The set of A Murder is Announced at the Ashcroft HUB is just waiting for the cast to arrive for the final performance on March 15. (Photo credit: Jessica Clement)

Theatre Diaries 5: Another WRAPS production is in the books

After weeks of rehearsals, five performances go by at lightning speed

And just like that, it’s over.

On March 15 I walk into the gym at the Ashcroft HUB at 12:45 p.m., to watch the final performance of the Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society’s production of A Murder is Announced. Five hours later …

But before we get to that point, let’s go back five days, to Tuesday, March 10. I’m sitting at home, getting ready to watch Schitt’s Creek, and it feels odd. That’s because, I suddenly realize, it’s the first Tuesday evening since the first week of January that I haven’t been at a play rehearsal. Cast and crew have the night off, before the final dress rehearsal on March 11 and opening night on the 12th.

The dress rehearsal is … a bit rough. Act 1 is fine, but in Act 2 things go a bit awry, and it takes the cast a while to recover. “You know what they say about a poor dress rehearsal,” Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan says afterward. “It means a great run.” We all hope she’s right.

Things don’t look promising on the evening of the 12th, however. The audience is a good deal smaller than we had hoped for, and we realize that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably affecting our little corner of the world, causing people to choose to stay home. Still, the show must go on, and I settle down into my seat as the lights in the auditorium dim. This is it; the night that more than two dozen people have been working towards. I take a deep breath as the stage lights go up, revealing Marina Papais waving through a window and Gaurangi Benner-Tapia reading a magazine. Here we go!

And it goes very well indeed. There are a few opening night jitters, but everyone soon settles into their roles. The audience laughs at jokes and funny moments that we haven’t seen the humour in for several weeks — endless repetition does that to you — and applauds enthusiastically at the end of every scene and at the curtain call. The actors are all beaming, and deservedly so. They did it. We all did it.

It’s clear, though, that some people who dearly wanted to be there won’t be able to come, because of health concerns. Cancellation was never an option — not after so much hard work — and postponement wasn’t on the cards either: the COVID-19 situation is changing so rapidly that who knows what putting it off for a week or two would bring, even if we could afford to do that. Indeed, two days after the final performance there is a prohibition on gatherings of more than 50 people, and the HUB — our home away from home since January — announces it is closing for the foreseeable future.

The run continues, passing by in a blur. I’m in the audience for each performance and never see the same play twice, because unlike a movie, a theatrical performance is a living thing that continually changes. An actor gives a line a slightly different reading; a bit of movement is altered; a burst of laughter or spontaneous round of applause from the audience changes everything.

Then it happens: the final curtain call, the thanks and presentations to the crew, photographs, and we’re in the green room for a small celebration, a few last laughs, some discussion about what we should do next. I gather up some small props that I’ve brought, then walk out through the gym.

What a difference five hours makes. At 12:45 there was a fully-realized set just waiting for the actors. Now, at 5:45, the paintings have gone off the walls, most of the furniture has vanished, and a small crew has taken down almost all of the seats in the auditorium and the staging they were set out on. From a place of magic where anything could happen to a prosaic gymnasium, in the time it takes to drive from Ashcroft to Prince George.

It means another WRAPS play is in the books. Was it a lot of work? You bet your sweet bippy. Would I do it again? Faster than you can say “Hey, gang, let’s put on a show!” Speaking of which, we have a fall 2020 production to start thinking about. I wonder: how well would a classic British pantomime go over? Our next WRAPS directors’ meeting is coming up soon. Hey, it’s never too soon to start planning …

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