With four shows only, some of Vancouver’s best lawyers take on one of musical theatre’s peppiest shows: Hairspray the Musical.
Danielle Lemon takes on the iconic role of Tracy Turnblad in the Lawyer Show’s production of Hairspray. Vancity Buzz had the opportunity to ask Lemon about the origin of the fundraiser, what it’s like to step into Tracy’s shoes and much more.
Tell us a bit about the background of The Lawyer Show. Who created it?
The Lawyer Show is now in its 15th year in Vancouver. In 2006, Touchstone Theatre partnered with Carousel Theatre for Young People and the two companies have been co-producing this fundraiser ever since. The Lawyer Show is co-directed by Katrina Dunn, Artistic Director of Touchstone Theatre, and Carole Higgins, Artistic Director of Carousel Theatre for Young People.
What is it like to work with lawyers in a musical theatre setting?
It is definitely a different kind of interaction than when you may meet someone across a boardroom table or in court, that’s for sure! It’s much more silly and playful. I’ve always been involved in local theatre, and that tends to be where I spend the majority of my “non-lawyering” time. It was my mom who found out about The Lawyer Show and urged me to audition for my first show, in 2011, because she rightly pointed out that I needed some lawyer pals as well who understood that side of my life. To be able to bring together these two sides of myself, the artist and the lawyer, in one setting, is a pretty neat opportunity. And seeing very esteemed Q.C.’s and senior lawyers acting ridiculous onstage – well, that’s pretty fun too. I would say that some of the universal traits of lawyers definitely come through in rehearsal – we all want to work hard and to the best job for our “client,” in this case, for CTYP and Touchstone.
Does it make for a different rehearsal process when working with ‘greener’/first-time performers?
When you’re working with people who haven’t performed before, you have to be sure at the beginning of the rehearsal process to explain some key elements of being onstage: what upstage means versus downstage, how to not block yourself or other actors on stage, learning how to project your voice so you can be heard…that kind of thing. It’s just about giving new people the language and the tools they need so they can feel comfortable onstage. It sometimes means we have to rehearse things at a slower pace than we might in a non-lawyer show, but that’s always accounted for in our rehearsal schedule. Really, everyone is there to learn and to do the best job they can, and they soak this stuff up like a sponge. There are people that I have seen evolve from meek and timid ensemble members to strutting the stage in a lead role in a matter of two or three Lawyer Shows, which is fun to watch.
The cast is made up of over 30 lawyers, how did they all get involved?
This year’s cast is a great mix of “Lawyer Show Lifers,” who are people who have been involved for years, and newbies who came to the auditions for the first time this year. Every fall Carole and Katrina hold auditions, and we all wait with baited breath to see the casting announcements! Whatever the reason was, I am beyond happy to get a chance to play a dream role! I’ve been waiting for the chance to be in Hairspray for over a decade.
The show you chose for this year is Hairspray, why this show?
Each year, Katrina and Carole choose a show that will enable each member of a large ensemble a chance to shine. Hairspray is full of those moments – there are great characters, show-stopping musical numbers, and a heartwarming story with a beautiful message of acceptance and progress which will hopefully inspire the audience.
You play the main character, Tracy Turnblad, tell us a bit about her?
Tracy is a force of nature! She’s a plus-sized teenager whose main goal in the beginning of the show is just to fit in and be accepted by her peer group – to find a boyfriend, to get invited to parties, and be one of the “cool kids”. What she learns as the show progresses, and what I think is a really great message, is that you need to celebrate the things that make you different in order to find real acceptance. Tracy embraces who she is and what makes her different – her size – and finds happiness beyond her wildest dreams. She decides to “pay it forward” by getting caught up in the racial integration movement of 1960s Baltimore, and works to help everyone find belonging and community, regardless of their racial background or skin colour. Also, she just really really loves to dance!
Working in court can sometimes involving a bit of ‘acting’, do you think being a lawyer helps you get into character?
I’d say it’s the other way around – I was always a performer, before I was a lawyer, and the training I got in performance has absolutely helped me as a lawyer. I learned the value of preparation and rehearsal, and I’ve always found that in difficult professional situations, whether it’s court, a big meeting or a negotiation, pretending I’m playing the character of “Very Smart and Sophisticated Lawyer”, and sticking to that character’s persona, helps me stay focused, calm and confident– things I don’t feel that I always am in real life.
Where do the funds raised go from the shows? How are they used?
The Lawyer Show is a fundraiser for two of Vancouver’s most cherished theatre institutions: Carousel Theatre for Young People and Touchstone Theatre, both registered non-profit charities. Carousel Theatre for Young People specializes in making live theatre accessible to young audiences, and Touchstone Theatre prides itself on producing new Canadian plays. The funds raised from The Lawyer Show directly benefit the community outreach activities of both companies, which collectively impact over 50,000 people per year.
Why should Vancouver see this show?
Well, first off, because it’s a fundraiser that supports two of Vancouver’s best-loved theatre companies – it’s a great night out for a great cause. But really, I think audiences will love seeing all of their stereotypes of lawyers smashed to smithereens, as we sing, dance and act up a storm onstage. It’s always a night full of laughter, both onstage and off.
Anything else you’d like to share?
A huge thank you to Carole Higgins and Katrina Dunn, our directors, and our entire volunteer cast and crew, for their amazing dedication.
The Lawyer Show presents Hairspray the Musical from May 4 – 7 at Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright St, Vancouver) on Granville Island. You can buy tickets and find more information here.