The Carousel cast unscripted
The Carousel Music Theater in Boothbay Harbor has been a summer stock venue since its doors opened in 1982. The Carousel cabaret format of dinner and all-original, song-filled shows written over the years by the late Dominic Garvey, longtime artistic director; Carousel owner Robb Barnard, and Mary Miller, make for a unique theater experience. Carousel performers take on many roles offstage as well, including that of wait staff and other tasks associated with running the theater.
This year, those performers are Lola Silver, Morgan Siegel, Jacob Sundlie, Tommy MacDonnell, Ashley Ryan and Matthew Llabres. With the exception of Lola and Jacob, this season’s cast was well-versed in the art of waiting tables. Still, it all seemed a bit daunting – memorizing lines and songs, serving dinner – and lunch twice a month – then donning costumes and putting on a show ...
“The anticipation of three months on my feet running drinks, serving food, getting in costume, doing a show, and finding time to be a human … it all seemed pretty crazy to me,” said Morgan, who waits tables at a fine dining restaurant in New York City. “But then you get here and you do it, and you think ‘Heeeeey, I can do this!’ Now going back to my survival job, wearing a fancy cocktail dress isn’t going to feel so scary!”
Ashley noted the Carousel experience is “… definitely a marathon. I feel like we’ve all lost a few since we’ve been here! You really have to be in good shape to do this.”
Tommy has always worked in restaurants when he wasn’t acting. “And here they’ve combined the two. The best part for me is talking to the people – serving food, and during intermission we come back into the audience and talk to the people. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of this for me. In a normal show you don’t get the feedback from the audience about how they like the show. Sometimes I get yelled at for talking too much.”
Lola, a recent grad of Wagner College’s Theatre Performance program in New York City, said it was the most nerve-wracking part of this gig: Memorizing the menu and drink specials, serving dinner and drinks and doing it all as quickly and efficiently as possible. “One night I spilled a glass of Pinot Grigio on a woman,” Lola said, shaking her head, “I felt awful. But she was so nice about it ... all of the people have been so nice.”
All six actors agreed the most challenging part of summer stock at Carousel was making the change from waiter to actor and into character … in a matter of minutes, like two or three.
“I can’t believe how fast we put a show together here,” Ashley said. “We got the script a couple days before we were supposed to get here. There are 30-plus songs in the shows and we were told to memorize our lines by the time we got here! I thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’ But it just becomes second nature.”
When it comes to this facet of the gig, Jacob said he’s very grateful for his training. “I’m always pulling something out of my bag of skills.” And that training is ongoing. Jacob is a junior at Otterbein University in Ohio.
The cast rehearses from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a one-hour break and then gets ready for dinner service. Two weeks into the first show, the cast receives the script and songs for show number two; ditto for show number three.
“It is a lot to have 30-plus songs and two shows in your head,” said Lola. “When we were doing the first show (Bandstand) I was thinking, ‘I hope I don’t sing Rogers and Hammerstein (from the second show “Away We Go”) in this one!’”
At the Carousel, an actor’s job goes beyond the stage and dinner service. Cast members also take reservations, help with publicity, fold napkins and set the tables.
“I wasn’t expecting to be part of the process,” said Matt. “Here you meet who wrote the show, you get to work with the director, and see how a theater operates. I come from a family of restaurant owners so it’s been really cool to see a restaurant attached to a theater. This experience has really helped solidify my interest in being part of a dinner theater, or owning one. At a bigger theater, like Ogunquit, you’re hired to do a show – and that’s it. This is an experience you don’t get anywhere else.”
Despite their hectic schedules, the cast still has down time to travel around Maine, take trips to New Hampshire and just breathe in the sea air.
“The best part of this opportunity is to be able to get out of the city – and that feels so good,” Matt said. “It’s a full-time job just living in (New York City). Here there are no subways where you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers. You can smell the ocean, you can breathe here.”
The final show is Sept. 30. When the season wraps up, everyone packs up and heads for …. where? Home to visit family was at the top of the what’s next list. And, all of the performers except Jacob (who has already returned to college) plan on returning to New York City after the New Year, or in Ashley’s case, even earlier.
An accomplished pianist, Ashley provides musical accompaniment for friends at auditions and for shows. But her survival job is with the New York City advertising group theaterMAMA. Ashley and other performers dress up in costumes promoting musicals on Broadway in Times Square! How cool is that?
“We’ve done ‘Chicago,’ ‘Finding Neverland,’ ‘Waitress ...’ and we get free tickets to all the shows,” said Ashley. “You meet a lot of performers – it’s not a bad survival job – even though it is grueling and once I sang and danced for nine hours in a blizzard in high heels! I need to expand my piano business, have new head shots done and audition more.”
Lola said this summer stock experience has really fired up her inner performing spark. She’s a teaching assistant and plans to “work (her) butt off” to be sure she can afford to audition 9-6 every day once she’s back in New York City.
The day before Tommy got “the call” from Carousel, he was doing call backs for “South Pacific” in Buffalo, his hometown. He is the only cast member heading right onto another show. He’s not only excited about that – he cannot wait to see his cat again.
For Morgan, it’s back to that fine dining restaurant and continuing to polish her craft by taking some classes.
The cast is now in the midst of the third and final show, “Hold Tight It’s 60’s Night!” written by Mary Miller. Performing. It’s what summer stock is all about. And at the Carousel, shows go on through the end of September rather than ending in August.
“We get more time here to do what we love – perform. And to explore, meet people, and develop connections to this place,” Lola said.
All summer audiences have been raving about this talented cast – just check out what some of them have to say on TripAdvisor – then call the Carousel, 633-5297. Let Ashley, Morgan, Tommy, Matt and Lola entertain you.
The Carousel Music Theater is located at 196 Townsend Ave. in Boothbay Harbor and online at www.carouselmusictheater.org.