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  • Writer's pictureSarah Senn

Playing on Broadway: Hadestown



My career as a cellist has brought many memorable and unexpected opportunities my way, ones that I will cherish for my lifetime. This year was no exception. The morning of New Year’s Eve, I received an incredibly unexpected email in my inbox from the production music coordinator for the Tony and Grammy award-winning Broadway show, Hadestown. I was asked if I could play the shows in my city (Knoxville, TN) of their official North American tour, since the official touring cellist would be unable to play the week in Knoxville. I was shocked to receive this opportunity from a complete stranger, and in fact, how this stranger found me remains a mystery to this day. But I did not ask any questions, and quickly cleared up my schedule to be available for their week of shows. Although I had never heard of Hadestown before, I knew that I was being given an opportunity to have an experience that I would never forget, and I did not want to let it slip by.

 

A few days after accepting this gig, I was put in contact not just with the touring music director (whom I would meet and play with in Knoxville), but an unexpected second person too: their costume/wardrobe department head. I quickly learned that not only would I be playing the cello as part of an only 6-member band, but that the entire band played on stage, in costume and makeup. I was not playing in the pit below the stage, I was an actor!

Prior to the week of the show, I was given a 120-page music book over email to practice and a list of “stage cues” (things I had to act out on stage) in exchange for my costume measurements. I was also given a private video of the musical from the perspective of where I would be sitting on the stage, so that I could practice following along in my music while listening to the band and watching the music director over on the piano in “real time”. This way, I could practice playing the 2.5 hour show in my home, almost exactly as it would be in the Tennessee Theatre.

 

When the week of performances had come and the touring group arrived to Knoxville, we had 8 shows scheduled over a span of 6 days, with one rehearsal the morning of the first show. Our one rehearsal was scheduled to be 2.5 hours long…the exact length of the show’s runtime; there was no time to actually rehearse, only one run-through! That meant there was no margin for error or mistakes. I prepared for this rehearsal as if it were the first performance! I played my part from top to bottom for the director, was able to talk a few things over with him, and said goodbye until our first performance a few hours later.


Our first performance was genuinely a thrill. Even though I had prepared and practiced the music and cues with the video at home, it felt as though I still did not know exactly what to expect with the other live musicians and actors on the stage around me. I knew I had to keep laser-focus throughout the show to keep up with the professionals, who had performed this show over 900 times already. But thankfully, because of all my prior preparation, one show was all it took for me to “get the hang of it”. The next 7 shows were just as thrilling and even more enjoyable, and I had so much fun watching the show from on-stage that week! If you have never seen Hadestown before, then I highly recommend you check it out if/when it comes to your city.


Music can bring you the most unexpected, funny, and enjoyable opportunities. I love the way that being a cellist keeps me on my toes, and I get to make connections and memories that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I am so thankful!

 

With joy,

Sarah Miller Senn and the StringTime Family

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