There are times in my life where I learn that I am far more sensitive to unidentifiable sources than my mid-western roots should perhaps allow. Take vibrations for instance. What in the heck is a vibration? I never grew up in a world where I acknowledged that people or experiences can make a room vibrate so differently.
In the last two years, I have been on a crash course of vibrations and recently I had an overwhelming wash of vibrations handed to me within one hour on a silver platter. I gained the career-changing opportunity in the fall of 2012 to join the “Motown Family” as a Stage Manager on the Broadway Show, not surprisingly called MOTOWN, THE MUSICAL. This cast and its creative team operate from the gut, each person’s talents off the charts and they know it, not in an arrogant way but in a God-given chosen child sort of way. My opportunity recently extended to be the Production Supervisor for the National tour of MOTOWN. We started rehearsal for the tour in Chicago in the usual way; music, choreography, and sneaking in scene work whenever possible. One productive day ran into the next, the room vibrating with the excitement of new energy. The pulsation of the room kept climbing as each creative added to the mix; the music turned into staging and the staging turned into acting and acting into storytelling. The story this wildly talented bunch of performers were assigned to tell was Mr. Berry Gordy Jr.’s story. What happened at Hitsville as told by the founding force of Motown with the help of loads of amazing hit songs. The show is a ride through history, a passionate plea for all who come to see it to join in a celebration of many of the most elegant and talented stars of the music industry both onstage and offstage. The struggles both professionally and personally this self-proclaimed Detroit hustler went through to bring so much to this world in the way of music, acceptance, and blurring the color barriers that consumed our country. I am not writing this build-up to somehow testify about Mr. Gordy but rather to illustrate the feeling that many of us have who have the opportunity to partake in this life-changing theatrical journey.
This day started with more vibrancy than most days in spite of the cold Chicago spring and the dim artificial lighting in our basement rehearsal space. Our show’s director, Charles Randolph-Wright, came into the room with a plan and the rest of the creative team was more than ready to comply. The show’s resident Choreographer, Brian Harlan Brooks (AKA, BHB), started setting the plan in motion. The touring Stage Managers seemed a little thrown by a rehearsal that started with such clarity before they had even noticed the clock struck ten o’clock, our typical rehearsal start time, the cast also a little puzzled by the urgency fell right in line working the shows opening number. Already the room seems to come alive with new vibrations. Everyone working, creatives with laser focus, managers a buzz with activity and then the man appeared in the doorway that made all of this energy make sense, Berry Gordy Jr had come to meet his newest company of actors. Many of these performers he had met in auditions but he hadn’t seen them since they were to assume the role of “Motown Family”, the closest I have ever seen to theatrical mafia but the only thing these young talents are going to “deal” or “knock off” are hits, dozens of Motown hits. Charles spoke briefly and with great admiration and then turned the room over to Mr Gordy. Now I have had the good fortune of spending time with Mr Gordy throughout the Broadway process so I was able to take my eyes off the Hitsvillian Head Honcho and scan the room. Each one of these young black faces living their lives as Mr Gordy spoke of their talents and what this tour meant to him. Whether it was them, or their parents, or their aunts and uncles who had grown up with this generation of music and change in our country they all knew, they felt the “vibrations” in the air that they were in the presence of a man who changed the face of America. Smiles were unstoppable as they spread across all of their faces. The vibrations bounced off the walls as the performers portraying the Temptations and the Four Tops stepped forward to perform the shows opening number for the same man who created a path for legends like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder. The man who is able to describe the fierceness a young Michael Jackson brought to his performance with personal experience and fatherly passion. All of the white performers and support team who did not perhaps experience the life-changing effects of Motown’s music felt the power in the room that day and, not unlike myself two-years earlier, realized the beauty of the journey they were embarking on.
That my friends is a vibration, an experience that causes your heart and body to come alive and take notice of everything around you.