Literally five minutes after the final show ends, the cast and crew take apart the entire set. The power drills are passed around to help dismantle all the benches and picture frames. The wood pieces are gathered up and thrown away. The pit area is cleaned up and all the music stands are returned to the SDS Room. All of the props and costumes are taken to our storage unit for use in future shows. Also, all the scripts and music scores are returned and a team of cast members goes through each one to erase all marks, so they can be returned in good condition. Finally, all of the discarded screws and wood splinters, and dust are swept up and the space in completely empty - ready for the next show to be built!
With two weekends of shows, we hold a brush-up rehearsal so that the actors can run through their lines and their blocking before performing again on Friday. Brush-Up rehearsals are meant to be fun, so this time all the actors when on stage had to keep a balloon in the air. The actors would try to knock each other's balloon out of their hands. It proved a lot more difficult and took a lot of concentration to keep the balloon in the air!
After weeks of hard work opening night is finally here! The cast are getting ready in the dressing rooms. The girls doing their hair and makeup and the guys getting help from the girls to do their hair and makeup.
Everyone arrives early at the theater to get ready and do their pre-show checks. For example, the stage manager sets out all the props, the light board operator checks that all of the lights are working, the sound board operator checks that all the speakers are working, and the mic technician puts mics on the actors while they do their vocal warm-ups. The theater is a buzz with activity - a mixture of excitement and nerves as everyone prepares for opening!
We hope to see you in the audience!
That title may or may not have been intended as a pun… Anyway, with a hectic rehearsal week and successful opening night behind us, it seemed like it was time to hear from some of the voices that the audience DOESN’T hear – because we’re playing our instruments instead!
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Eric Engler, and I’m playing trumpet in the pit orchestra. As was mentioned in a previous post, our pit orchestra is a small-but-mighty six players – two violins, two “reeds” (who switch back and forth between different woodwind instruments), trumpet, and our music director, Charlotte Evans, on piano. Even though you may not see us, we’re certainly having just as much fun as the cast! Shows are always a joy to play as a musician, and Sondheim was certainly one of the greats.
For anyone who’s curious, the orchestra is situated behind the curtain upstage right (or audience left). A major shoutout to the cast for a SUPERB opening night, and here’s to a great run!
At the beginning of this week our music director, Charlotte Evans, held the first orchestra rehearsal so that the musicians could rehearse all the music before playing with the cast. Our orchestra is comprised of two violins, two reeds, and a trumpet player. The week ended with a sitzprobe. What is a sitzprobe?
Sitzprobe (n.) is a German term used in opera and musical theatre to describe a seated rehearsal—the literal translation of Sitzprobe—where the singers sing with the orchestra, focusing attention on integrating the two groups. It is often the first rehearsal where the orchestra and singers rehearse together. (Definition from Wikipedia)
That is exactly what happened: the orchestra played through the score of the show and the actors stood up when it was their turn to sing!
I confess: I have a type. Some people are always the romantic lead, or the ingénue, or the child. I am always cast as a crazy older woman. Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Dotty from Noises Off, a gender-swapped Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone: these are all batty women of a certain age whom I have played and loved. It’s a niche of Johns Hopkins theater that I have been happy to inhabit for almost four years.
When I was cast as April in Company, however, I was suddenly thrown out of my dramatic comfort zone. April is a flight attendant. She is, according to Bobby, “cute, original and odd.” Whether she possesses these qualities is, perhaps, up for debate. However, she is most definitely young. As someone who has always enjoyed the weird sense of freedom that comes with playing older people, there is something daunting about April’s relative youth. She recently dropped out of Northwestern University, and is attempting to date in the romantic hellscape that is New York City. For a college senior, this hits far closer to home than, say, a cannibalistic Victorian pie-maker.
When Company premiered into 1970, musical theater was primarily used as an escape. Most musicals avoided any real relevance to the lives of their audience. The sweeping romance and happy endings of Rogers & Hammerstein seemed incongruous with the complicated sexual politics of the seventies. Company was one of the first musicals to address this new world of adult relationships and dating. Sondheim himself said, "Broadway theater has been for many years supported by upper-middle-class people with upper-middle-class problems. These people really want to escape that world when they go to the theatre, and then here we are with Company talking about how we're going to bring it right back in their faces." I, too, have always seen musical theater as a form of escape. It’s fun to revel in the excess, the solos, the silly costumes and gratuitous dance numbers. It’s fun to play a batty old lady, because I get to escape the anxieties of my own life. For that reason, Company is a challenge. Instead of allowing us to disappear into a world of tidy happy endings, we have to delve into the psyches of people who have doubts and worries, who are “sorry-grateful” about the paths their lives have taken. We have to be vulnerable and petty and young people loving and not loving other young people in big cities. We’re having our problems brought right back in our faces, because in the end, we’re playing versions of ourselves.
One of the cool things about working in a black box theatre is the flexibility of onstage and offstage space. Backstage space is needed for entrances/exits, scenery and props storage and, for the musical, a pit! Our set designer Raidizon has decided to use curtains to create backstage areas. Through the use of 8 curtains that he worked into his set design, he was able to create spaces on stage that are not visible from an audience seat.
In these pictures you get to see what hanging curtains is like in our space. Two people are on the ground and two others stand on our 18-foot-high tension wire grid. On the grid there are cleats with ropes wrapped around them. The groups on the ground and in the grid determine where to drop ropes from the ceiling, then the ground group ties the rope to a pipe that will be used as a curtain rod. They then tie the curtains to those pipes, and the grid group raises the apparatus until the bottom of the curtain is just above the ground. Ropes secure the curtains to the cleats, and the curtain is now hung!
Update from Raidizon (our tech executive): Painting the floor is always fun! It’s also one of the very few times we can play music while having a build. While painting the floor, we play music through the sound systems. Even though the floor was painted black, we needed to repaint the whole floor to provide a nice finish and make the floor look so much cleaner, as seen in the pictures!
The cast put on their dancing shoes last night to learn some choreography for the second act's opening number, "Side by Side." During the song, the main character Robert gets to dance with each of the couples, so our director chose a different dance style for each couple. Some of the dance styles include the polka, the mambo, ballet, and the Charleston!
Photos courtesy of Gillian Lelchuck
Our tech team is hard at work building the set for our show; this week they built 8 picture frames. These picture frames will hang from the grid and all the characters and couples will be able to pose and sing from behind them. The idea of creating a wall of picture frames that the cast could interact with was inspired from a line in the opening number: "All those pictures up on the wall...from all those good and crazy people my friends."