The Masked Musical – Risk-taking Does a Number with Staying Safe

Max (Eddie Voyce) meets with his financial backers in Mel Brooks’ The Producers

I was looking for a way to do something tangible in the community so I could begin to regain a sense of normalcy—something in person with other people around. When my friend Annie began pushing me to audition for a Davis Musical Theatre Company production last summer, I thought maybe this would do the trick. I could toss Zoom by the wayside for a bit. I had some selection. Under normal conditions, DMTC produces 11 musicals a year. 

As Annie poured over her phone, I drove us down highway 101 alongside the Oregon Coast. She ticked off my choices: The TitanicThe ProducersUrinetown, and Evita. She noted they were performing in masks. Indeed, masks were required for anyone in the theater. They had a vaccination requirement. She would audition if she lived in Davis. Annie pointed this out as I silently pondered her lengthy resume of musical theater productions next to the one show my theoretical resume would list: Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Yet I had been taking advantage of the COVID fiasco to strengthen my vocal technique. I started working with a new voice teacher over a year ago. Chris and I continue to chip away at myriad issues. As Annie and I shot past rolling waves, I wondered if I should give DMTC a whirl, but I fretted it might be too soon to perform publicly, given the trauma of COVID. Besides, I’d been enjoying lessons focused on pure technique in lieu of preparation for a concert. The pressure was off. I could work at getting better and develop some muscle memory. 

To make a longish story shorter, I decided to audition for The Producers. I was pleased to be cast as an ensemble member. We began rehearsals in November, before Omicron was announced. I quickly discovered my ensemble role in the show was a whole lot to organize. I was assigned nine costumes. I was asked to learn six dance numbers. I had three tiny acting parts—those were easy. We were expected to change our own sets. Of course, there was plenty of music to learn. I thought the masks would be a pain, and they sort of were. Though once I was forced to dive in, I rarely thought about my mask. 

I watched my fear rise and fall as we moved closer to our first performance. So many things could go wrong on that stage. While I did not show up without dance training, it was training that had occurred during the 80s and early 90s. I was out of shape and not completely limber. I was quite a bit heavier. The year before, I’d thrown out my knee during a long hike. I worried the problem would crop up as I rehearsed. Stress arose over tracking down a pair of character shoes with heels that wouldn’t aggravate my plantar fasciitis. I found myself trying to keep up with younger dancers—some of whom were much younger. And this didn’t begin to cover my fears over hitting a wrong note or singing off pitch—or forgetting the words. As for COVID, I trekked over to Healthy Davis Together once a week to test for COVID.

But then I thought, what else is new? The last two years had been feeling like this. So many things could go wrong. We’ve all been mucking about on this earth weighed down by a pandemic, not to mention a whole host of other problems. We do our best to deal with what comes our way. Maybe that’s how things always are. Yet pandemic life feels heightened somehow, like being on stage. 

Well, those theatrical curtains have been drawn and we now have three performances under our belts. For me, the first weekend was a quality-of-life experience. Period. On opening night, we stepped into a different dimension, and we put on a show. The audience members who braved COVID to attend responded with genuine enthusiasm. The exchange was complete. Who knows if we’ll get to finish the nine remaining performances? We don’t know.

Kari Wergeland