Cast members read through the script of Blithe Spirit as Jan Schmitz films the proceedings. (clockwise from top centre) Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan, Jim Mertel, Nancy Duchaine, Marina Papais, Theresa Takacs, Jan Schmitz, and Skylar Dubois. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Theatre Diaries 2: The adventure begins

The actors gather for a table-read, and the set begins to take rough shape.

After auditions for the next Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society’s theatre production—Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit—took place in June, and a preliminary costume-tryout session was held, things went quiet over the summer, with cast members able to study their scripts. On August 24 a table-read was held, with the actors gathering together with director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan to read through the entire play and get a feel for it, their characters, and who they’ll be acting with.

I’m at the table-read as well, and for once am there to observe, not take part. My title for this production is assistant director; I’ll be working closely with Mavourneen and shadowing her, with a view to being able to direct solo in the future should the need arise. It’s not my first time directing—I directed Mavourneen in Shirley Valentine in 2016—but that play had a cast of one. This time there are seven actors, so the blocking—deciding which actors move where on stage, and when—will be somewhat more complicated (although nowhere near as complex as guiding more than two dozen people through their paces in productions such as My Fair Lady and Anne of Green Gables: The Musical). Baby steps… .

Before the table-read, Mavourneen and I sit down with set designer extraordinaire Jim Duncan. Since the action of Blithe Spirit takes place in one location—the living-room of an English country house—Jim is looking forward to another set on the scale of the one he designed for Arsenic and Old Lace. There is much discussion as to where the hall doors, French windows, and fireplace should go, as well as what pieces of furniture we’ll need and where they’re to be placed. Mavourneen sketches out a rough design and we have fun moving imaginary pieces of furniture around it, conscious that at this early stage all our plans are subject to change without notice once we get into a rehearsal room and see what space we have.

The actors arrive for the table-read. Jim Mertel plays Charles Condomine, a successful writer who is researching his next work, The Unseen, and has invited a local medium, the eccentric Madame Arcati (Marina Papais) for dinner and a séance, where the ghost of Charles’s first wife Elvira (played by Mavourneen) is inadvertently conjured up. This causes some friction between Charles and his very-much-alive second wife, Ruth (Nancy Duchaine), while guests Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (Jan Schmitz and Theresa Takacs) remain oblivious to the situation. Rounding out the cast is Skylar Dubois as the Condomines’ new maid, Edith, a part Skylar will share with Andrea Bona, who is unable to attend.

We all laugh as Coward’s deliciously funny dialogue unfolds (“What do you suppose induced Agnes to leave us and go and get married?” asks Charles, to which Ruth replies knowingly “The reason was becoming increasingly obvious, dear.” “We must keep Edith in the house more,” is Charles’s solution). The table-read is a voyage of discovery; soon the dialogue will be as familiar to all of us as our own names.

When he’s not needed for lines, Jan is busy filming the table read and conducting short interviews with some of those involved. It’s all part of a process in which Jan will film every stage of the production from start to finish, taking viewers through the evolution of a stage production.

Rehearsals will start soon, but before they do there is blocking to sort out. Time to take a deep breath and get ready for another adventure; the show will go on in less than three months. Here we go again!

Blithe Spirit will be at the Ashcroft HUB for six performances from November 16 to 25.

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