Thursday, April 28, 2016

Portland Symphony Orchestra POPS! Music of John Williams

Last weekend, R2-D2 and I participated in the Music of John Williams concert with the Portland Symphony Orchestra!


I have been a guest of the Portland Symphony Orchestra twice before.  In 2013 R2-D2 and I were part of the Star Wars Symphonic.  In 2014 I participated in their "Heroes, from Frozen to Firemen" show wearing my Dark Knight (Batman) costume.  I have nothing but sincere praise for this organization and was thrilled to be invited again!

Since the van hasn't traveled far in a year, it was time to do an oil change and make sure everything was safe for the 2 hour trip down to Portland.  After the servicing was completed, I had the wheels aligned since the Honda Odyssey had a significant pull to the right.  

Like any vehicle that's 14 years old, it certainly has some quirks.  Some humorous, some downright annoying.  CDs placed in the CD player quickly get scratched up.  The cruise control likes to just stop working after an hour.  If you unlock the vehicle from the passenger side, the alarm goes off.  And the only way to fix that is to unlock the driver side door.  Replacing the long broken remote is very expensive.  While I am grateful to have a vehicle to haul R2-D2 around it, sometimes I wonder "What next?".

I also had to get my Stormtrooper armor ready so that Joe Boucher, the concert manger, would be able to wear it during the show.  I had to repair some velcro on the calf pieces that didn't take long to fix.

Rehearsal was Saturday at 1 p.m. and the first show started at 7:30 p.m..  I left plenty early and arrived at 11:00 a.m., parked right by the side entrance staff use and had help getting everything unloaded.  I even had a dressing room!

The Event

The selection of John Williams music was pretty varied and the Star Wars music would occur in the second half of the program, after the intermission.  Here's the full list of what was played...

The Music of John Williams Program:   Overture from The Cowboys, Theme from Lost In Space Midway March, 1984 Olympic Fanfare and Theme, “Flight to Neverland” from Hook, Theme from Sabrina, Suite from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, “Exsultate Justi” from Empire of the Sun, “Dry Your Tears, Afrika!” from Amistad, Theme from Jaws   
From Star Wars: Duel of the Fates from Phantom Menace, Across the Stars from Attack of the Clones, Battle of the Heroes from Revenge of the Sith, Princess Leia’s Theme from A New Hope, Imperial March from Empire Strikes Back, Parade of the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi, Rey’s Theme from The Force Awakens, Throne Room and End Title from A New Hope

The Merrill Auditorium seats 1,908 and I was told both shows were close to sold out.  The two Monday shows would also be full but those were for kids in grades 3 to 5 from the local area.

With R2-D2 and I were joined by two Stormtroopers from the 501st.  Joe Boucher would join them in my armor during the concert.  They asked for us to greet patrons in the lobby as they entered the building.  It didn't take long for the room to get very busy as patrons posed for pictures with R2-D2 and the Stormtroopers.  It wasn't long before I was struggling to spot my droid in the crowd!

The stage hands did a great job, telling us how much time we could spend in the lobby before it was time to get us backstage.  Due to the location of the instruments on stage, we would have to enter from stage left.  Since the first portion of the concert didn't have Star Wars music, I was able to plug R2's computer into a power jack, maximizing the battery charge.  (The Asus netbook will last about 3 hours with the battery it has.  I keep the netbook power adapter attached and accessible via one of R2's rear doors.  If we are parked for any length of time, I just open the door and plug into AC power.)

The Star Wars music played in the order of the movies, so starting with The Phantom Menace, they worked their way through the musical selection in each movie.  

Once the orchestra reached "Princess Leia's theme" from A New Hope is when the fun began!  Part way through that song, R2-D2 was to come on stage and park next to one of the violinists.  A few moments later, Princess Leia, with Death Star Plans in hand, would sneak onto stage, with R2-D2 coming out to meet her.  Leia would insert the Death Star Plans inside R2-D2, then she would sneak off stage.  R2-D2, doing some beeps and chirps, would turn around and return to the starting point (next to the violinist).  All of this would occur with me on the side of the stage, behind a stack of speakers, making sure R2 travels safely.

Now, that sounds easy, right?  Drive R2-D2 to one spot, then to mid stage, then back.  Then stay put for the rest of the Star Wars music, beeping and moving the head around, plus some back and forth movement as needed.  And it went great, despite my worries and anxiety about something going wrong with the radio, receiver or R2 falling off the stage!  

The "Imperial March" played for The Empire Strikes Back and that's when the Stormtroopers, joined by an iParty-clad Darth Vader, walked around the audience before coming on stage.  R2 beeped out some sad and scared sounding beeps as the Stormtroopers and Darth Vader came on stage.  They then exited the stage as the song completed.  For Return of the Jedi the orchestra played "Parade of the Ewoks" with an Chewbecca character walking across the stage, celebrating with a Stormtrooper helmet in hand.  R2 beeped happily as Chewbecca came by, pet R2 on the head.  

There weren't any characters for "Rey's Theme" but when the "Throne Room/End Credits" song was played, all of the characters came back on stage as the song wrapped up.  The encore was the "Flying Theme" from E.T.

After the show, the Stormtroopers and R2-D2 quickly made their way to the lobby for pictures.  We made sure everyone was able to get their pictures taken then headed backstage.  I got R2-D2 parked, plugged his battery into the trickle charger and powered off the netbook.  Joe Boucher was enjoying every minute of his time in the Stormtrooper suit but it was try to help him out of it.  Once everything was packed up, it was off to the hotel to rest up for the Sunday afternoon show.

Sunday & Monday Shows

For the Sunday show, the conductor, as well as other staff, suggested I have R2-D2 doing more beeping on stage.  More head moving/motions and body movement.

I felt really awkward with that request, I guess my worry was R2-D2 being too distracting from the music.  I was assured that was not the case at all.  (I also didn't want a conductor's baton being thrown at me!)  

I practiced having R2-D2 wiggle side to side on stage.  I didn't have a lot of room to maneuver in but I finally nailed down how to puppeteer R2 into some movements we are used to seeing in the films.

Like the Saturday show, R2-D2 would be in the lobby to greet patrons.  We only had one Stormtrooper for Sunday, that being Joe in my armor.  Since he was busy with stage work, it was just R2 in the lobby.  The crew let me know when it was time to go backstage, so we left the lobby and headed back.  When it was R2's time to go on stage, as requested, R2 was much more chatty and animated.  Based on the smiles from the performers, conductor and audience, R2's own performance was very well received.

After the show, R2 again hit the lobby for pictures.  Once that was done, it was time to button up R2 for the night.  My brother and cousin, Chelsie,  live in Portland, so I was able to catch up with them in the Old Port for some fish & chips.

Monday's performances were at 9:20 and 11:20 a.m..  The program was reduced in length with many of the non-Star Wars songs removed.  R2-D2 wasn't in the lobby to greet the kids, nor would R2 be there after.  The kids were very quiet while listening to the music but once R2-D2 made an appearance, well, it was definitely a big hit with them!  R2 caused quite a commotion and for the last show, we waited a bit longer to bring R2 on stage so as not to drown out part of the music in the Princess Leia theme.

With the last show over, it was time to pack things up.  When I opened R2-D2 up to remove the netbook, I forgot there were Death Star Plans sitting inside...

One last time, I helped pry Joe out of the Stormtrooper armor and got the van packed up for the ride home.  Three days in Portland was great but it was time to head home!

After Event

Having never done a multi-day event away from home before, this was a first for me.  R2-D2 worked very well and I had packed all my support equipment just in case anything went wrong.

The rear panel has been slowly coming apart and I need to either replace it or repair it.  I have been using white electrical tape to keep it attached to the body securely.  Six years of travels have made the two-layers of aluminum skin come apart and bent in some spots.  Adding some magnets to the top of the skin and frame could help but the biggest problem is that it doesn't sit flush anymore.  I've also had to re-glue some of the detail pieces as the JB Weld has failed.

Despite that, overall R2 is in great shape.  I need to do a bit of an overhaul on R2 so I can check on some of the internal structure.  The wiring has become a bit of a mess and a handful of other tweaks I want to make.  Most importantly, I want to check on the frame's machine screws and make sure everything has stayed good and snug.  

Another wonderful adventure completed....until the next one!