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Where Not to Stand (or Preparing for Battle)

26 Jun

The art of producing a play is a lot like a big game of tag. One actor says their line which is a cue for the next actor to say theirs which then either gets a response from the first actor or is a cue for yet another actor to say the next line. And to throw in another dimension, the lines may be the cue for one of the technical folks to get into the act–play a sound effect or change the lights. In essence, each line ends with an unspoken “tag, you’re it.”

IMG_1859This week a new type of blocking was introduced into ECT’s production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe–fight choreography. And after watching our fight choreographer work for a few hours, nowhere on stage is the next cue more important. No question, when two or more people start wielding (fake) swords or other battle implements, missing a cue means someone can get hurt.

Stephen Eliasson works with ECT on fight choreography and had scheduled a few hours to work with Fenrus Ulf, Peter, and the White Witch on their battle scenes. Before he came he had obviously spent some time thinking about the two scenes and how they were going to play out. He had taken notes and knew the steps that each actor would take, how they would stop, lunge, lean, twirl, and block a strike. And even how they would meet their end.

IMG_1824But one of the things that was utmost in his mind was the safety of the actors and the only way to ensure that was to make sure the actor was aware of the cues of their fellow actor. They need to prepare for the possibility that an actor may fail to jump the right way when the sword comes at them. Advice like “wait for her to get her arms fully stretched above her head and holding the staff up in the air before you bring you sword down.” And, “make sure you can see him before you start bringing the staff around.”

IMG_1832Who appears to be in control of the ensuing violence may not be the one who is in control of the actions at all. The appearance of actor A getting shaken by actor B is actually actor A creating the motion while actor B follows along. Such is the illusion of live theatre.

IMG_1910The choreography of battle is no different than the choreography of a dance except the perceived violence involved. And the art is just as difficult. So difficult that there is the Society of American Fight Directors that trains and certifies people like Stephen. Stephen only does this occasionally for groups like ours, but his enthusiasm and understanding shine through, making actors comfortable with swinging objects or their fists at each other and making you, the audience, believe they have landed their blow.IMG_1948


Where to stand

15 Jun
This side.

This side.

Until the Evansville High School Class of 2015 graduated, we practiced on the Middle School stage. It doesn’t compare to the EHS stage but I marvel at old pictures that show past large musical productions that were held there. The pit band didn’t have a pit, often it appears they were set to the back of the stage. And there aren’t any wings to speak of, so I can’t imagine how there was room

That side

That side

for set pieces, let alone actors, back there. Yep, we are spoiled now.

Most theatre groups don’t get on stage until a few weeks before the performance, so we are lucky to get on five or six weeks before opening night. That said, the rehearsals in the Middle School are more of the actors working on lines and getting to know each other and because the stage is only half the width it’s hard to really work on where the actors should be on the stage.

How about over there?

How about over there?

Entrances, exits, where to stand, how to time the delivery of the lines is difficult because it will take longer and require a completely different timing on the big stage.

So everyone was happy last week when they arrived at the EHS Performing Art Center (PAC). The directors can move and reassemble each tableau–known in stage terms as blocking.

Hannah said it was feeling like high school again as she told the story about a normal week with the high school director: “Monday: ‘all of you come in from the left and stand there, no, maybe a little further downstage.’ Tuesday: ‘No, no, it’s not working for me, try upstage and to the right, that will be much better.’ Wednesday: ‘It’s not speaking to me on the right, it just isn’t, well, right. Let’s try front and center!’ Thursday: ‘I just think it works best on the left and downstage.'” With that she threw up her hands and walked off.

Sure Hannah, that way works.

Sure Hannah, that way works.

Sometime Director Dave is standing on the floor in front of the stage, sometimes on the stage, sometimes sitting a few rows back in the seats. Melissa isn’t quite as transient but tries to judge it from the audience perspective. They talk to each other and then to the actors, the actors make suggestions and then they run the scene all over again.

Dave on the floor.

Dave on the floor.

In another few weeks, after Dave and Melissa have tried scenes upstage and down, stage left and stage right, and all of the combinations in between, they will finally decide the best place on stage and there simply won’t be time to change it any more.

And after this first week of rehearsals on an empty stage where things were starting to feel right, a small crew came in on Saturday and built the platforms that will become the set. So that means we will need to reconsider the blocking one more time. At least.

Dave on stage, Melissa (19) hangs tight.

Dave on stage, Melissa (19) hangs tight.

Finally, A Show

18 May

The Read ThroughMaybe the best meeting is the second meeting. At the first meeting we have to go over the rules, fill out forms, answer questions and get acquainted with our new cast mates.

For those of us who have done this before, we know that this is the beginning of a two month journey and some of us find a bit of comfort knowing that the last several months of struggle to get this point are finally over. But the real comfort comes when we finally sit down on a sunny Tuesday evening with the sun pouring in the windows and, in a large circle, the first actor says the first line.

We have officially begun.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe isn’t a musical so there isn’t a vocal director or a pit band which seems like it should simplify things, but it doesn’t necessarily. There is still a lot to think about–costume and make-up, lighting an imaginary world, creating props and special effects, building and painting a set and choreographing a battle scene. But that’s a few weeks away.

Right now we are happy the actors, in a large circle, are reading their lines. We’re happy they’ve signed on for the fun and challenges that lie ahead. We are finally in May and the business of theatre has turned back into the art of theatre.

Finally a show.Read thru 2

The Remains of a Play

8 Jun

IMG_0311Every few years, we go into the High School Performing Arts Center, and decide, “that’s it, the stage needs painting.” So somebody heads to the hardware store and orders up three gallons of the bottom of the line, black, flat, interior paint. We tie back the curtains, sweep and mop the floor, and finally paint.

So Dave and I (Lyman) arrived at the PAC early Friday morning, tracked down brooms and mops and started to work. I swept around the outside edge of the stage where the concrete apron meets the wood floor of the stage. Theres an expansion joint that goes all around two sides and the back wall. It’s there in the cracks and edges and around the backs of conduit and table legs where you find the reminders of all the things that have happened on that stage.

The Addams Family set work.

A stray silk leaf probably from The Addams Family, a half a dozen feathers from the Bird Girls in Seussical, sequins and other shiny bits from costumes from dance recitals, bits of wood and cloth and craft materials from any of the eight or nine productions since we last painted the floor.

No Clue

No Clue

Then I looked closer at the rest of the stage where one could see the wavy edge of the front of the platform that was Whoville. There were zig-zag lines from where the flats that created the back walls of No Clue and Outrageous Fortune were placed. The center of the stage is more chewed and pocked marked from the extra beating that it takes during nearly every performance. There were gouges where a wagon brake or other set piece had opened an arced gash in the stage.

Rehearsals in Whoville

Rehearsals in Whoville

When Dave and I walked away three hours later, the stage was a flat even black and the obvious scars and spatters of past shows where hidden from view. But no amount of paint and sweeping can take away the memories of the shows that preceded us in this facility.  And when Dave and Jay and I showed up on Saturday morning, we tracked dusty foot prints to the center of the stage, laid out the spike tape to outline Mushnik’s Flower Shop, and proceeded to add one more layer of history.

Ready for more.

Ready for more.

A Stage of Sorts

27 May

IMG_0185After one week, or just three rehearsals, the inevitable question is asked, “when can we get in the High School?” When you counter with “graduation’s the eighth,” they counter with “there’s nothing else going on there.”

Not true, unfortunately. There is Fine Arts night this week, a dance recital this weekend, and a grade school talent show next week. We just have to make do with the middle school for a few weeks. But a stage is a stage and while some of the principles were working through the first few scenes, the ensemble was in the choir room working on the songs.

IMG_0194Finally with a half hour of rehearsal left, the ensemble was dismissed so the Do-Wop Girls could join Mushnik, Seymour, and Audrey on stage. Aubrey (sorry, this will be confusing) is one of our puppeteers and she stuck around and mimicked the motions of the baby Audrey II.

IMG_0238But even the Middle School stage is better than the cafeteria, the actors sitting around in undersized chairs, trying to sing in a bent of position and generally looking uncomfortable. The stage floor was taped by the directors to give a sense of the walls of the flower shop and the actors were able to stand, move, have an idea of where to go and the directors could actually direct.

IMG_0259What some don’t realize is that we are spoiled by having a nice facility like the High School’s Performing Arts Center and that we get to do most of our rehearsing on that stage. Even real theatre companies work in a rehearsal space until a few short weeks before the performance then move to the theater they will perform in just before the show opens.

Even just the move from the cafeteria to the Middle School stage brings a different feel to the production even though we’re only three rehearsals in. For now the Middle School will do until the Evansville Class of 2014 graduates in a few short weeks then all of the chaos will ensue. We can hardly wait.7 20 lights

Finally, It Begins

21 May
A humble stack of lumber.

A humble stack of lumber.

It seems to start out the same each year, a pile of lumber arrives outside the high school workshop door, a group of hopefuls shows up at the middle school, a box of scripts arrives. The production team has met to discuss budgets, and schedules, and publicity. The usual discussions ensue about complimentary tickets and when can we get into the high school.


‘Talk ’em to death, why don’t ya?’

But finally, after a winter of talk and more talk and even more talk, the play is cast and the night that we’ve been waiting for arrives–the first read through.

After what seems like an eternity of, well, more talk–fill out the forms, help backstage, excited you’re here, on and on.

Then finally, we shut up, and the rehearsal cd starts with some music and the first song begins and the actors start to sing along, say their lines, laugh at the expected and numerous mistakes, start a song during the intro vamps, or don’t start because they think they’re intro vamps, Orin accidentally says Audrey’s lines.

Finally, finally, finally, the show starts to come to life. A large group of new faces mix into those who have worked with us before. It’s refreshing and comforting.

Finally, the real fun begins.

The Read Through

The Read Through

The Addams Family this Weekend

30 Apr

DSCN4477 - Version 2The Evansville High School Drama Department presents the first amateur production of the Addams Family this weekend. Come see it!


The pit is getting ready...

The pit is getting ready…

...gels go in the lights...

…gels go in the lights…


...costumes hang at the ready...

…costumes hang at the ready…

...creatures are crafted...

…creatures are crafted…


...the sets get painted...

…the sets get painted…

...tensions run high...

…tensions run high…

...finish the set...

…finish the set…

...props get made...

…props get made…

...backstage gets set...

…backstage gets set…

…it’s tech week at the Evansville High School.

Little Shop of Horrors Auditions

12 Apr

Little Shop croppedEvansville Community Theatre invites you to audition for Little Shop of Horrors. Auditions are scheduled for Saturday May 10th from 10 to 2 and Monday May 12th from 6 to 8.

The cast is 4 male and 4 female roles as well as an ensemble. Call backs will be Tuesday May 13th. Auditions will be held at JC McKenna Middle School, 307 South 1st Street in Evansville. Those auditioning must be high school age or older.

Please bring piano music and be prepared to sing at least 16 bars of any selection from a musical. Also be ready to read from the script. A prepared monologue will not be necessary. Script sides (excerpts) will be available at Eager Free Public Library and on the ECT website .

Don’t want to be on stage but want to get involved? We always need lots of help for productions so contact us if you would like to get involved in community theater!


And at the end of the show, the crowd stood…

13 Jul

…and that is why we all do it.

About eight weeks ago, the prospective actors showed up and auditioned for a part. Adults and kids came into the auditorium and sang a few bars and said  a few lines, then were taken to the other room to try their dancing skills. And with a musical of this size, everyone is offered a part. The actors spent the next weeks learning the songs, learning the choreography, learning their blocking, and of course, learning their lines. Those weeks are over.

The cast, crew, and pit band.

The cast, crew, and pit band.

Backstage the costume crew was busy creating, then sewing, glueing, and tacking. Fake feathers in neon colors littered the green room where they worked (and the stage every time the Bird Girls leave it). The glitter and buttons,  ribbons and material, foo-fluff and thread that adorn the costumes has now been placed where the crew can get easy access to it should anything need repair.

7 12 JoJo and catThe makeup person has had ideas in her head for weeks, trying them on her roommates, but not being able to see how it all looks until the dress rehearsal two days before opening. She has delegated duties to make sure everyone is ready at the appointed curtain time. Fake noses and tufts of fur have to dry on some actors before the makeup is applied. Each actor is magically transformed into their character.

The Truffala trees, and Whoville, and the backdrop and all of the other set pieces are finished but Scott and Dan and Bob are somewhere around in case something needs repair. The props master was hoping that the paint would dry on the final props before the curtain opened, after weeks of creating fanciful and wild works of art.

7 12 horton and jungleA few weeks ago, the pit band could be heard in the band room across the hall learning the score. A real pit band adds a dimension to the performance that no recording could ever do. And when they tune and warm up before the show, kids and adults walk to the front to take a peek.

The final two lights that the High School owns were plugged in on Friday afternoon to help smooth out a few dead spots and they were integrated into the final lighting plot. And after a few tense days, additional microphones were finally found to round out the soundscape. So Chris, our new sound guy, found himself busily repatching the amp tower and reconfiguring the microphone set up just hours before the curtain opened. (Special thanks to all of those who donated to make the extra microphones possible!)7 12 Mayzie

And at 7:02 on Friday night, the stage manager said, “are we ready?” The light guy said, “house lights are down, let’s go.” JoJo came out of the wing, said his opening lines,  the curtain opened and the high wire act that is live theater on opening night began. The band hit their first notes, the actors in their brightly colored and fanciful costumes appeared, the set pieces taken from the pages of a Seuss book came to life.

Two hours later, the actors had sung and danced their hearts out, the stage managers had wrestled with chaos and won, the band sounded terrific, a few late light cues and the constant concern about battery life in microphone packs were past.

The audience rose during the curtain call and showed all of us why we spent the last eight weeks making this happen!7 12 thinking thinks

Growing Truffala Trees

16 Jun

TT Sideways CutoutsTT Waste???There aren’t many Once-lers in community theater set construction crews. Everything is re-used, up-cycled, re-purposed and repaired to the point that many 2 x 4’s and drywall screws have been in more shows than any actor. I cut a half inch block off a 2 x 4 the other day and tried to decide if I should leave it for some other purpose or throw it away. (I left it in the scrap box. Heck, it will become a shim in some set piece someday.)TT Book Covers

Over the last week or so the Truffala trees have been coming together in the shop. The tree trunks were formerly the cardboard centers from rolls of  carpet. They are sturdy and about twelve feet long and could be cut to the lengths needed. Scott put out a call for them early on and somebody knew somebody who was a carpet layer and suddenly the shop was littered with them.TT Weighted tube

Unlike carpet tubes, not all Truffala Trees grow straight to the sky so experiments were conducted to create bends in the trees. One was placed on sawhorses and wrapped in moist rags then sandbags were placed on it. Unfortunately the moisture got to the glue that holds the wraps of cardboard together and it looked as if it had been struck by lightening.

TT Arcing tubesOne evening two very long tubes with a nice arc appeared in the shop. They will adorn the front of the stage in front of the curtains to keep them from interfering with light bars and teaser curtains and any other number of things above the stage.

While the trunks were being painted, white with brown, the tree tops were also being experimented on. Styrofoam, the kind that comes in sheets that is used in construction for insulation, works well in set construction. It’s light so if a truffula tuft comes unhinged from its moorings, the result may surprise a small Who but probably won’t leave a mark. First the styrofoam was cut into circles and then a few notches were cut in. Scott wasn’t happy with the result so he  tried cutting more arced notches into them so they resembled large circular saw blades.TT 2nd try

Of course then the issue became the best way to cut the thick styrofoam: there was the bandsaw, the jigsaw, the coping saw, and of course the razor knife. The power saws were  the quickest, the band saw, and the coping saw created the smoothest cuts,  the razor knife wasn’t long enough, and the jig saw was fine when the band saw was busy cutting out fish.

Truffela TreesTT BandsawThe tops were painted with a base  of red, orange, or yellow and then colors were streaked over top to give them a sense of depth and shadow.

The tubes were applied to plywood bases that had been painted black to blend with the stage floor and  were large enough to keep them from tipping. Then finally the tops were attached to the trunks with long drywall screws and a large washers to distribute the pressure.

Tree topThe forest of trees finally appeared on the stage and it was discovered that some were too tall and had to be trimmed. The light guy fretted about the shadows they would cast but overall they captured the imagery of the genius Dr. Seuss.TT on stage

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