Except for a clip of Windy City on YouTube I’d not seen Calamity Jane before Saturday morning and in less than an hour after watching it, we were doing vocal warm ups with resident pianist and musical director Joe Hood and staging the opening scene in true ‘am dram’ style with everything being a potential role. “We need a Calamity! We need a stagecoach! Let’s have some tumble weed over here! etc”
The basic ethos was ‘anything goes’ (we could do as much or as little as we liked) but Lucy, Jen and Hester asked us to try throwing ourselves into whatever we did with as much energy and fearlessness as possible and to not shy away from aspects of the original film that are problematic.
I was game: I came hoping to explore endurance and exaggeration and had plenty of opportunities to do so thanks to a relentless can can and song routine playing the part of Francis Fryer. We worked on scenes and techniques for the second half of Saturday and all day today before putting together a performance that was by turns accomplished and ramshackle; sophisticated yet possessing the qualities of naivety and wide-eyed optimism that you might find in a primary school nativity performance. Some of it was straight up strange.
We watched the show back and as is probably the case with every other performer I was most concerned with how my own performances read. I enjoyed watching some of what I did and was disatisfied with other bits. I think I’ve seen first hand the difference in my performance work between commitment to a role (running on to announce the arrival of a stage) and exaggeration for exaggeration’s sake (hamming up a western accent for comedic effect). Everyone’s taste is going to be different but the latter felt too sickly sweet for me in comparison to the bits when I was trying to project a more ‘bold but truthful’ interpretation of the role.
I’ve also witnessed a new way of devising a performance based on existing materials. Having seen what it can produce I’m excited to take it further in future.