(from left) Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan, Jim Mertel, and Theresa Takacs reheasre a scene while Marina Papais waits on the ‘sofa’ for her cue. Photo: Barbara Roden.

Theatre Diaries 5: What’s my line?

The cast goes off-book, props pile up, and costumes are coming along.

Before the Blithe Spirit rehearsal on October 9, the production team—myself and co-director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan, stage manager Jessica Clement, and producer Susan McLean—get together for a meeting. I’m not quite sure why I’m there, as the meeting isn’t about Blithe Spirit; it’s about the Winding Rivers Arts & Performance Society’s spring 2019 production, Shrek the Musical Jr.

Earlier this year, WRAPS was asked to take on the production, which was originally to have been produced by local schools. We agreed, and before long it’s revealed why I’m there. “You can co-direct,” says Mavourneen cheerfully. “It’ll be a good experience directing lots of people [there are more than two dozen people in the cast] and working with children [all the parts will be played by local youth].”

Gulp.

The rest of the hour is spent setting up audition dates, discussing a rehearsal schedule, figuring out how many performances there will be and when (early March 2019), as well as throwing around some possible costuming options. It’s the first time that WRAPS has worked on two theatre productions simultaneously, and it’s a bit of a gear-change to go from a world of ogres and talking donkeys to an English drawing-room in 1941.

Several of the Blithe Spirit actors—all of whom are WRAPS theatre veterans—haven’t waited to be told they have to be off-book (i.e. have their lines memorized); they’ve already made strides in getting their lines down. It’s a huge boost to an actor to be able to discard the script: not only are your hands freed up for any “business” you have to do—mixing a drink, arranging flowers, taking someone’s cloak and gloves—you’re able to concentrate more on your movement and actions, make eye contact with your fellow actors, and concentrate on the emotion you’re trying to convey with your words.

Margaret Moreira and Elaine LaMarre have been hard at work on costumes, and actors are getting used to trying on different clothes before each rehearsal. More and more props are arriving, and the props table in Room 104 at the HUB is covered with silver tea and coffee pots, martini glasses, vases, decanters, and more. Jo Petty has said she has a sofa that might fit what we’re looking for, so Mavourneen and I go over to see it. Not only is it perfect, it has a matching armchair, which Jo immediately says we can borrow as well. Mavourneen and I feel guilty about depriving Jo of much of her living-room furniture, but Jo is fine with it: “I can always bring some lawn chairs in.”

Actors are told they have to be off-book by the October 16 rehearsal, and we run Act One; Act Two follows on the 18th, and Act Three on October 20. Cumulatively, the three reherasals take more than six hours, as actors have to keep calling for lines; when opening night comes round, the play will take just over two hours to run, not including intermission.

Unlike many past WRAPS theatre productions, which had casts of 20 or more people, Blithe Spirit has only seven characters, so almost everyone has a lot of dialogue. It’s also very stylized and very British dialogue from a specific period in time, with turns of phrase that don’t come naturally to modern speakers from Canada. However, from past experience we know that lines which come haltingly at this stage will be flowing by opening night.

Speaking of opening night, it’s less than four weeks away. Rehearsals will be kept to three a week until the end of October, but once November hits we can expect Blithe Spirit to be consuming our lives. “You’re mine come November,” Jessica tells everyone, and we know she’s not kidding. Deep breath: things are about to get serious.

Blithe Spirit will be at the Ashcroft HUB for six performances from November 16 to 25. Tickets go on sale soon.

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