My brain hurts….the continuing story
At least today I’m not staring as much at the computer. Today I’m looking at books, sending text messages, and making phone calls in order to help get our production underway. So, since I’m going to be really busy with the show now, I might as well give my faithful readers some information about it.
Our local community theatre group is doing two performances of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” If you’ve never seen the play or the movie starring Cary Grant, then you need to as soon as you can! It’s a great story about the Brewster Sisters who perform their “charity” on lonely elderly gentlemen and are assisted by their nephew Teddy (who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt) in “disposing” of the evidence. Another nephew, Mortimer, lives with them and is a drama critic for the newspaper and plans to marry Elaine who lives with her father, Reverend Harper, just across the cemetery from the Brewsters. Mortimer finds out what his aunts have been doing and tries to protect them, but is soon confronted with his long-lost cousin Jonathan (and his associate Dr. Einstein) who has plans on making the old Brewster home his new headquarters of crime. It’s a hysterical production and all of the actors have been having a blast working on the scenes and getting their lines memorized. Husband is even in this production. He’s not as big on the theatre as I am, but I convinced him to audition since he’s seen the movie thousands of times and he will be portraying Dr. Einstein.
I’m the technical director for the production which means I have to help design the set, design the costumes, find the props, manage the technical crews, and act as stage manager during the productions. Finding a place has been difficult since the only “theatre” (actually built for theatrical productions) in town is (1) incredibly expensive to use and (2) doesn’t want people to build sets on their parquet flooring they’ve installed for the annual Gospel Sing that comes through every August. They also only allow the person who sold them their lighting and sound system to operate them during any productions and he’s WAY too expensive for us (even though the director and I are perfectly capable of running the equipment). When they built the theatre they even decided to cut-out the fly loft and counterweight system because they figured an additional 20 feet less to build would help the budget but didn’t realize that theatrical productions need a way to bring scenery in and out and that often the easiest way is to go up. Plus, our production requires a “practical” (means that they have to be used and built to code) set of stairs for Teddy to imagine as San Juan Hill every time he goes up them and screams “Charge!” Since they’d have to be fastened to the floor, the theatre is a no-go for this production.
We would use the Junior High’s theatre/auditorium where Youngest Son’s recent production of “Aladdin, Jr.” was held, but (1) they want too much to rent the space, (2) the area is occasionally used by classes and our stuff wouldn’t be as secure as we need it, and (3) we’d still have to build the set with the staircase and that’s going to cost more. Even though the assistant principal of the Junior High is in the play as the evil Jonathan, we still couldn’t afford to have it there.
We’re currently rehearsing at the church where our director works. There’s a nice area that was part of the original church that’s been converted into a theatre. We asked if we could use the space but they turned us down because it’s not a “Christian production.” I’m still trying to figure out if they’re objecting to the fact that it’s not about a story in the Bible or if they’re objecting to the language, violence, and murder that takes place. Last time I read the Christian Bible I saw a lot of violence and murder in there, so perhaps that’s not what they’re talking about.
Finally, we’ve found that the local Civic Center will allow us to use their main lobby as a theatrical space. And, to make things even more fortunate for us, they already have a large staircase right in the middle of it! We’ll have a thrust stage configuration — that means the audience will be seated on three sides of the stage and it makes them feel as if they’re inside the Brewsters’ living room as well. Add a couple of doors, a window seat and window, furniture, and use large curtains to stand-in as the walls (cheaper than having to build them) and we’ll have a minimalistic version of the set most people see but it will still work and give focus to the actors and not the background. Plus, it’s a LOT cheaper!! That’s a big bonus in community theatre!
So now that we’ve found a place, we’ve had to work on the dates. On the weekend we wanted there’s a soccer tournament scheduled in the exposition hall — right next to the main lobby area. That’s not going to work. There are other events at the schools and in town on other weekends with which many cast members would have conflicts. We wanted to do three performances but have had to scale it back to just two for the dates that are available for the actors, crew members, and the building. But at least we now have dates so we can start selling tickets.
Yesterday I spent the day working on costume designs. I started trying to sketch the costumes for the Brewster Sisters and for Jonathan and Mortimer. Then, I finally gave-in and started looking on the Internet for photos of the types of clothing that I want them to wear. Since it’s a community theatre production, each actor will have to create his/her own costume. This is when we love the local thrift shops, resale stores, and free-stores — especially since this is a period piece (supposed to take place in the 1940s) and a lot of old clothing can be found at those places. A little accessorizing, a little altering, and a little imagination will make them work and on a reasonable budget. I made costume plots for each of the characters and handed them out at last night’s rehearsal. They have until next Monday to start finding parts of their costume and have to bring in what they have that night so we can make sure they’re on the right track.
Next is the prop list. This one is going to be easy and hard at the same time. There’s a prop list in the back of our script books — but it’s as if you were staging a Broadway production (actually, it is the list from the Broadway production) and we don’t have that kind of space or money. Our director is loaning us all of the set pieces since he has a Victorian-style house and a lot of extra furniture that will work perfectly in our “make-do” space. I’ve been calling people who say they have items we can borrow and trying to come up with ideas on how to “fake” the things we need but can’t get. Youngest Son wants to major in theatre now and has volunteered to work on the prop crew so he can get some backstage experience. Little does he know that his experience is going to be cleaning a lot of dirty things I find at junk stores, things that people donate (which usually have been sitting in a basement for years), and building/creating items that we can’t find but are important to the play. Technical theatre is often a “trial-by-fire” and he’s going to get one.
Our lighting is going to be different since we have to use the lights in the lobby and a few additional “practical” lights and up-lights so that we can have brightness and darkness in the “house” as scripted. No theatrical lighting here. I’ve been working with theatrical lighting and lightboards since I was a teenager, so for me it’s going to be different trying to get the mood-lighting I want with very little with which to work. Somehow, though, we’ll make it happen.
Fortunately I’ve gotten new materials for my professional makeup kit because I have to make the actor playing Jonathan look somewhat like Boris Karloff (that’s one of the running gags in the show). He’s a great guy and really open to letting me experiment on his head. You don’t usually get an actor/actress who’s willing to let you paint and glue stuff all over them. And the other makeup and hair designs for the rest of the actors will have to wait for now. They’ll be doing their own anyway since no one else has special-effect makeup. Well, there are ladies playing male roles, but it’s not that hard to get them to look male-ish enough for the theatre. I’m just going to have to be sure the Brewster Sisters have gray/white hair, that Elaine hides her purple highlights, and that the rest of the cast (well, those who have hair, that is) gets theirs styled correctly for their part.
I know in the end I’ll look back at all of this and think about what a great job everyone has done and how hard we’ve all worked and smile. Right now, though, my brain won’t shut-up because the “voices” have each taken sections of the play (lights, sound effects, costumes, makeup, etc.) and are arguing about how to get it all done on a budget of about zero dollars. So, you’ll probably be able to tell when I’m really busy ’cause my posts might not be as eloquent, insightful, or as long as previous posts. But, the little “voices” nag me every day to make sure my daily post is here — so I don’t think remembering to do this will be a problem.