A bit of a song and dance

Coming to UVa, I knew I wanted to join a drama society, preferably one with musical theatre involved, just as I had when I came to Birmingham for the first time. If I’m not going to be spending all my academic time doing theatre I’m certainly going to be spending all my spare time doing it. So in the first couple of weeks I signed up for the First Year Players (FYP), who are staging a production of ‘The Music Man’ this semester. There didn’t seem to be as many drama society options as in Birmingham; there was one doing some Shakespeare and another doing sketch comedy-type things, plus the big important proper Drama Department shows (which had been all cast and sorted out the semester before), so I thought FYP would be the best bet.

It’s called First Year Players as the cast is entirely made-up of first years, or transfer students in their first year at UVa. The artistic staff and production staff are all second years or above, and the pit (band) and techies can be any year. They put on two musicals each year. Apart from the first year thing, it seemed very similar to my society back at Birmingham, GMTG, but I have come to notice some major differences. So. Some observations about my experiences so far with FYP:

Firstly, everyone is so! Excited! All! The! Time! I suppose this is to be expected, Americans are oddly enthusiastic in general, plus theatre people tend to be conspicuously in love with pretty much everything, so combining the two together creates a happy little world of sunshine and positivity and peppiness. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an adjustment. I’ve never seen people get so excited about the prospect of building a set before. It does make me realise how much we in Britain tend to complain, and I think a bit more positivity might be beneficial. Cheering and whooping every single meeting, every single time someone introduces themselves as a first year (and there are a lot of them) does seem a little intense. But even this is becoming normal.

This is not to say GMTG people aren’t ridiculously excitable sometimes. Not by any means. But we’re still British, so there’s always at least an underlying layer of cynicism.

Secondly, the sheer number of people involved. This is how many people are involved in a typical GMTG musical:

25ish cast members, 1 director, 1 musical director, 1 choreographer, 1 producer, 1 co- or assistant producer, possibly 1 assistant MD, 1 stage manager, 4ish random crew/ASM types, 1 costume person, 15ish band members and 6ish techies. Total: 57.

This is how many people are involved in FYP’s ‘The Music Man’:

25ish cast members, 1 director, 2 assistant directors, 2 choreographers, 2 assistant choreographers, 3 vocal directors, 1 musical director, 1 producer, 2 assistant producers, 1 technical director, 2 assistant technical directors,  2 stage managers, 1 business manager, 1 assistant business manager, 2 set designers, 1 lighting designer, around 50 other techies of various job descriptions and teams (assistant carpenter, sound manager, run crew chief, hair and make-up team, etc. etc.), 7 fundraising/publicity committee members, 25ish band members. Total: 132.

Yeah. I’m in two minds about this as well, part of me feels like it’s so cool that so many people want to get involved and love doing it, and part of me feels like it’s totally unnecessary – we put on very very similar shows with less than half the amount of people! You’re not needed! But I suppose letting everyone be a part of it is a pretty good thing. It’s also evidence of what I’ve mentioned before – the willingness of UVa students to get involved, to actually do things. No way would you be able to put together a team of seven people just for fundraising and publicity for a musical back home.

But also – every performance of every FYP show sells out.

The structure of the society, with regards to committee, production staff, artistic staff, elections, show selections, and so forth is completely different, but since I can only think of a few select friends of mine who might be interested in those details, I won’t bore you all with them.

FYP, being geared at first years, is all about being friendly and welcoming and looking after the ‘firsties’. There are parties held every few weeks which are closed to everyone but FYPers and always have ‘sober staff’ on hand to look after people when needed. As a side note, seeing as first years aren’t legally allowed to drink here, on all emails alcohol is amusingly referred to as ‘ice-cream’, those who don’t drink are ‘lactose intolerant’ and those who have had a few too many have a ‘brain freeze’!

Everyone in FYP is also drafted into a small FYP family within the big FYP family. This means that all new people are called ‘Littles’ and they each have an assigned ‘Big’. A few weeks ago we had the Draft, where all new people (i.e. all the millions of first years, a couple of transfers, and me) had to get up in front of all the old FYPers and say something interesting about themselves (my accent helped me out here). Then the Bigs got to choose their Littles and began contacting them, anonymously. Their job basically seems to be to make their Little feel special and just shower them with love and affection and treats and gifts. As a Little I can say this is totally no bad thing. My Big asked me some questions over email (sent from the address nataliasbiglovesher@yahoo.com!), such as my favourite colour, snacks, candy bar, etc. plus where I lived and what my roommate’s name was. And then I came home one afternoon to find this waiting on my bed for me:

It included everything I had mentioned that I like, including Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bars (how she found those I do not know), stationery (I mentioned I couldn’t live without notebooks) and a martini glass with my name in glitter. Plus it was blue, my favourite colour.

Last week I got an email telling me to go to Arch’s (a frozen yoghurt place) on Friday at 2.30 where I would meet some other FYP people and get some free frozen yoghurt, compliments of my Big. Which I did.

This week I got an email telling me to go to the Rotunda steps tomorrow at 2, for something that wouldn’t take more than an hour and would be very worth it. I have no idea what this is going to be. But I’m excited.

For the last couple of weeks at every tech meeting there have been gifts delivered to first years: cupcakes, balloons, boxes of treats, etc. all packaged beautifully. The amount of effort put into this is really amazing.

Now the Bigs are meant to be anonymous at first, but most people revealed themselves at last week’s party, which I wasn’t at. However, my Big accidentally put her name onto the email account she set up, so I do know who she is, but it doesn’t matter. This whole set-up is freaking amazing. I simply cannot imagine anyone doing this back home, putting all that the time and effort (and presumably money!) into gifts and surprises for someone you don’t really know yet. Nobody seemed as amazed about it as I was though, this sort of thing is just part of the culture. Doing things for other people isn’t as big a deal here. I guess all the Bigs were once Littles (and family lines develop, when a Little gets a Little who then gets a Little, etc.) and want the experience to be as special as it was for them.

Now this is totally different from back home. And I love it.

Interestingly, one aspect that I have found to be just the same as with GMTG: the level of talent and experience of the cast and staff, and though I haven’t seen a full finished FYP production yet, I’m betting the quality is almost the same as well. Interesting.

We are currently in tech week for the show, meaning everything’s being built and painted, then on Sunday the proper tech and dress rehearsals start. I’m looking forward to it. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Tremendous, copious amounts of sparkly hyper sunshine-y musical theatre love,

Natalia xxx


p.s. Yeah, so I also went to hospital this week, but I’m ok now and I don’t think the adventure really warrants its own post. Although if I get desperate, who knows?  Suffice to say, I have awesome roommates who looked after me very well, and American hospitals seem very good… and I did kind of feel like I was on Grey’s Anatomy. I had a very nice resident and a rather attractive attending looking after me and everything! Anyway. This post has gone on for far too long. Over and out.

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