Busy doesn't even begin to describe the local theatre careers of Reese and Helmers. In addition to intensive rehearsals heading into the Tick, Tick,... BOOM! premiere on Friday, they're both involved in the upcoming production of Young Frankenstein at the DM Playhouse (Charlie in the lead role of Dr. Frankenstein, Megan in the ensemble). Plus, they are both coaches for the Iowa High School speech teams for Valley High School (which just made it to State level, which means performances for all the Valley groups during a Saturday afternoon and a Tick, Tick,...BOOM! show that evening.) And there's still more going on.
Ready, Set, Schedule
Charlie and Megan both have regular jobs as well (Charlie at Wells Fargo, Megan with the Des Moines Symphony), so they both have stories about how they try to fit everything in.
"With working on 2 shows at once, I hardly ever have a free day," says Charlie. "Rehearsals are 7 days a week and usually means I drive straight there after work during the week, so we may not have dinner until late at night. Since TTB is an immersive show (meaning we perform in and amongst the audience), we like to rehearse in Noce when the space is available (which usually ends up being Saturday/Sunday during the day). "
Megan has it pretty well figured out... we hope.
"This is especially challenging for the cast - sometimes they'll learn blocking and choreography for 3-4 songs in one marathon rehearsal, and then go a full week without touching the show again! However, the strange rehearsal schedule is worth it - it's simply invaluable for an immersive production to actually rehearse in our performance space."
"My Google calendar is basically packed between 8am and 10pm every day. In addition to TTB and Young Frankenstein, I coach three IHSSA musical theatre groups at Valley High School (which is why we only rehearse until 1 on Sundays with TTB - I've been running over to Valley afterward for another nine hours of rehearsal). I also teach 4-5 hours of dance every week, and I'm choreographing 42nd Street at Roosevelt and Shrek - The Musical at North High School this spring, in addition to directing another production. I'm pretty used to packing for the day when I leave at 8am, and getting home just in time to eat dinner at 11pm."
"The only reason this crazy schedule works for me is that I genuinely love what I'm doing. Creating something and seeing it come to life in front of you is amazing. Free time is amazing too, I hear. I might check it out sometime...."
Of course, Tick, Tick,... BOOM! is the immediate priority. Like Murder Ballad at Noce last year (which Megan also directed), TTB will be presented as an immersive show, a style that really excites her creative self.
"What I find most interesting right now are productions that are testing the traditional boundaries of theatre. Immersive productions are still relatively new to Des Moines, but they're catching on in a big way in larger cities - most recently on Broadway with 'Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.'"
"Immersive staging can be a tricky thing. Because the action takes place in and around the audience, the 'set' changes as people shift or move their chairs. The actors can never relax or drop character because they're surrounded on all sides. And of course, we have to consider how the movement and staging looks from every possible sightline."
"When a character experiences something, you are right there with them in the middle of the story. Being so close to the actors gives you a feeling of immediacy - it's like every single person has a front row seat."
Running Out of Time
That immediacy is at the heart of the storyline of Tick, Tick,...BOOM! Charlie talks about where the show came from, and how it relates to his own career.
"The interesting challenge with TTB is that it was originally written as a rock monologue which Jonathan (Larson) would perform in workshops up until 1993, when his focus shifted to creating Rent prior to his untimely passing in 1996. TTB was created as an adaptation after his untimely death."
"Since the script is based on multiple draft copies of his original rock monologue version of the show (which he called Boho Days), the script really gives us a view into the struggles that Jonathan experiences in trying to figure out life after 30. It hits on a lot of themes that can really resonate with adults of all ages, because the character questions whether he wants to continue pursuing his dream or if he should give it up and move on."
"It's a feeling that many artists have at a certain point: do I continue to pursue this thing I enjoy, or do I move on and put it behind me? Like many others, I continue to struggle with that feeling periodically, so this show is almost like an outlet for me to express some of my own frustrations."
Megan feels the same struggles. "Our culture tells us we're supposed to 'do what we love and the money will follow.' Many end up caught in the middle doing what they love for little money (or even without pay) while working a side job to foot the bills. This is the struggle Jon (Charlie's character) finds himself in at the start of our show. He's a 'promising young composer' turning 30, and every tick of the clock is telling him to give up and move on. At the same time, he's watching his friends trade their artistic goals for 'grown-up' ideals like financial security and starting a family."
"I think so many people can identify with the struggle Jon is going through. How long do you give yourself to reach success before you give up and go corporate? How do you know you're on the right path, or whether you're with the right person? Despite the fact that it was written nearly 30 years ago and set in 1990, it feels fresh and relevant in so many ways. I grew up with Rent, and though they share a lot of the same influences, I think that show is more a snapshot of its time. TTB, on the other hand, could easily be set in today's world."
The Music Plays On
Charlie has one extra challenge with this role, in addition to his usual singing, acting, and choreography (provided by Megan!). He specifically has to play piano and sing at one pivotal point in the show, which meant brushing up some slightly neglected skills.
"Before TTB, I really only ever took a semester of piano in college with gave me the absolute basics, and it helped with learning my singing parts at home between rehearsals for musicals. After getting cast in TTB, our wonderful music director Francine Griffith took a half hour in each rehearsal for piano time where she helped me learn proper technique. It's been an interesting challenge because I want the audience to believe I not only can play, but that I'm creating the pieces during the performances. That takes a little more work than simply playing what's on the page, and I'm really hoping our audiences can sense that."
For both Charlie and Megan, it's all about creativity, and sharing it with the audiences when showtime comes. Whether it's through direction, choreography, singing, or acting, that's what makes the ticking clock and the time spent worthwhile.
Tick, Tick,... BOOM! opens at Noce on Friday, February 17, with 5 performances over 2 weekends.