Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dance captain Kristin Piro takes us inside her swing bible for how she does the incredible work of a Broadway swing.
With a brand new show like this one, a LOT of changes were made to the choreography as the show was being created. This made it imperative to have a "show bible" that I could understand and easily refer to throughout the process. Being a visual/big picture person I first learn the steps and general idea of the number. For me, knowing all of that inside and out is very helpful in the early stages of creating. Then, with the help of good ol’ technology, I use the Stage Write program to “put everyone in their place." I notate all the the spacing with key words (usually in the lyrics or some nickname we’ve given a step) to keep each chart organized. As the musical numbers become solidified or “frozen," I trail each person individually and make a track sheet with their “show." This includes numbers or marks they have to hit, where quick changes happen, props that they must remember to grab, etc.
“Must Be Believed” is my favorite number in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! It is super fun to dance and has great moments with which the ensemble can interact with Wonka. While initially learning the choreography, I write it out in a notebook. I make sure to know the reverse of the steps as well, so that while staging my brain can easily and quickly manipulate the step in the way the choreographer envisions it. Whether that be facing upstage, or to the left, or reversing it.
Then there’s the task of knowing where you’re going! This is where my Stage Write program comes in handy. I place people on the chart with a symbol with their initials on it. I then use arrows to dictate their traffic patterns. (Who crosses downstage, between, around, etc) This is extremely helpful in a pinch when you’re thrown in mid-show and have to quickly be reminded or when I’m teaching a replacement cast member the show.
Once I have the overall charting of the number done, I make specific track sheets for each cast member. Because this is a number which includes ensemble and principals, I do both. With the ensemble dancers, I will trail a person on and off stage for a couple of shows,focusing specifically on their show. I write down little key phrases, notes, and hints as to what they are responsible for.
In this number, the principals' movement and staging is a little less complicated. So for them, I notate their staging in my script where I can marry the movement with the lyrics. I've found that it is much clearer to teach this to understudies when it makes sense musically.
All of this comes together to make a "bible" for "Must Be Believed." I do this for each musical number in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This system of noting the show is one that works for me and for THIS show, but I still have to remind myself that there is no right or wrong way of making a "show bible." Although it feels like a lot of paper work in the beginning of a run, the act of writing it all out and notating the way I do ultimately helps me to have an understanding of the show from every angle. At this point of the run, I've gone on for or taught every track! It's now very rare that I look at these notes, but its comforting to know that my "show bible" is right next to me if I ever have a brain fart!