This weekend marks the closing of my latest theatrical project – starring as Louise in Steve Martin’s adaptation of “The Underpants” as presented by the Microsoft Theatre Troupe.
Long ago but not so far away, I was a sophomore in college who had just flown across the country for the VERY FIRST time (and survived a connecting flight from Detroit sitting next to a honest-to-God treehugger – a stereotypical Northwesterner seemingly planted there to cement my preconceived notions.)
Said trip was to interview for an internship at Microsoft. The internship interview loop itself was ill fated – they had somehow classified me incorrectly and had me interviewing for a developer role on Office tools, which was so not a match it wasn’t even funny. But there turned out to be a theme that day.
During one of the interviews, my interviewer indicated my resume, which included some references to my extracurricular acting as a leadership and speaking credential. “Why computer science?” he asked, with a grin on his face that seemed to indicate he felt he had magically solved all my problems for me. I resisted the urge to say, “You’re RIGHT! Of COURSE! Why would I bother with CS at Carnegie Mellon or a job at Microsoft? I’m going to run away and become an actress!” (which would have been followed by me running out of the office dramatically.) Sigh. You can fly across the country and people think you’re not serious about a job?
At the end of the day, when speaking with a recruiter and getting the final sell (which is strange, since I didn’t end up getting a job offer), I remember she also noticed the theatre reference at the bottom of my resume. “You know, Microsoft has its own theatre troupe! It’s been around since 1995!”
Somehow that got filed into my subconscious. 8 years later, shortly after joining Microsoft as a full time employee, I sought out that mysterious troupe and added myself to their email list. Just a month or so later, auditions were announced for the next show – All in the Timing, a series of one acts – and the rest is history. My other experiences merit blog posts of their own, perhaps, someday, but for now I’ll just mention the other two roles (Cinderella in Into the Woods and Nadine in the Wild Party.)
The Microsoft Theater Troupe
The troupe, or MSTT as we call it, has indeed been around for over 15 years now. We are granted perpetual permission to construct a full-size stage/set (semi-permanent) twice a year, for a few months each time, in Café 31. When we’re in performance, we install a set of risers and chairs each night to transform the space into a theatre that can seat anywhere from 50 – 100+ depending on the configuration. The grant of space is very generous, but because the space has glass walls, we can only do 2 shows a year (late fall and early spring). The rest of the year, the sun sets too late for a reasonable start time. (Daylight Savings Time, I’m looking at you. Disdainfully.)
I’m not entirely sure how it started, but at some point Microsoft officially sponsored MSTT. We’re volunteer cast and crew, but our production costs otherwise are covered. They provide us a budget, and then all ticket proceeds go directly to a charity of our choice. We’ve raised tons of money over the years for a variety of causes. It’s a great chance to meet others in the company, to do shows that community theatres can’t always afford to produce, and you really can’t beat the three-block commute. Outsiders are welcome to participate, too – the only requirement is that the director or producer be a full-time employee.
Behind the Underpants
ANYWAY. Here we are. My fourth Microsoft Theatre Troupe show, and my biggest role yet for the troupe. I’d seen “The Underpants” done once before locally, but it was long before I had returned to scripted theatre and I never thought I’d get to play characters like Louise or Cinderella at that time. It’s a really fun, lighthearted show that revolves around my character, a young German housefrau, and an incident where her panties fall down under her skirts while in public.
It’s a comfortable cast, since I’ve worked with all but one of the actors in prior MSTT shows. The other woman in the show who plays Gertrude, my character’s best friend and neighbor, is actually one of my own best friends and lives closer to me than any other friend I have in the area. Irony! Our stage manager for most of the rehearsal period was a tiny puppy named Nellie. She wasn’t terribly good at taking blocking notes, but she sure kept the cast and director in a good mood.
There are sometimes occupational hazards involved when performing at your workplace. As Nadine in the Wild Party, my character was involved in some… scandalous behavior, and was assaulted onstage. That’s a fun conversation with your boss.
Boss: “My wife and I are planning on coming to see The Wild Party this weekend!”
Me: “…Or you could… NOT come…”
In the case of this show, the occupational hazards are apparently twofold: kissing someone from a team my boss works with, and repeatedly flashing the audience (while wearing bloomers, so it’s not as bad as it sounds at first take.) At the very least, it makes a great conversation starter. And the bright blue posters with ladies’ underwear on them – up in every building on campus – do make me giggle.
As far as the craft is concerned, it’s a relief to return to scripted comedy. Improv ruins one’s confidence in one’s own ability if there isn’t frequent reaction from the audience. September Skies was excruciating for me at first, since the dramatic nature of the material meant a rapt, silent audience. ARE THEY EVEN THERE?!?
And I’ve been happy with how the show has settled into my brain. The roles I’ve done over the past 12 months have been progressively bigger lead roles, and over time I guess I learned how to store all of those lines somewhere. All I need to remember offhand are my first three lines: “No one even noticed”, “No one saw anything”, and “It was nothing”. Those were close enough to each other to confuse me at first. But once I get those out properly, I can let the flow of the show wash over me, let Louise take over and react as she will to the situation unfolding around her.
…The one exception has been the line, “Oh my God, the wieners!” which for some reason kept blanking out in my brain. You’d think that’d be a memorable line. But I eventually burned it into my mind.
For “The Underpants”, each audience has been a unique snowflake, laughing at different things every night. But me partially disrobing central stage always seems to get a reaction… Incidentally, last week I almost disrobed accidentally. When being seduced by one of my suitors, he pushed me so far back onto the table that my skirt came undone. Luckily, I heard the snap, and when he left the stage I was able to refasten it and make the situation seem somewhat intentional.
It amuses me that my character does many more chores than I ever tend to do in real life. I got very weary of taking the dishes out and packing them away after every rehearsal, so I’m glad they have a permanent home in my “kitchen” now.
The Show Goes On
Our third of four weekends last week was challenging. My costar lost his voice, one of my suitors almost sprained his ankle and was entirely exhausted from overwork, our Klinglehoff was having pain issues and our Gertrude cut her hand badly in the kitchen and had to keep it elevated for two performances. Yet we rose above – the show must, and does, go on – and I don’t think it affected the quality of the performances.
As always, it’s sad to see a show go. This one has been a welcome escape from work shakeups, physical ills, and the like. But getting my weekends back means more time with my partner, and a return to travel and improv. For four weeks, anyway, and then “Where No Man Has Gone Before” rehearsals start up again.
If you’re local to the Seattle/Eastside area, please consider joining us for our closing weekend of shows. Tonight (Thursday), Friday, and Saturday at 8PM on the Microsoft campus in Cafeteria 31. Open to the public, tickets only $15 (with all the soda/tea/milk/juice you can drink, and free parking!) with all proceeds going to charity. If you’d like to join us, email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation, and check out the MSTT website for address and directions.
After all, this is probably your last and only chance to see me baring my bloomers… at WORK! 😉
PS – If you come see the show, see if you can notice where the director deployed smell-o-vision to enhance the onstage action. 🙂 It means snacky bits for me backstage later on in the show.