t sure when I might have a chance to get involved in theatre again. But shortly after we moved, the audition notice for Forever Plaid went up and I knew I had to do it.
This show has been on my bucket list since I was hustled into a sold-out performance at the Grand Theatre in Kingston as the house lights were going down and got to sit on the floor of an aisle in the balcony with the ushers. I remember the music giving me goosebumps, and the energy of the performers electrifying every person in that audience.
I walked into the audition and there was Marie Anderson, who I know from other choirs. Ok, no pressure, it’s not like she has high standards or anything. And then I was introduced to the rest of the production team, who of course did their best not to appear intimidating but totally were.
There were only three of us in the audition. As luck would have it, two of us picked the same song to sing. We did some sight reading of one of the songs – “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing”, I think – and we might have done some basic choreography. I left feeling good, but also uncertain about whether the show would actually happen because it’s hard to do a four-person show with only three people!
But the Players network chugged into gear, Val and Marie rustled up more people, and I got the call that rehearsals would start in October.
October! For an April show. This is a sign of the amount of work we would have to put into getting this show ready.
We – Bradley, Jeff, Craig, and I – gathered at Marie’s house out in the country, cozy with Bengal Spice tea (now affectionately called “Tiger Tea” in my house) and baked goods from Val, and got to work.
Man, that music is hard. Jeff and I joked a lot about how we had to hold notes only a major second apart. Bradley had to belt out high Bs. Craig had to pull out basso profundo notes while still being the one who’s uncertain about this whole “coming back to life to do one more show” thing.
Just when we were starting to get comfortable with the music, Alina had to throw in dancing. Some of us were blessed with the ability to move our bodies in the way she wanted, some of us (ahem, me) were not. Alina and I had a friendly heated debate one night about whether my hips were moving in the right direction (clearly they were not, but I couldn’t figure out how to make them!).
One of the centrepieces of the show is the re-creation of the Ed Sullivan Show, but in the span of one song (“three minutes and fifty-seven seconds!”). This is a mad scene of the four of us juggling, spinning plates, blowing up balloons, cracking whips, pretending to be Topo Gigio/The Singing Nun/vikings… it’s delightful chaos. At one point Craig tried to learn to ride a unicycle. Alina and Val shouted “bow!” after every little bit because we kept forgetting to do that in our haste to get to the next thing. We ran it for weeks and weeks and weeks.
All around us, the production team worked tirelessly to make this an amazing show. Our set designer and decorators made replicas of Ed Sullivan Show ads and beautiful starry sky backdrops; our costumers custom-made plaid tuxedos and drove around all of Southern Ontario to find us matching pants; our props team and backstage crew learned in exactly what order to have things ready to hand to us and which tiny corner of the Best Western wings they could hide them in; our graphic designer made beautiful album covers.
And we had to develop our characters. The script has quite detailed notes about who the Plaids are and how they feel about being a Plaid. There is even a Code of Plaid:
A Plaid must never sacrifice the sound for a joke.
A Plaid remains humble.
A Plaid always carries a clean white handkerchief with him.
A Plaid always sure that his shoed as shined.
A Plaid doesn’t let the choreography get in the way of the music or sound.
A Plaid doesn’t ad lib.
A Plaid treats the audience with respect.
A Plaid doesn’t act rude or rowdy when wearing a “show” t-shirt in public.
A Plaid never mugs or plays for the joke or the laugh.
When in doubt, a Plaid underplays his dialogue.
A Plaid doesn’t upstage.
A Plaid adjusts his sound on mike to blend.
A Plaid must never think he is funny.
A Plaid takes care of his fellow Plaid.
We took these words to heart. For me, it was an honour and a privilege to have a chance to be a Plaid.
Finally, it was April 21, 2017. Opening night. We were ready.
We weren’t sure how the show would sell – a musical in the Best Western ballroom was a bit of a gamble.
But the ballroom was packed. The lights went down, thunder clapped, lighting flashed, our amazing band – Brad Halls, P.J. LeConte, and Tom Hall – started up, and in we came.
For 90 minutes we sang, we danced, we played piano, melodica, and ketchup bottle; we juggled, cracked whips, and spun plates; we grabbed audience members to dance with, have play the piano, or hold a broomstick with Christmas lights. It was a tribute to the amazing music of that era, and it was great.
And when those plaid jackets arrived near the end of the show and we got to put them on, we all knew that we had actually become the Plaids.
I could probably still sing you most of my notes (in fact, you may catch me singing along in the car…). I remember a few of the lines. I definitely do not remember the dance moves. But the four of us, our extended Plaid family in the production team and band, and hopefully everyone in the audience, shared something four years ago that will stay with us forever (plaid!).