Mingling with the thousands of people in the Union Depot for the Grand Re-opening event, I felt like a hostess at a huge party. At one point I became lost, not recognizing where I was in the space where we had practiced for a week. There were booths set up with train and bus information, TV and radio stations recording the event, food from nearby restaurants, a booth with Zumba, Belly Dance and Flamenco demonstrations, and places to design your own button or tote bag.
Because I was in a costume, I stood out, and I've never had my picture taken so much in my life. All I had to do was strike a pose over a pile of old suitcases or stand in conversation with another actor or actress, and five people would stop and snap photos.
As actors and actresses, it was a full day for us - from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Every hour we heard the introduction to In the Mood, and we'd stop wherever we were in the space and do what I'd call a short 40s flash mob dance with steps from the Swing and Charleston.
Some of the performing that we did reminded me of a series of theatre games. There were two newspaper sequences where a group of performers yelled out headlines and then formed a cluster in the middle of the space. They then did an improv "orchestra" where, as a group, they'd do newspaper-related movements - folding and unfolding, crinkling, raising and lowering their arms as the sound rustled throughout the space.
Every two hours we performed a sequence called "George and Mary." We each had a partner and we were to call out "George" or "Mary" and search the crowd until we found each other. Then we'd embrace as two people meeting at the station. The interactions took on new meanings with the costumes we wore - a guy dressed in a military uniform, leaning on a crutch and calling for Mary; one woman in traveling clothes calling to George—a father, husband, brother or friend; men in suits, women in period dresses - lovers separated by war and reuniting again.
A number of us were in a dance with suitcases where we played immigrants. With a simple costume change of a scarf, hat, vest or coat, each of us seemed to hearken back to our heritage whether it be from Russia, Europe, Scandinavia, Africa or Asia.
For the rest of the unscheduled time we came up with our own performance activities - reading newspapers, playing cards, having conversations, checking our watches or scanning the train schedules. There was a staged fight (broken up by a cop before it got out of hand!), a mock marriage proposal, and a stroll through the space by a married couple who were later serenaded by a group of men who sang Let Me Call You Sweetheart in barbershop quartet fashion.
I think the best part of the day was hearing all the stories. As I wandered through the space, people would come up to me and tell me about their memories. A man in his eighties wearing a red uniform showed me a picture of himself at 21 and said that he had been a conductor with the railroad. A woman told me she had come from Europe and her aunt met her at the train depot. Everything I was wearing was similar to what her aunt had worn except for one thing: Her aunt wore a pair of white gloves. The woman said she was impressed to be in the company of such a fine lady. Another man talked about the orphan train, and I remembered that my next door neighbor lady (now deceased) had talked about being an orphan and coming to St. Paul on that train.
A week of practice, a daylong event; stories, history, performance, plus, a chance to met and work with a new group of people - what more could I ask for?
Jefferson Lines will be relocated to the Union Depot on Jan. 14, 2013. Buses will travel through about 13 states, and if you check out their website you can see which cities it will include. Looks like a lot of great opportunities for day trips and weekend getaways!