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Theatre Diaries 3: Starting to put all the pieces together

As rehearsals start to ramp up, the set starts to come together, including a crucial closet door
(from l) Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan, Jan Schmitz, Richard Wright, Nancy Duchaine, Jessica Clement (filling in for an absent actor), Drew Johnson, and Jhaenelle Roebbelen during a rehearsal of The Game’s Afoot . The closet door (back r) is waiting patiently for its big moment. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

The cast of The Game’s Afoot has got the blocking behind them, and rehearsals for the Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society’s first theatre production in three years are now increasing from two to three per week. Opening night seemed a very long way away when we started in January; now we’re less than six weeks out.

By the time we’re one week out we’ll be upping that to four rehearsals a week, and it speaks to the dedication of everyone concerned — cast and crew — that no one bats an eye. During past productions we’ve kept track of how many hours everyone spends on the play, and it amounts to more than 2,000 volunteer hours, of which rehearsals are only a part. There is all the behind the scenes work, whether that’s seamstress Margaret Moreira — who is pulling double duty as an actor — creating or altering costumes, Jim Duncan designing and then building the set (with the help of a great crew), stage manager Jessica Clement sourcing props and furniture, and much more.

The actors are the most visible people involved in putting on a play, but the truth is that without a large group of people backstage, there wouldn’t be a play. I’ve figured out that for every person who appears on stage, there are at least three people behind the scenes making things work. Some people might wonder why we do it, and the simple answer is because it’s fun, and we love it. Plus when the theatre bug bites, it never leaves you.

There’s a reason why I encourage newcomers to a community who are looking to meet people and get more involved to contact their local theatre group, if there is one. There is no more welcoming, inclusive, and non-judgmental group of people in the world than theatre folk, and we’re always happy to see new faces. Quite apart from the thrill of putting on a show, there’s the camaraderie, the joking and laughter, the shared stories from productions past. And while not everyone wants to be on the stage, there are plenty of opportunities to take part, whether it’s with costumes, hair and makeup, props, set design and building, lights and sound, selling tickets and handing out programs on the night, or helping out with the concession.

Speaking of lights and sound, it’s become apparent that The Game’s Afoot has a lot of challenges in those departments. We need flashes of lightning, and points in the play where the stage lights flicker and dim (or go out altogether, in one climactic scene). There is gunfire, a ringing phone, thunder, a radio playing different music in various scenes, a news broadcast that the audience hears during a scene change. We’ve been trying to figure out who can record the broadcaster’s piece: it has to be a man, and we can’t ask any of the actors involved to do it.

We find the answer in a returning face: my son Tim, who did set building, lights, and sound for WRAPS until he moved to Prince George in 2016. He’s now living in Kamloops, and had volunteered his services to Jim for all of the above when he found out we were doing another play. (“Because I enjoyed doing it when I lived in Ashcroft,” he says to me by way of explanation when I ask. Remember what I said about the theatre bug?) Tim messages me one day to ask what kind of “voice” I want him to do for the broadcaster, and I try to explain how a mid-1930s radio announcer would sound.

At the rehearsal on March 5 we get to try out one of the first pieces of the set to be built: a closet door that plays a crucial part in the production. It’s one of several somewhat tricky bits of “business” that the actors have to deal with; we also have some kissing scenes, two slaps across the face, and — in a first for WRAPS — a fight scene. It’s crucial, during the slaps and the fight, that things look convincing, but that no one actually gets hit or hurt. It’s also crucial that the kissing scenes look real, which is difficult at this stage because everyone — including the actors involved — starts laughing when they come up.

By opening night the kissing scenes will be played straight, the thunder and lightning cues will be in place, the fight scene will look deadly serious, and the closet door will have its chance to shine. There’s still a lot of hard work to be done between now and then, but the laughter makes it all worthwhile.

The Game’s Afoot will be at the Ashcroft HUB for five performances from April 12 to 15.

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