The wheels of the airplane release from underneath you, preparing to rumble and jolt on the runway of the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. You and the rest of the cast race off the plane and load onto the bus that transports you from the airport to the hotel. The cast looks forward to the luxury of a two week sit down at the Oriental Theatre. The celebration of two full weeks in one city commences with a ladies’ night including castmates Jasmin, Emily, and Arielle.
You quickly change into your dark blue, detailed jeans, black, heeled boots, and a long-sleeve black top with a triangular cut out on your chest, painting the illusion of wearing a thick black choker. You meet the other three ladies in the hotel lobby and wait for the Uber Emily ordered to take you to “Duck Duck Goat,” the restaurant her good friend works at. Emily’s friend greets you at the front of the restaurant and another new face joins the mix: Arielle’s friend from Hamilton’s Chicago cast, Chloe. Chloe brings such a lovely light and energy to the table as you all continue to share delicious dishes and conversation. Dinner turns to drinks and the laughter continues. The ladies of The Bodyguard plan to have a ladies’ night in Chicago, but Emily doesn’t know that it’s in her honor since sadly, she will be leaving the cast at the end of the two weeks. Chloe and Arielle plan to bring both the Bodyguard and Hamilton ladies together one day this week for a ladies’ night dinner, and it appears that you have something planned almost every night this week. You’ll sleep when you’re dead.
For the first time in four weeks, you break your morning ritual to sleep in after a long Monday night out. You take time for a lavender epsom salt bath before opening night; the chill of The Windy City can cause extra stress on your joints and muscles, so you take extra precaution healing your body. Castmates are already fighting colds with the seasonal change, and you have yet to call out of a performance. You take a trip to Trader Joe’s to buy apple cider vinegar and other remedies that prevent illness from infecting you, knowing that you will have more late nights out than usual.
After an easy-going afternoon, you walk to the theater with Jorge, Alejandra, and Lauren. You complete your pre-show tasks and change into your costume for “Queen of the Night.” You walk to your opening position and as you hit your number, the theater rumbles and the drums cue the lights. As Deborah proudly belts the lyrics, “I ain’t nobody’s angel…” the boys lay flat on the ground with the ensemble women walking over them. You always lock eyes with an audience member in this moment to help you concentrate on your foot pattern so that you don’t step on one of the guys. Tonight, your eyes shockingly meet a familiar gaze.
I really think it’s Ryan, but it can’t be. What would he be doing in Chicago?
You recognize the face of someone you happened to go on a few dates with in NYC. You don’t let this throw you mid dance number, but as you run to your next quick change, you tell the ladies what just happened.
You tuck another successful opening under your belt and free your hair from the braided wig prep. You, Jasmin, Arielle, your makeup and hair guy Cosmo, and Emily decide to grab a bite to eat and have your own mini opening night celebration. Your phone dings and lights up the palm of your hand.
“Hey Meg, this is really random, but my family flew me to Chicago to see the Steve Harvey Show for my 30th birthday. I wanted to catch a Broadway show while I was out here, and since I don’t do social media anymore I completely forgot you were in “The Bodyguard.” Well, I just saw the show and you lit up the stage as always. Congratulations love.”
“I KNEW IT,” you blurt out loud. You show the text to your friends and invite Ryan to join you all for a bite to eat. You all spend the night celebrating as you had the night before.
Your alarm rings at 9:00am and somehow you don’t hit snooze. You throw on some athletic wear and meet six other cast members at Barry’s Boot camp for a 10:00am class. Your partner, Bradford has worked for Barry’s for a long time now and invites you guys to take his class. Luckily you didn’t drink too much last night, so no hangover will break the Barry’s butt-kicking. Somehow you maintain the energy to explore Chicago with Lauren, Alejandra, and Jorge before the show.
The confetti cannons pop, you rush off stage, and you and the ladies primp for the speakeasy Emily’s friend recommended. You and the other ensemble women, Jasmin, and Chloe, come together for a night of laughing and showering Emily with love while you still can. You later join a chunk of the “Hamilton” cast for drinks at an underground tiki bar. Some men of “Hamilton” treat you ladies to two rounds of drinks, and the two casts migrate to another club actually called “The Underground.” The night lingers until your phone reads 2:30am. You close out, and stumble into your room at 3:15 am.
Thursday morning’s routine seems to be out the door. Another epsom salt bath will remedy another long day followed by another crazy night out. You take another shot of apple cider vinegar with honey and cinnamon, and drink another packet of Emergen-C. You make the smart choice to relax most of the day. Soul Cycle gifted the cast with free classes for two weeks, so you, Emily, and Lauren take an afternoon class as a pre-show warm up before walking to the theater. As you braid your hair, you and the other ladies chat about last night and speculate on what ladies’ night will be like tomorrow with the women of “Hamilton.” You, Emily, and Arielle stepped out of character going out every night since you got to Chicago. You turn to your left and say to Emily, “We’ve been eating at bougie restaurants, taking high-end fitness classes, and going out like it’s our job. Who do we think we are? The Real Housewives of Chicago?” The ladies laugh and disperse for places.
Friday night post-show, you walk with the ladies of “The Bodyguard” towards the restaurant that the “Hamilton” ladies chose for dinner. Some men of “Hamilton” heard about the plan for ladies’ night, and decided to grab dinner at the same time. Jokingly offended that they can’t sit with us, they find a separate area of the restaurant anxiously waiting to join us post dinner. You reconnect with ladies you know from the “Hamilton” cast, and get to know the ones who are new to you. After a quick bite, the night leads you back to The Underground for a night of endless dancing with both casts. Another night of you walking into your room at 4:00 am. Luckily, this means you and “Sir” are up at the same time, so it gives you both a chance to catch up. Your head hits the pillow and your eyes shut at 5:30 am.
A week and a day have flown by since the combined ladies’ night and you’ve cut back on being a queen of the night; you leave that for show time. Between partying, illness, the loss of a cast member, rehearsing a new member, and new tension between ensemble members, you feel everything take a toll on your body. You only have to make it through one show tomorrow, and then you fly out of the Chicago chaos. You enter the stage for the Saturday night finale, pushing through pure exhaustion. At the end of the first chorus, you cha cha your way to your partner, Brendon. You continue the partner work as he lifts you up to the left and prepares to put you down on his right. As you start to land, he brings you in a little too close. Your black sneaker wedge lands on his Adidas, and your ankle rolls. Luckily, you land far enough stage right that you can hobble to steps into the wings. You collapse and crawl further out of the way. Your assistant stage manager calls the Physical Therapist up to stage level, and you swallow two Advils. You haven’t called out up until now. Looks like you need some time off.
The high ceilings ring with the sound of Dinah Washington’s voice echoing through a cafe in Memphis, Tennessee. You sip your morning latte as you take a glimpse out of the antique windows that surround the building from floor to ceiling. You write poetry and lyrics in your journal while enjoying this local cafe as you do in every city. Your words help you work through the relationships in your life that are open with no label, and allows your writing to express yourself more eloquently. Continuing hobbies and activities outside of the show makes you feel grounded, so you sip your coffee and let the words flow from pen to paper.
The beauty of equity touring is in the schedule that allows you to explore. In the past, you weren’t in a city long enough to fully discover what makes it so wonderful. You research the must see sites nearby, and form a list of activities that will keep you busy each day before the show. Other castmates have done their research as well and plan to join you on a few excursions. Some castmates have toured through this city before, so they know all of the sites they want to revisit, or venture through for the first time. Since you travel to each city on a Monday, you usually take that evening to get groceries for the week in order to save money on some meals, and use Tuesday to rest before soundcheck and opening night. Your personal challenge: how much can you accomplish Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before heading into a five-show weekend?
The thin white curtains can’t hide the radiant sun peering through your hotel windows on a Wednesday morning. While you’d usually find a pitch black room ideal, this week you don’t mind the sun’s assistance to the soothing build of your alarm; you don’t want the daily adventures to take away from your morning writing. You play some new Emily Estefan music, primp for the day, and walk to your Memphis morning hotspot. After completing lyrics to a new song, you walk back to the hotel, and join a group of 13 people to explore Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.
Even though you hold a tablet connected to headphones that produce the voice of John Stamos as your personal tour guide, your good friend Corrado has taken it upon himself to act as the group’s guide through Graceland. He’s been to Graceland a few times before, and has read many books about Elvis Presley’s life. His wealth of knowledge and ridiculous fun facts resonate through the hallways causing a group of eight people to follow your group of thirteen. These tourists truly believe Corrado has been hired to guide them as he leads you room to room in his all black suit. You and the cast follow and laugh in disbelief. That day you coined the phrase, “Who needs Google when you have Corrado!”
After three hours away from the group, you meet again at the theater. Each lady in the dressing room shares their journey of the day. You and the three ladies at Graceland share your newfound respect for Corrado’s brain with the rest of the women. Laughter rings through the space and follows down the stairs into quick change alley. Throughout the show, you find moments offstage exchanging new inside jokes with the ones you shared your day with. The show continues to fly as the joy of the day soars with you and the cast through every number.
Frank Sinatra floods the cafe this Thursday morning inspiring another lovely lyric session. You clear your mind to prepare yourself for a heavy day at the Lorraine Hotel. The extreme contrast from yesterday’s adventure to today’s walk through racism calls for a morning of mental preparation and a box of tissues. You join your castmates Willie and Jasmin for this next history lesson.
You walk inside the Lorraine Hotel to see the museum informing patrons of the journey from slavery, through segregation, to the day Dr. King was shot. You see a model of the bus Rosa Parks sat on. You make your way to the top of the hotel, as Willie leaves for the day. You and Jasmin are left staring at the inside of the room where Dr. King was shot. You and Jasmin take your time, walking outside and across the street to enter the building the Dr. King’s assassin shot from. You two spent a total of five hours sinking into the horror that still scars our country. You both walk away with a heavy heart, but thankful that you have each other to lean on through the tears.
At half-hour until show, and you find your way to Jasmin’s dressing room. She thanks you again for being with her through the Lorraine Hotel, and invites you to join her, Ariel, and Deborah’s dresser, Roni for high tea at the Peabody Hotel tomorrow afternoon before the show. You’ve never done high tea before, so you say, “Yes, I’d love to,” and continue your pre-show preparation.
For your last free day before the show, you take yourself on a date to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music to soak up all of the wonderful sounds Memphis brought to the world. The moving music was the pick me up you needed after yesterday’s excursion. You couldn’t wait to tell the ladies all about it at tea.
You enter the Peabody Hotel and see the famous little birds that waddle across the lobby. You find the other ladies and walk towards your table for tea. You see Roni everyday, but haven’t had the opportunity to fully connect with her. You were unaware of all the tea that would spill from her lips about her history in the industry. She wore a cross that was given to her by her good friends Bebe and Cece Winans. Roni shared stories of her time styling Whitney Houston herself, and the years she spent styling Prince and Sheila E for their biggest concerts. Ending your history week with the history of Roni’s inspiring career was the most uplifting tea Jasmin, Ariel, and I could’ve imagined. We made a pact to never give up on the goals we’ve set for ourselves.
After a Saturday morning of writing before a two-show day, your mind clears in order to mentally prepare your body for an intense four-show weekend. Between your personal rituals and the wonderful moments you’ve shared with many members of your cast, you walk into the dressing room before each performance feeling closer and closer to your cast. Those bonds carry over to interactions onstage, filling each performance with more energy than the one before. Sharing the beauty of each city helps you learn more about your country and makes memories that bring your tour family together.
©Megan Elyse Fulmer 2014