(from l) John Kidder

Theatre diary 3: Off book, on stage, and ready for opening night

It's been a long road, but all the pieces are coming together for the opening night of 'Arsenic and Old Lace' on November 12.

We’re getting down to crunch time in our rehearsals for Arsenic and Old Lace. We’ve been “off book”—that is, no scripts allowed on stage—for two weeks, and the first couple of off book rehearsals are rocky.

This is my fifth play with WRAPS, yet it never ceases to amaze me how lines that I knew cold in the privacy of my own house simply vanish when I’m on the spot with my fellow actors, and no script to help me.

I’ve been running lines for what seems like forever. When I’m in the car, when I’m dropping off to sleep, when I wake up; I even have the script on the bathroom counter, propped open with a hairbrush, when I’m drying my hair.

I think I know the lines; but when it comes time to speak them aloud before other people, it’s as if I’ve never read the script.

Costumes are being worked on, with actors ransacking the WRAPS storeroom at the HUB, looking for appropriate pieces.

All costumes have to be approved by director Mavourneen Varcoe-Ryan, and the result is that actors are appearing “on stage” in a rag-tag combination of possible costume pieces and everyday garb.

Jim Mertel—who plays brother Teddy, who thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt—has received a mystery package which, when opened, contains two pith helmets, which we need for the play. Pith helmets are not easily found; but cast member John Kidder found them at a theatrical supply shop in Toronto. The mailing label on the package indicated they were to be sent to “Theodore Roosevelt”. Who knew that he was alive and well and living in Ashcroft?!

At one point in the play Teddy has to blow his bugle just as two characters are about to drink a glass of wine, interrupting them. During rehearsal, Jim McLean bangs his wine glass down so hard on the table that it shatters, which postpones proceedings as the shards are cleared away.

“The props list says that we need six wine glasses,” says Varcoe-Ryan as she sweeps up glass. “Now I see why.”

On November 5 the crew sweeps into the HUB to begin constructing the set in the building’s former gymnasium.

An early stage – pun intended – of building the set. Photo by Barbara Roden.

Over the course of two days the set that had been envisioned so many weeks ago becomes a reality: walls are erected, doors and stairs are in place, we have an upholstered window seat (a crucial prop), and suddenly the interior of the Brewster house has become a reality.

The rehearsal on November 6 is the first one on the actual stage, and the difference is staggering. Until now we have been rehearsing in a classroom, with doors and walls marked with tape on the floor, and a sofa that consisted of three chairs placed side by each. Now we have real doors, and real stairs, and an actual sofa, and most of the cast spends some time exploring our new home.

Prior to the main rehearsal there is one for a short play that will run before each performance of Arsenic and Old Lace. WRAPS has always included younger actors in its theatre productions, but there are simply no parts for them in the play.

In order to include our young thespians, I wrote a short piece set in the Brooklyn neighbourhood where the Brewster house is located. It includes a cameo appearance by an Arsenic and Old Lace character, and at the rehearsal it becomes clear the actors have taken their roles seriously; they’re already word- perfect.

The main rehearsal is not only off book, but we can’t even call for lines, so if someone “dries”—forgets a line—or accidentally skips ahead in the dialogue, we carry on as best we can. Now that most of the props are in place, we’re also trying to remember what we need to do with them and when.

As of the time of writing this we have three more rehearsals to go; by the time you are reading this, opening night will be two days away.

Are we nervous? Heck, yes. Are we looking forward to it? Of course we are. On with the show: this is it!

Arsenic and Old Lace will run for five performances at the Ashcroft HUB beginning at 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 12. Admission is by donation.

For a complete list of performance dates and times, see the ad in this newspaper, or go to www.windingriversarts.ca.

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