‘Nunsense’ highlights the importance and joy of live theatreApr 09, 2018 11:45AM ● By Travis Barton
April Kimball Thomas does a musical number in “Nunsense” with a puppet. Operating the puppet while singing was the most difficult part, she said. (Travis Barton/City Journals)
Six years. That’s how long it was between Mandy Copier’s last theatre performances.
She had a child and was doing karaoke competitions to scratch that performing itch. But when the Midvale Arts Council decided they were doing a show she loved, “Nunsense,” it was time for her return to the stage.
“I’ve missed this so much,” Copier said. “It’s been the most fun I've ever had in a show.”
Copier played Mother Reverend in the Midvale Arts Council’s production of “Nunsense.” The comedic musical is about five nuns trying to raise money for burial services after the rest die from a fellow sister’s cooking. The show ran for a week in March at the Midvale Performing Arts Center (696 W. 7720 South).
The show was chosen by the arts council because of previous success and for the large female presence. All five characters are played by women.
Director Nolan Mitchell, who has directed the play a few times, said “Nunsense” isn’t often performed even though its filled with fun humor and touching moments. The cast is made up of Mother Reverend and four nuns: Sister Mary Hubert (Aubrey Vance), Sister Robert Anne (Eva TerraNova), Sister Mary Leo (Nicole Neff) and Sister Mary Amnesia (April Kimball Thomas).
Thomas plays Sister Amnesia who was struck in the head by a crucifix and suffers constant bouts of memory loss not even remembering her real name. It was a dream role for Thomas who saw the movie version in college.
“I saw the Amnesia part and thought it was so hilarious,” Thomas said. “(Amnesia) had the best one liners. I just thought she was so funny and that's kind of like my personality anyways.”
The character’s forgetfulness infected Thomas even further during rehearsals. She would forget her script or bring the wrong dance shoes. It reached the point where she was called “Aprilesia.”
While Amnesia eventually remembers who she is, each character gets a moment to share their conversion story of how they became nuns.
“It’s telling a story,” Mitchell said of the show. “And these guys told the story beautifully in the way they danced and the songs and the humor.”
The show came with numerous challenges. First, the live music.
Typically shows with live music feature a band or orchestra in front of the stage. The conductor or musicians can then recognize visual cues by the actors. For “Nunsense” the band was at the back of the stage. The drummer was even hidden from view due to lack of space.
“That was a tricky part to add another layer on top of the show,” Thomas said.
She added that the musical accompaniment, shepherded by Anne Puzey who played the piano, would frequently request consistency from the actors’ movements since she can’t see them. Her request for “consistency” certainly stayed with Thomas.
“One night she said it over and over,” Thomas jokingly recalled. “Then I had a dream that the puppet turned into (Anne) and was chasing me around a dark alley saying ‘consistency.’”
Having the band is “kind of a lost art,” Mitchell said. With a piano, French horn, bass guitar and drums, it allows for the actor to “feel in the moment” rather than follow the recordings. He said the technology is great, “but there’s no give and take with canned music.”
“Which is what live theatre is all about,” according to Mitchell, who also plays bass guitar in the band. “In the moment to be able to go, ‘I need to slow this down because today this feels very important that I slow this down. Or I speed it up, or I make it bigger or louder,’ With canned music you can't do that.”
Another difficulty was the short rehearsal time. Actors had one month to memorize lines and songs with only one rehearsal where they could request lines. The band only had three rehearsals together.
“(The band) came together real fast and it adds a more personal and human touch to it,” Copier said.
Mitchell said that “to get this thing all accomplished in a short period of time has been pretty cool.”
Despite the challenge, Thomas felt it was the right amount of time.
“I feel like the cast was very professional, we were all on our A game and we just came and focused and worked really hard,” she said. “I don't think it needed to be a lot longer because of the talent we had.”
Thomas does a musical number with a puppet, her favorite part of the show. The ventriloquism, however, took time to master.
“That’s what I was looking forward to the most and then it was just not natural to me. It was so hard,” she said.
Choreographer Jan LeVitre decided to match the puppet’s movements to dance moves to simplify it for Thomas.
One challenge for Copier was a scene where her character takes a drug out of curiosity. The ensuing 3-5 minutes consist of a high and wacky Mother Reverend.
It was the scene that gave Copier the most anxiety about her role.
“I’ve lost sleep over that particular scene, but getting up there and hearing the laughs is what really gets me to give even more and be even sillier when doing it,” she said. One night she jumped on a diner stool to then mistake the stool under her frock as a baby bump before telling the audience, “It’s a miracle.”
It requires Copier to feel the audience, Mitchell explained. “She’s throwing things in left and right that are just funny,” but still in character,” he said.
The scene serves as a perfect example for the magic of live theatre, which Mitchell hopes will always stick around.
“It’s one of those things that can be lost and needs to be improved,” he said. “If you can spend $15 on a movie, you can spend $15 on a live production.”
The arts council’s next show will be “The Drowsy Chaperone” at 7:30 p.m. on June 8-16.