By Andy Dudas
I am involved, on occasion, with my local community theater. Richmond Civic Theatre, located in Richmond, Indiana, has been operating for nearly 80 years. Richmond is a small midwestern town whose population peaked at just below 45,000 in the 1960s and currently maintains a population of 35,000. Almost equidistant from Indianapolis, Dayton, and Cincinnati, this is the only home I’ve ever known. In 2008, I took the stage as Jud Fry in Oklahoma! at RCT and suddenly I had a new home. My life was transformed. Eleven years and 15 shows later, the stage is my home.
My life has gone through many drastic changes over this last decade, none of which is greater than the loss of both of my parents. I lost my father about a month prior to Monty Python’s Spamalot opening and eleven months later roughly three weeks before the curtain went up on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, my mother passed away. Now that I am approaching 50 and in a solid healthy relationship, I recognize how hard it had to be for my mother to live the last year of her life without her husband of 53 years. Let’s put it this way: death sucks and each day I gain a tighter grip on my own mortality. Involvement in the arts can be a wonderful way to exorcise some of the demons and disappointments life and the world can bring our way.
Sunday March 17th, we wrapped production on the Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein. A wonderfully conceived musical based on Brooks’ 1974 masterpiece film of the same name. Some are unaware of Brooks’ musical abilities as he wrote the music and lyrics for this show as well as co-writing the script. Young Frankenstein and Brooks’ films in general, were staples in my house growing up as a kid. To be cast in Gene Wilder‘s title role of Frederick Frankenstein and to have my wife Amy as the music director…I don’t believe there could be a more perfect combination of things in the universe that could bring balance to my world. To be given the privilege of bringing a character to life written and conceived by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder…that’s an Everest level of wonderful, a first human on the Moon kind of vibe, a “Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you” moment.
At least that’s how it felt to me. “What’s the big deal?” some might ask. Some people don’t understand others’ passions. My life is colored through creativity. Art arouses me. Adulting is filled with bills and trips to the doctor, grocery shopping and laundry, cleaning up dog vomit and wearing pants with an elastic waistband. Whether consuming or creating, art is like a magic snake oil that cures those grown up ills and transports you to a place where a gentle breeze of beauty and tranquility lightly blow across your face as you are lulled and calmed into a state of ethereal serenity.
All right…enough of that crap – back to the big knockers. Young Frankenstein was truly a life-altering experience for me. The love of my life, my partner in all things, the person who knows all my stories and still laughs at them because she genuinely thinks I’m funny: my brilliant wife, Amy, was in as deep as I was. As a first time music director, she was treading into unknown waters. But as with everything else in her life, when she sees something she wants…she makes it hers. She owns it. Objectivity aside, she was the best director I’ll ever have. We both share in our love of the arts. We feel one of the reasons the two of us were put on this Earth was to, in some form or another, make the arts more accessible. Be it for ourselves or our neighbors, or just to bring more art into the world. There should be more art in the world, not less, and people should have access to it.
The role of Fro-der-ick Fronk-en-steen in this musical was huge. There are larger roles with more stage time, yes, but of this 112 page script, I was onstage in way or another for 97 of them. My first entrance was on page 5 and I didn’t get a break of more than a minute or so until intermission on page 67. Act 2, by comparison was much less work, with breaks lasting for three pages twice, and four pages once. I never would have thought I could memorize so much material. There was so much to do in this show. As opening night drew nearer, the memorization became a giant monster that I was certain I would never defeat. One way or another I got there, though anyone on the crew on headset waiting for specific cue words and lines may have a differing view on how accurate my dialogue was…the show went on, as it always does. Amy was so incredibly supportive as the stress continued to build. Even with her gargantuan workload and all of her responsibilities, she was and is the foundation from which I build my life.
Onstage, the chemistry in which you dream of finding yourself happened in this show. Chloe Burton, JD Sams, Trudi Weyermann, Ryan Branagin, Hollie Caskey, and Don Mellen were a dream with which to work. These principal actors were the pillars and foundation of this show. Chloe and JD, both new to me (you never know what you’re going to get when that happens) ran this marathon with me step for step. Always pulling me forward and helping me/us find new ways to bring this monster of a show to life. I owe so much to them. Performing alongside, over, and under them was a fabulously memorable ride that made me think I may still have another roll in the hay left in these old bones after all.
As for Trudi, Ryan, Hollie, and Don, I had worked with them all before and was again awed by each of their dedication and talents. They were always there to save my neck. The ensemble, over twenty strong in this production, is where a show can be made or lost. Our ensemble was the cohesive singular unit of which a director must dream. Always ready. Always reliable. Always supportive. Whether they were tap dancing their brains out, rushing through one of probably ten costume changes, or dragging me to the gallows…I’ve never seen an ensemble so genuinely welcoming of one and other. This cast, from top to bottom was the greatest collection of wonderfully friendly people with which I have ever worked. The new friendships formed and old ones renewed are at the heart of why we participate in the arts. These are relationships that will last a lifetime and I look forward to again working with as many of them as I can.
The level of work and stress that goes into a show this size, from an amateur’s perspective, is something that we simply cannot do very often, if ever again. It was the most rewarding creative process in which I have ever been involved. This will be pretty hard to top. If we never find that next show with which to dive into the deep end…that’s okay…
“We’ll always have Transylvania.”
Andy Dudas 3/25/19
Andy has interests varying from painting and singing, to photography and prop making. Pretty much anything that has a creative element. Amateur status in all endeavors, he finds art everywhere he looks. Always seeking his next inspiration.