For people outside the theatre world, the word sitzprobe sounds almost futuristic. While it is the name for a process that looks toward the future of a musical, it is not something sci-fi. Sitzprobe is a German term (literally translated as seated rehearsal) used in the musical theatre world to describe the first rehearsal where the singers/actors combine with the orchestra in order to finally blend the two together before taking the stage for dress rehearsals and subsequently performances. Before this event, the orchestra and the actors practice as separate entities.
While the musical Snow Child, world-premiering at Arena Stage, has a magical element to its story, the sitzprobe itself has an air of sorcery. Between director Molly Smith’s leadership of the actors and William Yanesh’s musical director of the band (while also manning the keyboards), they conjure up the musical to be seen and heard by audiences. Because this play is a world-premiere, the sitzprobe also has Georgia Stitt (music and lyrics), Bob Banghart (music), and Lynne Shankel (music supervisor/orchestrations) in attendance to oversee how their hardwork makes its way off the pages of their script and sheet music and into the hands and voices of the performers.
The musical Snow Child is the story of a couple, Mabel and Jack (played by Christiane Noll and Matt Bogart), homesteaders in 1920s Alaska, looking to remake their lives after the loss of a child. Between the discovery of a mysterious young girl Faina (Fina Strazza) who lives with a fox in the untamed woods and the help of neighbors with sometimes ulterior motives (Dan Manning, Natalie Toro, and Alex Alferov, the couple begin to build a new life within the Alaska wilderness. This adventure is all accompanied by music and song, supported by a six-piece band (acoustic guitar, bass, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, piano, and additional percussion elements such as a moose jawbone). The band of Snow Child provide a musical background that enhances the time period and location through period authentic instruments and sound.
Snow Child is the fifth production and first musical as part of Arena Stage’s large-scale commissioning project Power Plays, which will produce 25 new plays and musicals over 10 years with a focus on America and power.
What’s not shown here (at the Sitzprobe) are some of the amazing, lifelike animal puppets operated by ensemble members David Landstrom, Calvin McCullough, and Dorothy James. To see that, you’ll have to see Snow Child for yourself.