Rehearsals week three: Last minute changes, hardcore training, and a well earned Easter break

The cast of An Officer and a Gentleman - hardcore training
Bert LaBonte leads the cast of An Officer and a Gentleman in some hardcore training

Easter break meant our third rehearsal week was a short one, but we packed a lot in.

Each morning before rehearsals officially start we’ve got access to the Wall, our 4-metre vertical challenge, so we were in there first thing on Monday getting up those ropes, everyone clearly more competent. Thern Reynolds, our dance captain, took a great warm-up to start the day. He played The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘I Got A Feeling’ and there were deliberately lots of hips involved to get us ready for the big salsa dance at the local club in the show, lead by the Latino candidate Ramon Guiterrez, played by Josh Piterman.

So, partnered up with our respective dance partners, Andrew Hallsworth guided us through the basic steps and began structuring the overall shape of the number, with Thern and Tanya Mitford, our resident choreographer/director, giving us a few corrections and pointers too. Kate (Kendall) and I dance the number together, and while the partnering coordination is tricky and most of us were pretty knackered by the end of the day, it’s such awesome fun doing a big group dance number.

On Tuesday, while the rifle drill parade ran to the Lyric for their morning training session, I had my first session with our accent coach Waran Karl on my Oklahoma accent for Sid. Hooking into a character can hinge a lot on an accent, so it’s good to have an expert listening specifically to what I’m doing, giving feedback and helping find key elements that make it more natural and authentic.

Tuesday afternoon was on the heavier side for Kate and I – we spent some time with Simon working closely on some of our meatier Act Two scenes. I’m not going to spoil the story for anyone, other than to say that compared with Act One these scenes have quite a dramatic change of feel. It really hit me how special is was to start creating these scenes from scratch with Kate and Simon.

Media call - An Officer and a Gentleman
Some of the cast of An Officer and a Gentleman

On Wednesday we made a start on the complicated ‘Dilbert Dunker’ scene in the show. There’s a major simulating device used in naval training named the Dilbert Dunker. One at a time, candidates are buckled into a capsule that is lifted high above a pool of water and then released to plunge at high-speed into the water, imitating a plane crashing into the sea. The candidate must release the buckle, climb out of the capsule and swim to the surface to safety. We were stabbing in the dark quite a bit because in the rehearsal room we don’t have the actual technical components that are part of the set-design, but by blocking through the scene the creatives were able to see where script changes needed to happen and we essentially got our heads around the basic traffic requirements.

[pull_right]the creative team made a few Act One changes before the run – one major song completely cut, a smaller scene cut, a brand new scene added[/pull_right]

We had a publicity call on Thursday morning. We shot a series of press photos doing some military exercises – climbing the Wall, push-ups with Sergeant Foley (Bert Labonte) yelling orders, and a few rifle drills. Dean [Bryant] helped prep Kate, Ben, Amanda and me for our second full run-through of Act One before the Easter break and the creative team made a few Act One changes before the run – one major song completely cut, a smaller scene cut, a brand new scene added. Watching the run, these changes seemed to be really effective – the new scene between Ben and Amanda worked particularly well. I’m looking forward to running Act Two to get that same sense of journey.

Josh Piterman takes a break from hardcore training
Josh Piterman takes a break from hardcore training

The Good Friday holiday was a rest day for me, in preparation for singing the National Anthem at the Golden Slipper on Saturday. I barely left the couch other than being taken by Bernard Angel, the unassuming gun runner of the cast, for a smart jog around the harbour to the Opera House. A perfect day for it.

On Saturday morning, our company manager Robbert Van Der Zwaag met me bright and early to be out at Rosehill for a 9am sound-check. I wasn’t singing until Race 7 at 3:45pm, so Robbert and I were given an impressive private corporate box for the day, and since we were both admittedly useless with betting, Robbert found a great website for tips, and subsequently we had a streak of wins.

Before I knew I was standing out there in front of tens of thousands of people being introduced by Ken Sutcliffe, shaking hands with the legendary old trumpeter who plays the fanfare before each race, biting my tongue to create a bit of moisture in my increasingly dry, nervous mouth, imagining my gran and other loved-ones in the crowd, and then launching into “Australians all let us rejoice”, praying I wouldn’t slip into the version from the movie ‘Kenny’ – “Australians all let us ring Joyce”.

As it was my first public Anthem, I was glad too that I’d checked the lyrics on the Australian Government website the night beforehand, because all my life I’ve sung “With golden soil…” when it’s actually “We’ve golden soil.” I’m sure I’m not the only one, right!?

It was a sensational experience, as everyone stood respectfully and either remained silent or sang along, and gave a great applause at the end. And then the major race for the day ran, the Golden Slipper taken out by Pierro, and I won that too! An awesome day at the Sydney races rounding out a terrific third week.

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