Theatre Diaries 3: More tricky blocking, and a trick telegram

A very unscripted telegram message sets the cast laughing at a recent rehearsal.

You might remember how, in my last “Theatre Diaries” piece, I wrote about the difficulty of blocking a scene with 10 (adult) actors, bearing in mind that entrances and movements had to be precisely timed to the music. At the rehearsal on September 12, blocking that scene just two days earlier looks like a walk in the park, as we all rehearse a scene that has the same blocking challenges (entrances and movements timed to the music cues); only now there are almost two dozen people on stage, and half of them are children, some as young as eight.

Oh, and did I mention there’s a three-legged race and an egg-and-spoon race that have to be timed to the music, and choreographed so the right people win? And that during the song sung in the scene, we’re all expected to do some foot and arm movements that are not really dancing, but are as close to dancing as this person with two left feet ever wants to get?

Hoo boy.

Director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan is absent for this rehearsal, as she is doing some filming in Vancouver for a production she’s in, so stage manager Jessica Clement has bravely volunteered to tackle the scene. Some of the younger cast members need to be told what a three-legged race is and how it works, but they promptly get the hang of it (ties from the WRAPS costume wardrobe are requisitioned to assist with the rehearsal). As to whether or not real eggs will be used for the egg-and-spoon race: well, you’ll have to judge for yourselves when you see the play.

The scene ends with a reprise of a song extolling the joys of ice cream, and marks the end of Act One. When we finish the song with a rousing cry of “Ice cream!” I turn to Nancy Duchaine, who plays Mrs. Barry, and say, “This will have the audience on their feet. If it doesn’t, we’re doing it wrong,” a sentiment with which Nancy wholeheartedly agrees.

At the end of the rehearsal, a number of the younger cast members burst into an impromptu rendition of one of their other numbers. The fact that they do so without using their scripts or scores is a testament to how hard these young actors worked over the summer, getting their numbers down.

Another tricky blocking session comes up during the rehearsal on September 23: a scene where once again there are close to two dozen people on stage. The scene—in which residents of the town of Avonlea are attending a school concert—has numerous entrances (not cued to music this time) from multiple points by the adults and the younger actors, a song performed by the students, and the entrance of the stationmaster with a telegram containing momentous news.

Jan Schmitz, who plays the stationmaster, has a prolonged discussion with Mavourneen about when precisely he is to enter and how we will handle the mechanics of me spotting him and snatching the telegram out of his hand. Mavourneen finally says, tongue-in-cheek, “Stop being such a prima donna, Jan!” Jessica says, mock-seriously, “This is his one scene!”

We start the scene from Jan’s entrance, and at the appropriate moment I snatch the telegram from Jan and read it. It is, at this stage, just a folded piece of paper with some printing on it, and I start laughing as I see that instead of giving the news indicated in the script, it reads “Hi Barbara; I thought you were on vacation.”

As directed in the script, I pass the “telegram” to Theresa Takacs (Marilla Cuthbert), who reads it and also starts laughing. Everyone else, of course, wants to know what it says, so I read it aloud, then say to Jan “You know I’m going to think of this, and start laughing, every time we do this scene.” To which he cheerfully replies, “That’s okay; I’ll change it up for you each time.”

I dread to think what messages I’m in store for.

The scene ends with a rousing chorus of the song “If It Hadn’t Been For Me,” and in the middle of it there is a stage note that says simply “Dance” which has me rather worried. I suspect I am not the only adult in the cast who is relieved when Mavourneen decides that the students will hold hands and form a circle, then dance around Anne and Gilbert while the adults look on.

We are also starting to think about costumes. The musical is set around the year 1907, so once again we are doing a piece with period costumes not easily found in people’s cupboards. Winding Rivers has accumulated a large stock of costumes from all eras, and some of the younger actors have already managed to find dresses and bonnets, caps and vests, that are appropriate to the era. More is needed, however; and the talented seamstresses WRAPS is able to draw on will once again be working hard to create the appropriate dresses and suits.

At the music rehearsal that follows we work on the same song. Mavourneen—who is in the cast as one of the townspeople—and I are singing alto, which means that at some points we are singing harmony rather than the melody. For two non-singers, this is proving difficult, as the melody—sung by the sopranos—is the dominant voice. In isolation, we know what we should be singing; but once the sopranos join in, it’s hard not to get sucked into singing what they’re singing. During pauses, we gripe good-naturedly about those darned sopranos, and propose a TV series called The Sopranos, which instead of being about an Italian crime boss is about rivalries and schisms in a choir.

A glance ahead at the October schedule shows more frequent, and longer, rehearsals. Mavourneen says we’ve finished the blocking; now rehearsals will focus on acting and character development. And the clock is ticking on learning our lines, so we can go “off-book.” Six weeks until opening night; we’ll be ready.

Correction: The name of the actor playing Gilbert Blythe is Mattias Samson. The surname in the last “Theatre Diaries” article was incorrect.

Anne of Green Gables: The Musical will be at the Ashcroft HUB for five performances (three evenings and two matinees) from November 2 to 5.

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