When we first start rehearsing in May, we have the advantage of a wall of mirrors. This helps so much to learn choreography! But once we reach the amphitheater, it’s all about numbers and spacing and timing… no mirrors anymore. The stage is lined with ascending numbers out from the center (being “0”) to each side. Besides, lyrics, correct notes, and precise choreography, we also have to be in the right place at all times. This precise placement of each moment of the show is called our “blocking.”
For example: here is my blocking “inner-dialogue” with myself for our 2014 opening number. “I start on #4 in the stage left (SL) “V-formation.” I’m behind Damon and in front of Kevin. Check your plane Misti. You have to be in line with Carolyn, across on the other side of the stage. We line up laterally in front of the coalmine door frame SL and the ‘M’ of Medora on the Depot wall, SR.” Microphone in right hand, girls slide left, then back while singing. Now the “legs of our V-formation” cross. I grapevine at a slight angle and always pass behind Gerry. I meet Kevin at #3½ on the other side, down stage. Switch mic hands. We spin on the second big beat on the word “Roo.” Still singing. Kev and I put knees up on beat 2 of the next phrase. Now sing lyrics, partners link arms as we sing and do the movements. Dance Break!
I give Kevin my mic right after we finish the phrase. (Guys wear holsters during the show for our microphones, when we don’t use them!) I stay on #3½, he slides back to 3. Toes first Misti. Toes first! Toe-heel-toe-heel, etc. to the right, then Heel-toe-heel-toe back to the left. Clap pivots around yourself. Slide back to one line with the guys; rope the lasso with everyone moving the line forward. Keep the line! Check your parallels. Don’t get ahead or behind.”
(Readers: are you still with me?) “We run to our new ‘couple-positions.’” Kev and I split 3 in the back line. Swing step with partner, across hit count ‘4’, spin in 5-6-7-8, Girls prep 1, down into splitz on 3, prep 5, legs out on 7. Guys walk over girls’ legs. Girls up and spin to guys’ left. Jump-clap-jump-clap. Girls heel-click to the left on 1-2-3, guys 4-5-6, spin back other left shoulder. Girls cross in front of their partner, partner hands them their mic, head down and up on 7-8. Connect inside hands with partner. SING! Step-touch forward-forward-back-forward, forward-back-forward-forward. Still singing, Kev and I are splitting 3½ further up stage, moving forward with a kick combination. With our final vocal line, move into “V”… I’m on #4 again, but on SR, behind Kev, in front of Chet, in line with Gerry across the stage. On second vocal hit, outside foot out, strong outer arm up. Jazz hand to shoulder and out again on final button. Pose-hold, keep mic at mouth. With change of music, move to next position.”
There! When I write it out, it seems like a lot! However, we are in hyper mode, learning all of it! We spend all of each rehearsal day, drilling details. Repetition helps our muscle memory. As we move our vocal rehearsals to the stage, Sandy points out that we kinesthetically link movement and placement with our lyrics. Just like learning anything… eventually it becomes engrained. Once learned to this level, we can add more layers of precision.
About the author:
Misti Koop is a proud North Dakota girl from Grand Forks! When she’s not staring on the stage of the Medora Musical you can find her teaching music at South Point Elementary!
This is the second blog by Misti Koop. It was written to give YOU a behind the scenes look at what goes into producing the “Greatest Show in the West!