Siena Tipton on Glitter

I’m Siena Tipton, I’m a senior at Blair Academy, and I love performing more than anything else in the world. In my last four years here, I was the rehearsal and concert accompanist for the choir, the co-leader of the acapella group, performed in various theater productions, and seized just about every opportunity to throw myself in front of a crowd of people, whether they wanted it or not.

By my senior year, I was pretty comfortable with my role at Blair, but as the year continued, I realized that, as cliché as it may sound, something was missing from my life. I performed so many times on the Blair stage, but it had always been someone else’s vision and I became curious about what what kind of production I could put on if I wrote and produced it. Though I trained as a classical pianist since the age of 5 and have been in 12 theater productions in the last four years, before my play Glitter, I had absolutely no experience in playwriting whatsoever.

Seniors at Blair are given the option to do a senior project during their last semester. I never really thought about doing one until January when I realized that the perfect senior project for me would be to write and produce my own variety show. I grew up watching entertainers like Victor Borge, Carol Burnett, and Dick Van Dyke, so I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for wholesome, old-fashioned entertainment, and I wanted to give that style of performing a chance.

I named the show Glitter because of the amount of glitter I knew I would be dousing myself in on the night of the performance. The show was split into two acts, one featuring classical music and the other cabaret.

I have a fascination with a specific line of Vox Records called “Their Music and Their Story” from 1954, in which a radio announcer-type narrator details the life of the composer whose score was featured in the program. I wanted this show to resemble those records as much as possible, and  wanted a narrator to share the story.

The first act took the audience through my personal experiences growing up as a classical pianist. Of course, it details the milestones of my “professional career,” like my first piano recital, first arch nemesis, and first dream piece. It also included some fun Amadeus-inspired moments of upside down piano playing and under the piano sight reading.

The second act took the audience through the life of my alter ego, the glamorous Isabella de Morada, in the 1940s. It allowed me to work in numbers like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “La Vie en Rose,” and “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”  

My advisor, Mr. Pagotto, was very supportive of me doing a senior project, but a bit skeptical about how I would be able to pull this off. I think everyone except for yours truly realized just how big a production this was going to be. Mr. Pagotto spoke to Mr. Rasmussen, the technical director, and Mrs. Pagotto, the head of the music department, and they both gave the green light, so I went ahead and began writing the show.

The interesting thing about writing a show is that you never realize just how many drafts actually go into the final copy until you have to do it. I think I wrote and rewrote the entire show at least 5 times, changed the names of the characters every day, and even reworked the theme several times before I came out with a final copy. In fact, I didn’t finish the final copy until three days before the show.

Even before I had the final copy of my script, though, I knew exactly what acts I wanted to do. The piano section of the performance practically wrote itself because it’s been such a big part of my identity for so long.

However, the second act was a bit trickier. I knew that I wanted to sing a song from my all time favorite album, Ella and Louis, so I made sure to write in “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” But the show-stopper, and my personal favorite number in the show, was “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” I have always had a fascination with cabaret as well as Marilyn Monroe’s style of performance, and I wanted to see if I could combine the two into a glitter-filled extravaganza.

Speaking with my mom one night while writing the show, I kept saying I really wanted to perform “Diamonds,” but that it would be weird if it was just me singing about diamonds onstage. However, I realized while I was speaking that the only thing missing from the act was four men, dressed in suits, throwing diamonds at me. So I looked at my mom and said, “Mom? I’m going to email four of the post grads that I know would do a great job at this. I know I’m not really friends with all of them, but I think they would complete the act. Please watch me while I email them right this moment so that I don’t chicken out.” So she came over and I emailed them, and they agreed, and it was certainly one of my more brazen moments, but they were a crowd favorite so it paid off.

Whenever I had envisioned this show in the past, it was never with the intention of turning it into such a huge production. When I began writing in January, my family affectionately referred to the project as my “one-woman show.”

However, as I really began to find the plot, I realized just how many talented people I had around me. As I began involving more and more people, the cast and crew grew to about 25 people. I feel so lucky to have worked with such talented people, and looking back, I don’t think the show would’ve been half of what it was had I not had their help.

I began with a skeletal outline in early March, and by the end of April, I finally found the flow and was ready to find an emcee. I ended up speaking with Mr. Moore, one of the most sophisticated people I know and I knew immediately that he would be the perfect emcee.

We sat down together and without even knowing what theme I was going for, he turned to me and said, “Okay, so I read this script over and it reminds me quite a bit of Carol Burnett.” It also turned out that he had seen Victor Borge live when he was 12, so he automatically knew the theme that I was going for. Mr. Moore took the script and changed the narration so it was in his voice, and it completely pulled the show together.

Once I had my emcee picked out, the acts really started coming together. We had about a week to rehearse everything and put the whole show together, but as with most things, everything came together perfectly at the last moment.

Mr. Rasmussen was extremely generous with his time, and helped me set up all of the light and sound cues, even complying with my various requests for lighting changes and microphone placement to allow the audience to see all of the glittering props.

One of the moments that I’ll never forget was standing up on that stage in a black evening gown, looking out at my cast members, and knowing that they were all going to work as hard as they could to make my dream a reality. It was such a humbling moment, and I doubt I’ll ever feel as grateful as I did in that very moment.

It has been quite the busy month for my family and all of the members of this production, and it’s very nice to have a little bit of time to myself now. However, I can confidently say that planning this show was one of the most special experiences of my life and helped me further see that performing is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ll be majoring in cabaret performance in the fall at the NYU Gallatin Program of Individualized Study, and will hopefully one day be able to perform in this manner for a living.

I want to emphasize how amazing Blair Academy is for allowing me to do this project and for supporting me every step of the way. Blair really provided a nurturing environment that was perfect for taking this risk, and, without this experience, I think I would’ve gone into college feeling a bit more skeptical about my role in the world.

(Copyright 2018 Siena Tipton)