On Corsets, Les Mis, and Life

Every show I perform in, I learn something.  Timing.  Movement.  Playing against a cast member.  Showing up.  The importance of memory work. Set work.  The importance of vocal warm ups.  The importance of being a team player.  The importance of group creativity.  Costuming. Grit. The importance of seasoned thespians.  The importance of newbies.  The importance of learning everyone's name.  The importance of doing your very best and then letting it go.  
Marius pops into a Cosette and Madame T. pic.  Cut up, who us?
The importance of not taking yourself and others too seriously. 
These near grads have that mastered!

The learning is something I really look forward to.  One more gem of knowledge to tuck away.  One more life lesson.  As usual,  I learned a great deal during our Les Mis run. It's been hard to sum up in my head, but I think I finally figured it out.

I learned Corset Couture.

I learned how to put on a corset.  I learned how tight it needed to be laced.  How to sing with it on. How to sit.  How to breath.  How to use it as a pocket of sorts.  How to admire it.  And how to take it off.   

1.  You cannot put a corset on all by yourself,  at least not the first time.

Corset Help 101
The first thing you learn in Corset Couture 101 is how to put it on.  Trust me,  even if you are well educated in the art of women's fashion, and even if you are a veteran lifelong student of 18th and 19th century literature, you are going to need some help.  

The first time I tried,  after just eyeballing it and plunging in,  I had it backwards AND upside down.

Veteran thespian and general treasure of a woman, Michelle Hobbs, got me back on track and laced me up, but I refused to let her lace me tight.  I know this shocks you all.  Too Bossy.  Yet, I am putty in the hands of a director.  So Director William Walker gently stepped in and took care of matters until someone told him to stop because I was turning blue. 

Thank you, both of you.  I could not have done it without you. 
Will and the Imp's Mom, selling tickets.  Dedicating the performance to the man who helped so man:  Ray Karrer

There are so many people who have taught me things I couldn't have learned on my own.  You are too many to name,  but I'm so grateful for you. 

Behind the scenes cast pics -- and the amazing musicians!!

2.  Corsets mold to your body.  The suffering does ease. 

Step one was accomplished,  let the corset games begin.  Will declared it perfect.  Perfect!  But horror of horrors, all the literature was true.   It was dreadfully uncomfortable.  I struggled not to pass out.  How in God's name was I to sing in this? 

Michelle and Imp sketch
Michelle laughed and had pity on me. 

"It will take a day or two, and then you will find it has molded itself to your body," she assured me.  "Start wearing it now, so you get used to it."

I absolutely did.  I'm one of those people who gets a little thrown (ok a lot thrown) by surprises. I plan things out. I want my day ordered.  I want to know my lines and I want you to know your lines. (LOL!) I just want it the way I want it.   (Hello left brain, I love you).  Except when I'm being creative. Still, as much creativity as there is in theatre, there is a Set Way It Happens, every time,  otherwise the magical spark can't happen.  Creativity is at its best when there is order and a game plan.  (I love you, too, right brain).

So I took her advice and wore the darn thing during rehearsal starting that night. 

Madame T. is telling a little secret here!  Why do they laugh?

It was absolute torture.  

Sometimes life is like that.  Torturous to take a breath, whether for good or for bad.

When Marius meets Cosette for the first time.  What a picture!
 Impossible to sing, to put one foot in front of the other.  Drudgery as you put in the behind the scenes work to achieve your goal.  I've been through that in theatre and in life,  and I have friends going through that right now.  Somehow,  we manage.  One more step, one more day, one more breath.  Keep Going.  Don't Quit.  Keep Calm and Carry On. Carry on. Carry On. 
Les Mis Junkies can name all these tough life moments.
Never Quit.

I have been taught this over and over and over.  For example,  I learned it in law school, where everyone is a little more than Anxious because you get one chance, one test per class for your grade, and the rest of your life depends on those grades. (Or so you think).

The students -- Do You Hear the People Sing?
 My torts prof  kept telling us that he would give us the secret.  The great big key.  His class was well attended as we awaited enlightenment.  When it finally came, it changed my life:

"This is a marathon. Many will start.  Few will stay the course.  All you have to do is Finish the Race."

Most of my class sighed in exasperation.  This was not what they had been waiting for with such high anticipation.  But it resonated with me. The second daughter.  The August baby in a September World.  Always trying to keep up.  I've never been one to start well.  I have to take my time,  think, plan, get my feet wet.  I'm never the most talented, never the sure thing.  But I've got something else.  

My Eponines and Young Cosette, Gritty!
I've got Grit.  And that goes a long way, Baby. 

 So I put the corset on and dealt with it during that long 4 hour rehearsal.  It wasn't fun.  It wasn't comfortable.  It made my back hurt.  It was restricting.  It was strange.   It made me want to pass out.  To bust out (Gotcha!  I meant the other bust!).  Take it off and Run Forest Run.  
The Thenardiers seriously knew how to dig in!  Shameful, but so much fun!!

Dig in Cosette and Eponine!  Love you girls!
But I did it. I stayed the course.  And guess what?  Michelle had told truth.  It got easier after several days.   The wiring molded to me and gave me just enough breathing room to get by.   It went from being an all out 15 minute fight to even put on my body to - pop snap - it is on and we are just fine Thank You Very Much.

 The everyday business of life,  the behind the scenes work, the times when we are going through the valley of the night.  These times are hard.  Much harder than singing in a binding corset.  But it will get easier.  You will get through it.  You can do it.  Don't Quit.  You've got this,  just finish it! 

Jean Valjean, Javert, The Thenardiers & All Take a Bow
3.  Corsets are the original spanx, only - dare I say it -- Better! 

Let's just admit it: every age has its beauty secrets and, dang, each age knew what they were doing!
The Les Mis style!
Now,  I'm not kidding myself and I won't lie to you.  I got through the Corset Couture 101 because I knew it was coming off in a few hours. I'm more than a bit claustrophobic and being restricted in breathing kind of scares me.   

A little before the dress up shot!
So I really did feel light headed - until I got onstage. It was surprising to realize that when I was singing it was actually easier to breathe.  That is because I learned in Corset Couture 201 that some corsets don't cover the diaphragm area.  The ones we had were made to minimize the waist and maximize the breast and hips.  Yay!  Plenty of room to work that diaphragm.  
So I learned to just breathe through the diaphragm even when not singing. I learned to love that little corset.  Gives you Perfect Posture.  You can even take a little nap while sitting in a chair and keep perfectly upright.  Actually I like them way better than spanks, which restrict diaphragm breathing and don't emphasize feminine assets. 

The interesting thing about Corset Couture 201 was that everyone in the cast loved wearing those clothes from the past.  We looked oh so handsome and beautiful in ways we never knew.  
Enjolras ties up Javert, while Valjean watches
 We learned how to tie  cravats, how to rat hair,  whether we liked beards or not.  (Yes! Yes!) 

Madam T's Ratting Shoppe !

More importantly, we learned that we enjoyed learning from each other.  This show was produced at Paris Junior College, the first musical opened up to the public in a very long time.  We all loved it.  

We all have something to offer each other.  Just because one generation thinks X and another thinks Y, doesn't mean we can't learn from each other.   We can change our perspectives by trying new things, and meeting new people. We can make each other better.

4. Corsets are made to come off. 

I now realize that whoever wrote "Blessed be the tie that binds" had a real sense of humor.   Well, actually, I've looked at his picture and now I'm not so sure he'd laugh at my joke.  But after learning corset couture, I have a new feeling about the blessedness of the tie that binds.
The Men of Les Mis!

A corset wasn't made to be worn 24 /7. Thank goodness.  Corsets do serve their purposes,  but it is just not good for anyone to live in one.  

Sweet Eponine!
We had a great Run with Les Mis.  Great cast, full of hard workers and team players and and a good deal of talent and grit.   The most dedicated of musicians.  Well cast, well directed, well managed.  Great audiences.  But all things,  both good and bad, must end.   

Our Les Mis ending was very abrupt.  We had been working together for months.  Then,  it was over, and we took our cravats and corsets off, and just walked away. Yet, we didn't leave it behind at all, instead, we were still singing it to ourselves, or listening to it, or watching it, or reading it.  

Part of the power of Les Mis is that it teaches us about death and parting.  It gives us hope for tomorrow, even when experiencing goodbye.

Cast photo -- Les Mis Memories
Yellow Ticket of Leave!

Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light 

* * *
Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade
Is there a world you long to see? 

Do you hear the people sing
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring
When tomorrow comes!

That is the final life lesson.  There is a time for everything, both good and bad. There will come a time when you have to say goodbye.  Peel off those binds and head off to your future, whatever that may be. 

Some day you will step out of all of your bindings.  You'll leave your loved ones behind.  I pray you and your's blessings when this happens.  

It's a Wrap!  Les Mis Cast

Dedicated to the memory of Paul Dearinger.  A pastor who loved sinners and outcasts, who believed in grace and forgiveness.  A man who fought the good race, while teaching us to laugh at ourselves more.  A man who believed in One Day More!


Sarah said…
Paul would love this~! I can see him taking each step, relating it to our spiritual lives, and having us in fits of laughter all the while. What a wonderful tribute.
Sydney Young said…
Thank you, Sarah. I was already writing this when Paul took a turn for the worse. I wanted to stop this post and start another one, and then I thought, No! Paul would totally enjoy this! :)

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