Section: Arts

Backstage pass: behind the scenes of a main stage rehearsal

Backstage pass: behind the scenes of a main stage rehearsal

Anna Dunlavey, Collegian

By Anna Dunlavey

It’s 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 13, the first night of dress tech rehearsals for the Kenyon College Dance and Dramatic Club (KCDC) production The Ballad of Bonnie Prince Chucky. The actors with fight scenes had to arrive early and rehearse them for safety reasons. Max Pescherine ’17 wanders the edges of the stage, precariously waving a fencing foil. Alex Kirshy ’17 sits on the side of the stage debating whether to wear his rugby socks above or below the knee. And Mike Jest ’15 is nowhere to be found.

Production Stage Manager (PSM) Libby Gardner ’15 re-spikes the stage, ripping off the colorful pieces of tape on the floor that mark where to put the set pieces and replacing them with darker, less obvious ones. She arrived earlier than anyone else, to ensure that all props were in place and all costumes were in tact. The actors and assistant stage managers (ASMs) began arriving about half an hour ago.

“Lowering rope!” ASM Natalie Kane ’18 calls from the catwalk above the stage. “Thank you, Natalie!” Gardner yells back, and suddenly two ropes are dropped down to hang on either side of the stage. One of them nearly misses hitting the head of Henry Nash ’17, who stands toward the back of the stage with his own fencing foil in hand. As soon as Gardner finishes re-spiking, she calls for Pescherine and Nash to begin rehearsing their fight.

“Remember: targets, fluidity, breathing,” Gardner instructs them. “And knees.” Then the two sophomores start swiping at each other with the sharp blades. “Watch the corner!” Gardner calls out at a moment when it looks as though Nash will fall backward off the stage. They move with ease and control, especially seeing as they did not know how to fence before auditioning for the show. They have been working on this scene for weeks, and even had a three-day “fight weekend” with a fight choreographer, Tyler Rich,  who came in from Chicago. It’s things like this that sets theater apart from other activities. “Where else would you just randomly learn to fence in a weekend?” Gardner says, watching to make sure Nash and Pescherine hit their marks correctly.

Max Pescherine ’17 duels with Henry Nash '17
Max Pescherine ’17 duels with Henry Nash ’17

Jest finally appears from one of the vomitoriums, or voms, that lead from the trap room underneath the stage up to the house. He’s wearing his new rugby uniform. Although the cast and crew have just come off a 10-hour rehearsal day on Sunday, this is their first full dress rehearsal. Hannah Zipperman ’16 tightens up her scrum cap and asks some members of the rugby team who are going to be featured in the production whether or not she is doing it correctly. This is the first KCDC production for “the ruggers,” and they’re all a little confused.

Gardner moves to rehearsing the scenes in which Pescherine slaps Kirshy and strangles Jest as the play’s director and writer Professor of Drama Wendy MacLeod walks up through the other of the two voms. Although MacLeod had a workshop of the play  at A.C.T. in San Francisco with high-school aged actors from Scotland, and it was done in Aberdeen last fall, this is the first time her show is being performed in America. It’s also Gardner’s first time working as a PSM for MacLeod, and Gardner is excited she gets to be a part of MacLeod’s experience. “I think getting to do it at her college is a really special experience for her,” Gardner said.

The actors just need to rehearse the dances, and then the run-through of the show will begin. At this point, everyone is trying to get Gardner’s attention, which is why she arrives so early. “I’ve found that if there are things I need to get done I need to get there when no one is there,” Gardner said. “Otherwise I’m just fielding questions and trying to get things done at the same time, which is impossible.”

After the dance rehearsal, everyone gets a 10-minute break, except Gardner. She heads up to her booth, where she will be stationed during the show, to set up. Gardner is connected to everyone else via headset. That’s also how she will call cues. Gardner has around 150 sound and light cues to call during the night on certain lines, entrances, or even certain hits during the sword fight. Gardner admitted that calling cues could get tricky. “If I miscall a sound or a light cue, everybody’s going to know,” she said. But even though they are doing difficult work, it is important for Gardner, her four ASMs, the sound and light board operators and everyone else on the tech crew to make it seem as though it is effortless. “The point is to make it so that nobody notices the tech is happening,” Gardner said. “That’s our job, really, to make sure everyone is just focused on the story being told.”

Gardner announces over her headset that there are five minutes until the show starts. She goes to the booth next door to ensure that the sound operator, Adam Zaremsky ’15, is ready to go. She then unlocks the door to the catwalk and walks across to descends the two flights of stairs to the trap room. “This light should be off,” she says as she switches off the light in the prop closet. “This light should be on,” she says, turning on a small lamp on the stair railing. She checks the voms to be sure that the actors are in their places, makes sure her ASMs are ready, then runs up to her seat and puts her headphones on. She calls the first cue. The lights go down. It’s show time.

The Ballad of Bonnie Prince Chucky, written and directed by Kenyon Playwright-in-Residence Wendy MacLeod, opens tonight at 8 p.m. in the Bolton Theater.

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