Friday, April 30, 2010

The Capitol Steps - You Probably Had to Be There #1 Monster Mash

I have been a member of the Capitol Steps ( for nearly 7 years.  Even just typing that is astonishing for me.  I have never done anything that consistently (aside from breathing) for that length of time.  It truly is the best job an actor could ask for.  It is steady, well-paying work, great benefits, easy hours, fun people, fun actual work - I mean, what normal person gets to dress up in wacky costumes and make people laugh for a living?? - and always changing to keep the boredom at bay. 

The creators of the group used to all work on Capitol Hill.  For a while, all new members were required to do so, even if it was in a short-term volunteer capacity.  Then the group got too big and the demand for our particular brand of comedy got too haigh and they began to hire ringers like me and my husband - just plain old actors.   

However far from their roots they've been forced to wander, the creators want to preserve the "we just ran down from The Hill to put on this show" vibe about the show.  We have second-hand-looking costumes and goofy wigs, computer-printout signs and "I found this in my basement"-esque props.  This is not an indictment by any means.  This was and continues to be a conscious choice, and our audiences LOVE the idea that we all piled in a van after our last staffer meeting with Senator Bigwig and Congresswoman I'Msoimportant and drove through the night to put on a little skit for the locals in Des Moines.

However, the fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants aura surrounding the Capitol Steps is no myth.  We rarely have more than a day or two to rehearse new material and we often switch roles from week to week or night to night, depending upon the cast combination...which means we are often called upon to sing a part we haven't performed in a little while.  Or a long while. 

Or ever.

This brings me to my first story.  This happened sometime late in 2008 - sometime after Halloween and before Christmas I would guess, because we were doing a MONSTER MASH parody about the financial meltdown.  It was after the big election year rush of shows and things had been winding down.  I was in a cast with a number of people I hadn't seen or talked to since perhaps June of that year.  There were two women on the cast (as there usually are) - me and TS.  TS and I sing all the roles in the show, so when we are on a show together, we have to carefully look at the running order to make sure we know which ones we were supposed to be singing.  No auto-pilot here!   

Monster Mash was a song that featured Henry Paulson, George W. Bush, Nancy Pelosi and an announcer who was invariably play by the woman who wasn't playing Pelosi.  I was listed as the announcer.  I had learned the Pelosi part, but had never been called upon to sing it.  I just assumed TS had done it a number of times, because it wasn't flagged as something we needed to rehearse before the show.  From the backstage mic, I introduced Paulson - big laugh from the audience (he was dressed as Frankenstein); I introduced Bush (big laugh - dressed as Igor); I introduced Pelosi (dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein, wig and all).  Nothing.  Silence.  I thought, "Huh, weird!  They usually love her", but thought nothing more of it. 
Still silence.  The piano player is vamping.  No one is singing onstage.  Now it is weird.

I go backstage and see that TS (who is supposed to be onstage that very moment) is sitting backstage, not dressed in costume, chatting with the roadie.  I quickly check the running order - I am not crazy, she IS supposed to be onstage.

Me: TS!!!  You're PELOSI!  They're waiting for you!!

TS: No I'm not.

Me: Uh, yes you are!  Look at the running order.  If I am the announcer, who do you suppose it left to play Pelosi??

TS: I've never done it.

Oops.  Onstage, I hear my hubby Kevin (who is playing W that night) and MD singing the first verse and chorus and hoping TS will show up.  The verse and chorus end - Pelosi is supposed to sing now.  Kevin ad libs (he is really good at this).  TS still doesn't show.  The audience is...I'll be kind and say "perplexed".  I shove the wig on her head, hand her the lyrics I have printed out and drag her backstage.

Me: Just read the lyrics!  You don't even have to sing a tune!

TS sort of digs her heels in.  I literally push her out onstage.  She stands there. 

Kevin: Finally!  There's crazy little bitch!

Audience: (...)

MD: fhsdhfdsfjd fdjkdl jsfdk Monster Crash jkdsjfd.  (He's not good at ad libbing...)

The rest of the song is a fits and starts.  TS read the lyrics...badly...mispronouncing various words and stumbling over every line.  Kevin is laughing the entire time.  MD is trying his damnedest to regain his usual aplomb, to no avail.  The song ends with:

Kevin: (to Audience) You're probably more confused than we are!

Audience: (Laughter - FINALLY).

I was backstage with the roadie weeping with laughter.  I supposed I could have donned the wig and taken one for the team when I realized TS had no intention of going onstage.

But it was more fun to just stand backstage and laugh.  These are the moments I live for.

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