You know how game companies always get too cocky with their third console and thus have a lot of problems? (N64, PS3, XB1) Well, that was me with my third musical, Pippin. I never had any delusions of grandeur, but I’d gotten a little bit too comfortable with landing at least semi-important roles, didn’t practice enough for auditions, and thus landed an ensemble part. But after a few days of internal whining, I took it as an opportunity to grow, and had more fun with any previous part in a musical!
I’ve written six previous articles about my time in my high school’s theater department, so if you want to read about my experiences with Wonderful Town, The Cherry Orchard, Julius Caesar, Ragtime, And Then There Were None, and She Kills Monsters, then you can in the links I’ve included.
Pippin is a musical that debuted in 1972, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the same guy who wrote the songs for Wicked, and choreography by Bob Fosse, who also choreographed the musical Chicago and the film Cabaret. It follows the life of the titular Pippin, who is led along by a charming “Leading Player” through a journey of finding worth in the world. The play doesn’t so much as break the fourth wall as it completely ignores it, speaking to the audience and even the orchestra and set consistently throughout the show.
From the second I read the sides for auditions, I knew which character I wanted to be: Charlemagne. The father of Pippin, Charlemagne is an old, loud, and goofy character, three traits I believed I had perfected. But I got too cocky. I only read a Wikipedia page about the character instead of actually watching a full performance on YouTube, only practiced a little bit for auditions, and was even playing Super Mario Odyssey while waiting for the actual auditions instead of getting in any last-minute practice.
I don’t believe I’ve mentioned him before, but there was a certain actor from my theater department that was pretty similar to me, at least in the types of parts we played. We had experience with loud, comical, and generally melodramatic characters. The difference, however, was that he’d had more years of experience than me, as well as professional actors as parents that likely gave him good tips. And he worked really hard at acting as well. Simply put, if I was a B-list actor, he was an A-list actor, and that’s not a good position to be in when there’s only one major character like that in a musical. The one thing that I was counting on was singing, as while I certainly had my issues with it, he didn’t have any experience with singing until last year. We were both called back for the part, and it was clear that it was going between us, since the third one called back was clearly the best fit for Pippin. But my lack of practice meant that my acting was much less deliberate than his, and he generated a lot more laughs. We went back out, and only he was called back to sing again. It must have gone well enough, because he ended up with the part.
If there’s one thing I can pride myself with that event, however, it’s that I never complained. He’d definitely prepared more for the part, and while I could say that I might have been a better pick, I clearly didn’t display that I was willing to put in the work for the audition, so why would they pick me if I wasn’t going to do the work for the actual performance? I might have shared a bit of the salt with my parents, but otherwise, I kept it to myself. And by the end of the week, I was having too much fun with my ensemble characters to be bothered any more.
Emphasis on the “s” in “characters”. Without giving too much away, the entire ensemble followed the Leading Player and Pippin around, constantly changing the roles they were playing. But because it was all one big play within a play, the ensemble was actually a band of hyperactive lunatics, which was very fun for me to perform. Over the course of the play, I got to perform as an old professor, a baron, a Visigoth (who gets killed in war), a guy as part of a grandma’s sexy man-farm, a dude who’s just really horny for Pippin, a supporter of Pippin for King, a peasant, and overall just a creepy ensemble dude. If you’ve gone through the photos, you can hopefully tell that I was having a blast with each and every part.
One fun thing to note are my parts of the baron and peasant. In both cases, I get hanged by the Leading Player, and as the parts are meant to be played by the same actor, my final line as the peasant is “Oh, not again!” But what makes it funny is that the Leading Player is played by the same girl who I attempted to hang in And Then There Were None. As was noted many times throughout rehearsals, I “got my comeuppance.”
And while we worked incredibly hard during the first act, the male ensemble in particular had nearly an hour of downtime during the second act, with us only appearing for the finale. (But boy, when we appear, do we ever!) In Ragtime, I detailed how a bunch of us got together to play Mario Kart 7. Well, by the time we were rehearsing Pippin, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe had come out, and there was one other cast member who also had the game and a Switch! We had a really comfortable setup backstage under a staircase, with tons of blankets to sit on and room for four people to play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe together. For the cast party, the host had a Switch but didn’t have Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on it, so I just popped my Switch into the dock, paired her controllers to it, and we had a grand old time playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the big TV! It really did feel like we were living in an advertisement for the Switch.
As Pippin was the first play where I had an ensemble role since Julius Caesar, it gave me an opportunity to see how much I’d grown, as both a person and an actor. I was more focused, much more confident interacting with girls, better at singing and dancing, and overall more comfortable around other people. Pippin was my last play with a lot of people, especially the guys, and so many of the people I was shy around in Wonderful Town from my sophomore year were now my best friends in my senior year. I’m actually glad that I got an ensemble role. Yes, it took my ego down a bit, which was a good thing, but it also reminded me how far I had come, and how grateful I was to everyone for making theater such an incredibly fantastic experience.
Sorry these theater articles always seem to be so long, but so much happened in each one! I’ll be back soon for the final installment of this series!