(from l) Marina Papais, Gareth Smart, Gaurangi Benner-Tapia, and Matthias Sampson during a dramatic moment at the first dress rehearsal for A Murder is Announced. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)

Theatre Diaries 4: A murderer gets ready to be announced

All the pieces fall into place as opening night draws near

As I write this piece, there is one more rehearsal to go before opening night of the latest Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society production, A Murder is Announced. There have been seven rehearsals on the actual set, which has been a work in progress for 10 days as bits and pieces are gradually added to it to make it look more lived-in. Paintings? Check. Vases of flowers? Check. Books on the bookcase? Check.

That’s not to say we don’t have the occasional setback. The love seat we were counting on cannot, it transpires, make an appearance after all, so three days before opening night we have to decide what will fill its space. We decide on a distinctly modern love seat that’s already at the Ashcroft HUB, and following a quick makeover it looks appropriately “period”. Amateur theatre is nothing if not flexible.

We’re rehearsing four days a week now, for three+ hours at a time. March 8 is scheduled to be the tech rehearsal, where we sort out the light and sound cues, but we decide to preface it with what’s known as an Italian read-through, where the cast members sit in a circle and say their lines at rapid speed: no acting, no blocking, just the words. That starts at 4:30 p.m., and following a quick break so that everyone can have something to eat, we start the tech rehearsal.

We knew it would be a long afternoon and evening, and so it proves to be, with everyone stumbling out of the HUB at 10:45 p.m. A few minutes later I’m back at home, and find myself sitting at my computer looking for downloadable gunshot sound effects. The ones we’ve found so far don’t sound quite right, so the search is on for something more appropriate.

On March 9 we have a dress and tech rehearsal. Until now the actors have been appearing in bits and pieces of costume during rehearsals, haven’t had to worry about hair or makeup, and have been able to sit in the auditorium and watch the proceedings when they’re not on stage, but as of March 9 it’s full hair makeup for everyone, with complete costumes in all scenes. It means that we can get a look at how everyone will appear on set under the lights, and gives the actors a chance to get used to the timings for any costume changes, and be sure they’re backstage listening for their cues.

There’s a bit of tweaking to be done. “More blood” is the verdict for one scene, and I discuss with Sequoya Wiebe — who is doing the hair and makeup — how we can style one character’s hair to age her up a little. The play calls for four young people around the age of 25 or 26, and we have four actors ranging in age from 15 to 17 playing them. As we keep acknowledging, however (and every woman in the cast nods sagely when we say this), it’s far easier to make someone look older than it is to make them look younger.

There’s always something about the first dress rehearsal where it all clicks into place. We’ve been working toward this moment for so long, but it’s been in bits and pieces, rehearsing a few scenes at a time and trying to picture what it will all look like when everything comes together. This is the night when it does, and I realize that we have ourselves a theatre production: lights, costumes, sound effects, and props, all forming a cohesive whole. Magic.

But of course it isn’t magic. A lot of people have worked hard to get us to this point, and while that’s involved a lot of labour, it’s been a labour of love. Alongside the work there have been many laughs, and the fact that most of us have worked together before — often many times — has made it great fun, as we remember productions past. There’s a tinge of sadness, though, in knowing that for two of our young cast members — Gaurangi Benner-Tapia and Matthias Sampson — it will probably be their last WRAPS theatre production, as both are in Grade 12.

A cast member who hopefully isn’t going anywhere anytime soon is Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan, who plays Miss Jane Marple, Agatha Christie’s popular sleuth. The character has been brought to life many times on stage, screen, and TV, and Varcoe-Ryan confesses to a slight worry when it comes to taking on the iconic role.

“I love playing Miss Marple, but I’m afraid I’ll get her wrong when it comes to what people have in mind about her, because I’ve never seen a Miss Marple show,” she notes. “I’m having lots of fun with her and still coming up with ideas for her. I just hope people who come with a preconceived idea about what Miss Marple is like aren’t disappointed.”

Miss Marple is famous for her knitting, and Mavourneen doesn’t knit. Not a problem: stage manager Jessica Clement starts some knitting on a pair of needles for Mavourneen to use during the course of the play. That’s the magic of theatre; all is not necessarily as it appears.

The same can be said for an Agatha Christie mystery. Christie was second to none when it comes to red herrings, misdirection, and hiding clues in plain sight, and it’s made the play a lot of fun to do. Will audience members find it just as much fun, as well as a test of their little grey cells? One more rehearsal to go, and you’ll have a chance to find out if you’re a more astute sleuth than Miss Marple, while enjoying a wonderful evening of theatre. On with the show!

A Murder is Announced will be at the Ashcroft HUB for five performances (Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m.; Friday, March 13 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 14 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and on Sunday, March 15 at 1 p.m.). Tickets are $15 each and can be purchased at the Ashcroft HUB office, online at https://bit.ly/32Lleb0, or at the door (unless sold out).


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