Things are getting tense as (from left) Dave Dubois

Theatre Diaries – Pt IV: Behind Door #1

Barbara Roden shares her insight into the rehearsals leading up to WRAPS's next production, Switching Principles.

Wherein we follow the Winding Rivers Arts and Performance Society as it puts on a show. . . .

Feb. 15: Our first official rehearsal “off-book” – no scripts allowed on stage – means lots of pauses, lapses, and calls of “Line, please.” Some actors are approximating their lines – giving more or less the substance of what they’re supposed to be saying, but not coming out with the lines as they are in the script. This causes some confusion for other actors, who are expecting a certain sentence to cue them for their own lines; when the expected words don’t come, and you’re still trying to get your part down, it’s easy to stand there, not realizing it’s your turn to speak.

Cecelia McLean, re-cast only two weeks ago in a much larger part than her original one, has done a great job of getting up to speed; anyone watching would assume she’d had as much time to study her part as the rest of us. Seeing someone step up to a challenge like that inspires the rest of us.

We’ve also had another cast member leave; her family has moved earlier than planned, so she’s unable to continue. Rather than find another cast member at such a late stage, her lines are divided amongst the other three actors playing the students. The show must go on, after all.

Feb. 17: The lack of a downstage left door is still causing problems, as actors try to figure out where they have to be in relation to it when they’re on stage. We’re told that a real door will be with us next week; until then we will just have to continue using our imaginations. It’s also Cecelia’s first time doing Act One, Scene One as her new character, so there are a lot of pauses as she gets the blocking down. During one pause a young onlooker – daughter of a cast member – approaches Jim McLean, who plays the husband of the overbearing school board head, played by yours truly. Jim – whose character has been harangued for not waiting in the car as directed – is gravely informed that he had better go and wait in the car, otherwise his wife will get angry at him again. Jim and I tell ourselves this is obviously down to our superb acting skills.

Feb. 22: Several major cast members aren’t available today, which makes for an awkward rehearsal. Even with volunteers reading out the lines, it’s difficult reacting to people who aren’t on the stage, so our imaginations are working overtime. It also leads to some unintentionally funny moments, when characters have to manhandle themselves across the stage.

Feb. 24: Thanks to Jim Duncan, we have a door! It looks odd, plunked down on the floor of the high school library, but it’s an enormous help in getting us used to the dynamics of interacting with it. Various costumes are beginning to make an appearance as well, with actors turning up in clothes that are a far cry from our usual casual attire. Director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan encourages everyone wearing unfamiliar outfits – dresses, suits, high-heeled shoes – to start wearing them to rehearsals, to get used to moving in them. I’ll be wearing heels, and in once scene I get backed across the stage and out the door, so as I’m no Ginger Rogers I decide that getting used to the shoes will be an excellent idea.

The area of stage that will be raised has been taped out to indicate where it and the step leading to it will be. There’s much laughter as actors mime stepping up and down on a level floor.

Feb. 25: It’s safe to say that this run through of Act Two is the most difficult one we’ve had so far. It’s as if a sudden case of nerves has seized everyone: lines we knew just a few days ago have evaporated from memory, and the brain freeze rapidly sweeps through the entire cast. “That was an amazing struggle,” says Mavourneen at the end of it, and we agree to fit in extra rehearsals over the coming week. This seems to steady everyone, and we run through the act again, with better results.

Mar. 1: When we gather to start today’s rehearsal, stage manager Jessica Clement reminds us that at this time two weeks from now we’ll be almost finished the Saturday matinee performance. The reality of what we’ve embarked on hits us like a wave, but it only serves to encourage everyone, and the first run through of the entire play goes much better than we’d dared hope, especially given what our previous rehearsal was like. There’s still a lot of fine tuning to be done over the next 10 days, but we can feel things coming together. Now to get on to the actual stage. . . .

Barbara Roden

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