‘When you’re extraordinary, you’ve got to do extraordinary things.’

In December of 2010, the RIC Main Stage musical “PIPPIN” was chosen to be performed at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. On Jan. 26, 2011, the entire cast, crew, and two-truck set of “PIPPIN” traveled to the festival at Fitchburg State University. There, the show was reassembled and recreated for an audience of select theatre students from all across the Northeast.

Last Wednesday at 7 p.m., while the rest of the RIC student community was enjoying a snow day, the cast and crew of the RIC Main Stage musical “PIPPIN” was in their 10th hour of production, just minutes away from a once-in-a-lifetime performance at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival at Fitchburg State University, in Fitchburg, Mass.

This is our day.

8:30 a.m.
We arrive at the Dukakis Center at Montachusett Vocational Technical School, the site of our production.

The morning is cold and blustery, but our cast excitedly begins loading our show in. We have two truckloads of rolling trunks, costume racks, beams, rods, scaffolding, and pieces of staircase to load in. The pieces are extremely heavy, sometimes requiring five cast members to lower them onto dollies and wheel them into the space.

The cast and crew build the set of 'Pippin' on the Dukakis Center stage
at Montachusett Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg, Mass.
9 a.m.
We begin to build. We have only four hours to assemble our full set, which includes an exquisite 18 ft. by 8 ft. staircase with two balconies, complete with panels that light up on the front of each its 11 steps. This technical eye candy of the show is certainly a centerpiece, and requires each minute of those four hours for safe assembly.

William Wilson, director of “PIPPIN” and of musical theatre at RIC, and Angelica Vessella, director of dance, organize the cast with an itinerary for the day’s rehearsals and events, while Christopher Abernathy, technical designer, and Alan Pickart, lighting designer, continue to work on and oversee the building process.

10 a.m.
The cast is broken into “teams” to help with tasks that need to be done. As part of the costume team, I begin to load in racks and boxes of costume pieces. We waste no time and begin steaming, stitching, and making last minute adjustments to the costumes.

1 p.m.
Lunch time! Throughout this entire process, our cast has been very dedicated to our “Pippin diet” – as we like to call it. Eating right, working out together, and getting plenty of rest. Today, the most important day of all, we are spoiled and get to indulge in an amazing catered lunch! I guess you could call it our cheat day!

The cast completes one last rehearsal before the performance.
2:45 p.m.
After four hours, the set is safely assembled and ready for use. We are only allowed two hours on the stage to use however we want. After a quick meeting with Bill and Angelica, each cast member takes a few minutes to go through our own personal transitions on the stage. Wasting no time at all, we managed to squeeze in a two-hour condensed technical rehearsal with select group numbers that need the most attention and detail.

5 p.m.
With just two hours until show time, we regroup for a cast power nap in a small, dark section of the theatre. Though conditions aren’t necessarily comfortable for sleep, after nine exhausting hours, we’ll take what we can get!

After our nap, Angelica awakens and energizes us with a mini-jazz class and warm-up. We are all cranky at this point, but we know this is essential to a successful performance. Believe it or not, after a 30-minute warm-up, incorporating yoga, pilates, and a little cardio – we are revitalized and feeling ready to go!

6 p.m.
With one hour until show time, everyone heads in their own direction preparing themselves in their own personal way. This is always an interesting time backstage. For those who need a little more time to get ready, like myself, I waste no time and hit the mirror to start applying make-up, and pinning my hair up, ready for my wig cap. For others (mostly the boys!) there is time to relax by themselves, read a book, listen to some music, and just prepare for what we are about to do.

Cast members gather at the mirror to begin the hair and
make-up process.
We can hear the orchestra warming up from our dressing room.

This is perhaps the most exciting time of all.

We chat at the mirror about our anticipation, relive the memories of our hectic day, and relax each other by sharing positive thoughts and exciting predictions of what is about to happen.

Though it may not seem so, it can be a very therapeutic and relaxing experience.

6:15 p.m.
Standing alone on the dimly lit stage and feeling the heat of the lights on my face, I think back about our day. Our entire cast, crew, and orchestra traveled together to perform in a completely new place for the first time.

This is the moment.

The feeling of contentment, pride, and readiness is so very present.

As I stand on stage waiting for the sound technicians to check my mic, I am for the first time all day –alone. I take the time to think about what is about to happen.
Performing in a brand new place is overwhelming. The excitement is obvious, but it is the feeling of uncertainty is most interesting.

Robert’s Hall at Rhode Island College has always been our home base, and now, all at once, in one night, we are exploring a new place. At RIC, we know that hundreds of family, friends, and loved ones will be filling the seats of the theatre, supporting what we have created. But here tonight, we are alone.

A few scattered family members traveled to be in Fitchburg with us, but for the most part, we will be spilling our hearts on the stage for complete strangers. And not just strangers: well informed strangers with expectations and the ability to judge. Though some of us may have experienced this before, whether it be working professionally, or in a community theatre, this is the first time we will experience it...together.

7 p.m.
Show time.

After an exhausting 11- hour day, we delivered a stunning performance to a packed house.

Berthe (Talia Triangolo) and her boys (Brendan Macera, Derek
Capobianco, Daniel Larson, Johnny Vento) belt out the last
chorus to the show-stopping number, 'No Time at All.'
From the hoots and hollers, to the roars of laughter, to literally a show-stopping performance, the response was overwhelming in the best possible way.

We gave THE performance.

9:30 p.m.
I see my director and choreographer immediately after the show. I knew we gave a stellar performance, but to see their faces in a way I have never seen them before was a firm confirmation. Pride was pouring out of them. It was a moment to remember.

After basking in the glory of a beautiful show, we quickly realize that our day is not over.

We have just an hour and a half to strike (take down) the entire set that took four hours to build. Generally speaking, “taking down” is most times easier than building; however it is going to be a challenge nonetheless.

Drained from grueling 13 hours, we (somehow) continue to receive strength, patience, and clarity…and continue working together to take our set down.
Perhaps Pippin says it best in Act II of the show – “When you’re extraordinary, you’ve got to do extraordinary things.”

12 a.m.
We are done. “PIPPIN” has left the building. The stage door is shut and we are on our way back to the hotel.

12:45 a.m.
Our cheat day continues as we indulge in another amazing catered meal. It is so late at this point, but we are famished, and together share another meal in our hotel lobby, unwinding from our crazy day.

2 a.m.
Goodnight, Fitchburg.

7:45 a.m.
Good morning, Fitchburg.

With just five hours of sleep, we are up and packing the vans to travel to the KCACTF festival at Fitchburg State University, where we will receive an adjudication of our performance.

After our response (which was positive and fulfilling in every way) the cast packs into the vans, and heads home.

After initially rehearsing and performing “PIPPIN” at RIC in April 2010, and an additional 5 months of re-rehearsing, staging, and tightening the show, we finally gave our performance at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. This is only the second time a RIC show has participated and performed in the festival, the first being over 35 years ago.

As a dedicated member of the theatre program at RIC, I am not only honored to have had the opportunity to perform at KCACTF, but more than thankful that Bill and Angelica cradled this project for over a year and a half, treating it so delicately, and with such care, that we could re-mount an entire production with grace and ease.

Though technically speaking our performance is part of a competition, the official results are secondary. Because of the unbelievable strength and dedication from our director, choreographer, and entire cast and crew…we have already won.

It was an experience we will never forget.