Onstage, the Angel in The King and I is played by Kei Tsuruharatani. Offstage, however, the role is taken by Ashley Park, the production’s Tuptim. I say this not because Park has the qualities of grace and goodness associated with the heavenly hosts – though she does have those in abundance. I make the statement because of what Park does before every show starts.
Eight times a week, before curtain, Park makes a quick visit of the production’s 51 cast members, as well as its stage management team, conductor, and whatever other creative types (director, associate director) are on the premises. She asks each individual to reach into a bag and pull out an angel card.
“I was introduced to angel cards by Judy McLane, when I was in Mamma Mia,” Park told me the other day, just minutes before she was to make her appointed rounds. “I felt it was a cool practice and so when I got to The King and I I wanted to continue it.”
So what is an angel card? It is a small, decorated item, the size of a name tag. Each card proclaims a one-word quality – wisdom or joy, for example, or risk or authenticity. “Each quality,” Park said, “suggest a direction or focus that the actor might want to take onstage that night.” And the reaction of performers hints at their moods at that moment. “If the card says ‘patience,’” Park explained, “an actor might say: ‘Thanks, I needed that right now.’”
Park said she acts as the show’s thematic courier for a reason relating to her character. “Tuptim is very separate from the other people in the show. She’s an outcast. Doing the cards keeps me connected to all my colleagues. I’m apart from them in the musical, until the second act, when I narrate the ‘Small House’ ballet with almost everyone present.”
By distributing angel cards Park has sown positive vibes – and been rewarded for her effort by former ensemble member Aaron J. Albano, who knitted her a colorful bag to house the items.
But good deeds cannot go unsullied. The pre-show practice, Park confessed, was the subject of a prank on opening night. “That time, I began by extending the bag to Matthew Markoff, our company manager, and the card he picked said ‘general malaise.’” I thought: what’s going on here?”
It turns out that the stage managers had removed the angel cards from the bag and replaced them with devil cards. “I got a good laugh out of them,” Park said, “even though they said some pretty nasty things. Kelli O’Hara fished one out that said ‘memory loss.’ That’s not what you want to focus on if you have opening-night nerves.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.