A musical about salt-eating yeasts floating in the primordial soup billions of years ago? Naturally, underwater publicity photos were required. At Ray of Light we like to keep a “Why not? Let’s do it” attitude. It’s that spirit that brought us Jerry Springer the Opera, Triassic Parq and an 18′ falling wall in CARRIE the Musical.
In other words, never having done something doesn’t discourage us. Which is how we ended up in an unheated private pool on a chilly April day, armed with a waterproof camera and a wetsuit shirt (for the photographer Erik Scanlon) and a bottle of bourbon (for the very game but very cold actor Kevin Singer).
Our first ever underwater photo shoot was a definite learning experience but sadly netted us no usable images. (It turns out cold water is physically debilitating–even with your game face on and me spoon-feeding you liquor. You’re a trouper, Kevin! Literally.)
Cut to our second attempt. The waterproof camera is back. So are Kevin, Erik, artistic director/Yeast Nation director Jason Hoover and costume designer Amanda Angott. And this time, we have–drumroll please!–a heated pool, courtesy of local actor and friend of the company Lynda Divito.
This time, we managed to get the shots we needed–without giving our actor hypothermia.
The final images will be distributed to press and posted on social media.
This shoot was made possible by the entire team’s commitment to the perfect shot. And water heaters. Mostly water heaters.
Ted Zoldan is an actor in Yeast Nation (playing Chorus 3). This is Ted’s third show with Ray of Light, having appeared in the ensemble of Assassins (2011) as Rapunzel’s Prince in Into the Woods (2013).
Sometimes I think to myself that if the acting thing doesn’t work out, I will need to set up hidden cameras in various rehearsal rooms so I can pretend I’m still a part of the insanity and joy of rehearsing a show. That would be a really terrible idea, both for budgetary and ethical reasons, so thankfully I’m still performing. Being in the ensemble of a show, especially a show as ridiculous as Yeast Nation, means that you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. And as a bonus, when you’re not dancing around like a lunatic or trying desperately to stay on beat while blasting out a contrapuntal harmony, there’s a lot of time spent just watching the action, which in a show like this means a lot of time crying with laughter.
When Greg Kotis was in town for the workshop this summer, he described the show as being heavily influenced by Antigone and Macbeth. I like to describe it as “what would happen if the love child of Medea and Groucho Marx got a degree in microbiology and then wrote a musical,” but I digress. Anyway, as a member of the show’s Greek Chorus I get to be a major part of that mock-solemnity. Apart from being responsible for most of the awesome back-up harmonies that you’re going to hear (look out for us in “Love Equals Pain” – it’s a doozy), the Chorus in Yeast Nation serves as the audience’s guide through the grim, slightly off-beat world these primordial tragedians inhabit. Greg’s the master of what I like to call the “slightly awkward defining moment.” The characters in Yeast Nation are dealing with major events (the discovery of love, the end of the world) and they’re experiencing epic emotions, but they don’t quite have the language to express themselves. (Example: describing love as “a conceptual kind of magma”). The chorus seems to know a little bit more about the world, and can guide the principals on their journeys…to an extent. The show manages to be both intensely serious and phenomenally silly at the same time. From the minute I signed on, I knew this show was going to be funny, deep, and very challenging to perform. I underestimated it. This show is very deep, very challenging, and very, very funny.
Since Yeast Nation is intent on telling the stories of our past, it feels appropriate to share a little background: Like every other teenage musical theater fan in 2002, I was obsessed with Greg and Mark’s previous show, Urinetown. It was a jaw-dropping, crazy, “I-didn’t-know-you-could-do-this-in-a-musical” experience (with pee jokes). I saw it on broadway (John Cullum was out but I got to meet Ken Jennings, the original Tobias in Sweeney Todd, and totally fanboyed), and on tour (got to see acting legend Ron Holgate, totally fanboyed again) and wore out two copies of the CD. Despite not knowing Thomas Malthus from Johnny Mathis, the show made me think just as hard as it made me laugh, and if there’s a reason I’ve been paying so much attention to Calfornia’s current water shortage, it can probably be traced back to Greg and Mark’s bold, outrageous satire. Later on, I got a chance to perform in Urinetown (twice, as a matter of fact), and had as much of a blast as I expected. So when the opportunity came up to be a part of Yeast Nation, I grinned, prepared myself for some truly crazy tenor harmonies–which I, even prepared, totally underestimated..this score is like the Revenge of the high G–and jumped in head first. Part of the appeal was a chance to work directly with Greg and Mark, and believe me, that was more than invaluable. Hearing Greg go in-depth, almost line by line, to the cast was like taking a seminar on how to perform this show. But now that the workshop is over, we get to put the show on its feet and do the work we came here to do.
Yeast Nation is my third show with Ray of Light, and it feels like coming home. This is especially true because when I walk in the rehearsal room, I can see at least one person from almost every show I’ve done since moving to San Francisco. Even the tiny basement room where we rehearse was where I drove myself crazy trying to stage a Mozart opera on a shoestring budget. Whether a quirk of coincidence, or a reflection of Bay Area theatre’s tiny, incestuous casting pool (yeah, it’s the latter), just looking around the room is weirdly nostalgic, but it also means that I am working with a group of people I absolutely 100% trust to be awesome. I can’t think of a team I’d rather be on to explore this wild, bizarre beast of a show. I still don’t know quite what it is yet. I can’t wait to find out.