(from l) Gareth Smart, Pamela Ainge, Erik Osborne, and Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan in rehearsal. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Theatre Diaries 1: Going solo as director isn’t an easy task

There’s more to being a director than meets the eye

It seems like a long time since the last Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society theatre production, which was Shrek the Musical, Jr. in March 2019. It had been preceded by a production of Blithe Spirit in November 2018, and after doing two productions in such close proximity, the WRAPS team decided that, for the first time since November 2015, there would not be a fall production in 2019, so we could give ourselves a break.

Our plan all along was to do a smaller production featuring mainly adult performers in early 2020, and follow it up with something bigger later in the year that could incorporate more youth. With that in mind, late 2019 sees us auditioning for a production that we have long been discussing: a murder mystery. And not just any murder mystery: it’s A Murder is Announced by the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie, featuring one of her greatest detective creations, the indomitable Miss Jane Marple.

By the time the audition process is finished and the roles are finalized we have a good many familiar faces in the cast, including Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan (as Miss Marple), Marina Papais, Pamela Ainge, and David Dubois. Gareth Smart is back with us, for the first time since A Midsummer Night’s Mid-Term in 2012, and five youth who have been in several WRAPS productions—Gaurangi Benner-Tapia, Colin Mastin, Sarah Onstine, Erik Osborne, and Matthias Sampson—are also in the play.

We’re excited to welcome a new face—Paulet Rice—to the stage, along with someone who has done stellar work behind the scenes and is now venturing in front of the footlights for the first time: Margaret Moreira, our costume designer since My Fair Lady in 2015. Stage manager extraordinaire Jessica Clement is back again, as is Jim Duncan, who never met a set that he couldn’t design and build beautifully and in double-quick time.

Mavourneen has directed or co-directed all but one of the nine WRAPS productions I’ve been involved with since 2012; the one exception was 2016’s Shirley Valentine, the one-woman show in which she starred, and which I directed. Since then I have co-directed Blithe Spirit and Shrek with her, with an eye to being able to allow her to take on bigger acting roles in WRAPS productions (such as Miss Marple), or step in to direct a play if she’s not available.

So it is that I find myself the sole director of A Murder is Announced, and quickly realize that there is a world of difference between being the sole director of a one-woman play and being the sole director of an ensemble piece with 12 actors. In advance of the first rehearsal I start blocking, printing off 100 copies of the set design so that for every page of the script I can plot out visually where each character in that scene starts out, finishes up, and everything else in between those points.

For several nights I pore over the script, figuring out who’s in each scene and where they need to be in the course of it. Before the first rehearsal I warn the actors that the blocking is not written in stone: I won’t pull any major changes at the final dress rehearsal, but well before that point I might decide that this or that piece of blocking doesn’t work, and re-block it accordingly.

I’m also alive to what happens during rehearsal: when an actor instinctively leaps out of their seat when delivering a line, and I have them as remaining seated, I realize that leaping is the right thing to do at that point, and amend the blocking accordingly. During these early rehearsals I also get a 3D look at how the scene plays out, and do some amendments so that people aren’t “clumping” at one side of the set, leaving the other side almost empty.

During our Jan. 19 rehearsal we get through the final 40 pages of blocking, a feat which has us all clapping. We’ll be back on Jan. 22 to go through those 40 pages once more, to cement the blocking; then it’s back to Act 1, Scene 1 to start going through it all again in more depth. Hard work? You bet. But I’m with a great group of people I know and love, and wouldn’t miss it for the world.

A Murder is Announced will be at the Ashcroft HUB for five performances starting on Thursday, March 12.


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Clear as mud: Blocking notes for one page of script. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

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