One of the coolest things I have gotten to do as a Dollywood Insider is to learn more about the theatrical productions in Dollywood. Last winter, I was able to observe auditions for the many different performing roles. While talking to the actors waiting to audition, I learned what a coveted position it was to become a performer at Dollywood, and I was able to observe all of the amazing talent vying for a spot in one of the many shows offered throughout the park. Now I can say I was able to go behind the scenes and see what these performers do on a typical day.
My 8-year-old son, TJ, and I had the opportunity to visit the show, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” located in Showstreet Palace Theater. We first met with Production Supervisor, Erin, to chat while we watched the cast go through about 25 minutes of physical warm-ups and 15 minutes of vocal warm-ups.
The cast of most of the Dollywood shows arrive about two hours prior to the first show of the day. Not only do they have to warm up, but they also do mic checks and even go through a number to ensure that microphones, monitors and all cast members are working in sync. This then leaves the cast about an hour to get into hair (literally, the women in this cast all wore wigs) and makeup.
While talking with Erin, we learned the cast had only started rehearsing for “It’s A Wonderful Life” in October. (Remember, the show opens in early November!) They worked full-time for several weeks rehearsing in a practice studio in a warehouse. Then just six days before show time, they were able to start rehearsing in the theater. During rehearsals, a director and choreographer come to town, but once the production opens, they leave and the integrity of the show is in the hands of the production team, and designated vocal, dance and show captains. We saw the captains going over their notes during warm-ups to ensure the day’s performances ran flawlessly.
Then, we met with Craig Bellwood. He told us about how he found theater after suffering an injury playing soccer in high school. It wasn’t until his senior year in high school that he even realized he could get a degree in theater and make a living doing this new thing that he loved. He is in his third Christmas season with Dollywood and is the male “swing” in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Being a swing in a theater production means he is able to play every male role. That blows my mind. Craig has memorized every line in the production along with stage blocking and choreography. Craig often has a few days’ notice to prepare for whatever role he is stepping in to, but sometimes he may just have a moment’s notice if a fellow actor gets sick. He was also the male swing in “Dreamland Drive-In” over the summer, so it’s safe to say that Craig has a lot of lines in his head! Craig is married to one of the female leads in “It’s A Wonderful Life” and enjoys getting to perform on the same stage with her.
Craig and Erin showed us around the backstage area of Showstreet Palace Theater. We saw the actors and actresses doing their hair and makeup in their dressing rooms. Craig and Erin then showed us the different areas for props, sets and costume changes.
The backstage area of the theater is EXTREMELY well-organized. Props have exact spots and are often labeled if there is more than one. Each performer has his or her own area with all of their costume changes. This, also, is organized to perfection. Each member of the cast is responsible for ensuring his or her items are exactly where they are supposed to be.
We saw the different sets for the production and how they are set up to move on and off the stage with ease and even the small tunnel that led to the houses on either side of the stage.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a beautiful retelling of the classic movie, with beautiful music and amazing and talented performers. It’s a delight to see and no one cheered louder than my son TJ when Clarence earned his wings! Don’t miss it or any of the other shows that Smoky Mountain Christmas has to offer. They will put you in the holiday mood for sure.