(from left) Theresa Takacs (Marilla Cuthbert), Jim Mertel (Matthew Cuthbert), and Vivian McLean (Anne Shirley) at a rehearsal in early October. Mertel is already starting to wear some of his costumes. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Theatre Diaries 4: We’re now off book, so it’s time to nail those lines

Plus we finally find someone to play a small but vital role in Anne of Green Gables.

Now that October has rolled around, and we are less than a month away from opening night, things are getting serious with Anne of Green Gables: The Musical. It’s not that things weren’t serious before; but we are conscious that crunch time has arrived.

At the rehearsal on October 1, director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan utters the words I dread to hear: “off book”. This means that as of a certain date, no scripts or scores are allowed on stage; all the actors are expected to know their lines and the lyrics of the songs they have singing roles in.

We either know the lines, fumble through as best we can, hope someone else on stage can bail us out, or as a last resort call out “Line!”, which will produce a prompt from stage manager Jessica Clement. By October 8 we are expected to be off book for Act One, and by October 10 the same applies to Act Two. No pressure, then.

We are also hard at work on costumes, with Mavourneen and others inventorying the WRAPS collection of costumes. The rehearsal is peppered with requests for various actors to try on this or that garment, which is then either set aside as not suitable or marked with the character’s name. I have been assigned a brown skirt, a blouse, and a jacket; the skirt will need a ruffle of some sort added to the bottom to make it long enough (and preserve my character’s dignity), but other than that everything is fine.

The skirt/blouse combination works for a number of reasons. Finding two period-appropriate dresses for each of the dozen women in the cast would be difficult; skirts and blouses makes it easier to mix and match for different looks. It’s also easier to find skirts and blouses that look (or can be made to look) appropriate for the 1907 setting of the play than it is to find dresses that work.

October 1 also marks the birthdays of Mattias Sampson (Gilbert Blythe), and producer Susan McLean. Between the acting and musical rehearsals, members of the cast show off their vocal chops with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday to You”.

Set designer Jim Duncan is also starting work on the set. Our last two full-cast productions—My Fair Lady in 2015 and Arsenic and Old Lace in 2016—called for two very different approaches to the sets. MFL had a dozen different settings, which meant an almost bare set that could accommodate various items being wheeled on and off to suggest different location, while the events of Arsenic took place in one setting, which meant Jim and his team could go to town with an elaborate fixed set.

For Anne of Green Gables, Jim is taking a middle line between the two types of sets. The interior of the Cuthbert home at Green Gables, where much of the action takes place, will be fixed in place at the rear of the stage; but during scenes in other settings, a curtain will obscure that set, with items being wheeled on an off in front of the curtain to suggest locations as varied as a train station, a schoolroom, and a general store.

We have almost the full cast at the rehearsal of October 5, and it makes for a very different atmosphere. By October 7 some actors are already (more or less) off book, and during scenes where they aren’t needed people are in the hallway of the HUB, trying on shoes, hats, and more clothing. Each character has a hanger for putting their clothes on, and the railing holding the costumes is beginning to fill up.

We have had trouble casting one character: Prissy Andrews, one of the students at Avonlea School who receives a good deal of personal attention from her teacher, Mr. Phillips. On October 7 we learn we finally have a Prissy: cast member Skylar Dubois, who is already playing Mrs. Blewett. As Mrs. Blewett has only one scene, it should not be difficult for Skylar to tackle both parts, especially since Prissy has no lines.

At last the first off book rehearsal takes place, on October 8, when we do all of Act One. Usually the first off book session is a difficult one, as actors struggle to remember lines they had down cold when rehearsing at home. However, this one goes fairly smoothly, and at the end Mavourneen praises the cast for their hard work getting their lines down. We’ll have to see if we fare as well on October 10, when we are all to be off book for Act Two.

Anne of Green Gables: The Musical is at the Ashcroft HUB at 7 p.m. November 2, 3, and 4, and at 1 p.m. on November 4 and 5.



editorial@accjournal.ca

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