A couple of weeks ago, we gathered our Helen kids and our glorious cellist/singer, Clarice, together for a DIY recording session at Pearl Studios. With a handheld digital recorder in a mic stand, Robby at the piano, and me filling in for our (sorely missed) adult actresses, we went through almost the entire score, song by song.
To be honest, it was really hard for me. I was still in my “recovery” period—that two-month time span when I was filled with a great deal of emotion that I was still trying to make sense of. I felt like one great-big exposed nerve. So to see all these lovely people, with their hopeful faces looking up at me, and singing the songs so perfectly like the show had just closed the day before, was challenging for me.
I wanted to tell them that I knew exactly what was happening with the show. I wanted to promise them that the show would be going up again, very soon and that they would all be playing their roles again. I wanted to say that the incredibly hard work we put in and all of our efforts, had immediately materialized into something concrete.
And all I could tell them was that whatever the future held for this particular show, they would always be our “family” and that we would continue to write for them, use them to develop our work, and if we could, use them as performers in future productions of Helen on 86th St. I needed them to know that what they had given us was so enormous and beautiful and we would never forget our miraculous “original” Helen on 86th St. cast.
I am so glad that Robby had enough energy at that point (when I didn’t) to coordinate this session and that we will always have an audio recording of this special group. I can’t tell you how much I cherish it. And I’m so pleased to say that Helen will have a life beyond this production. More details will follow in the weeks to come, but suffice it to say, if I have my way, many more children will be singing the songs that you can hear our outstanding cast singing here.
Today I accompanied my Kaufman Center students to our annual Broadway field trip. As I sat among a sea of children from our camp and what seemed like hundreds of performing arts camps from across the country, I had a bittersweet moment. Here was a show (which shall remain nameless), that is being marketed as “family” entertainment, and the entire row of children behind me seemed to be a combination of confused, bored and fidgety (judging from how many times the boy behind me kicked my seat). I kept hearing one child say, “I don’t understand. Why is everyone laughing? What was funny?”
It made me think of what a missed opportunity this theatrical experience was for those kids—the future generation of theatre audiences. Here was this wonderful chance to expose hundreds of eager and enthusiastic children to the magic of live theatre—to provide that unique communal experience of song, dance, emotion and drama that has been a part of culture since ancient times, but it didn’t speak to them…and so they tuned it out. Sure, they watched when the sequins came out (for there were lots of sequins), but did they feel anything? Did they recognize their lives, their friends and family, their struggles and triumphs in this musical? Maybe at moments, but overall, no.
So when I look at this page on our website, and see kids, moms, dads, grandparents and so many others smiling away at the somewhat shabby and decrepit American Theatre of Actors after seeing one of our Helen performances, and I think about my experience today, I do feel like I made an important contribution to the theatre industry.
My favorite recording of that day, has to be the full cast rendition of "The Journey is the Destination." While this song is sung by the "mom" in the show, Victoria, we divided up the lines and sang it as a group. This song has always been very poignant to me, but hearing it sung by Clarice and the kids in the cast, just reminds me why I did what I did this past year. Enjoy! (And try and see if you can pick my solo out!)