by Maureen Hathaway
As I sit quietly in the theater, I hear the humming of subdued conversation. The patrons quietly thumb through their programs and eagerly await for the curtain to go up. My mind wanders. I imagine myself in the director’s shoes. I can almost sense the anticipation of the cast and crew, and their nervous excitement of the first scene. Will the audience be pleased to see actors from previous Centerstage productions? Would the director have preferred more rehearsals prior to the opening performance?
I look up into the dim lighting and try to imagine how the eventual bright lights and sound effects will cast a spell upon the audience. What is actually happening behind the scenes? Has part of the set malfunctioned? Has and actor found a torn seam in their costume? If so, how will the show go on with last minute problems and the frantic activity taking place behind the long, draping curtain?
I quickly check my program and see that all of the performers and crew have extensive theater backgrounds. The will somehow climb over any hurdles and mesh together in this magical moment with everyone beating their drum to the same cadence.
To answer some of these questions, fellow Federal Way Arts Commissioner Linda Pratt and I asked Alan Bryce, Artistic Director of Centerstage, if we could observe rehearsals, take pictures, and interview the cast and crew. Many hours were spent backstage and at performances prior to the April 11th closing of Centerstage’s wonderful production of “Enchanted April.”
The Knutzen Family Theatre at Dumas Bay is where Centerstage presents its productions. “Enchanted April” had been an Academy Award nominated film based on the best-selling 1921 novel of the same name. “Enchanted April” was director Cynthia White’s fourth play at Centerstage. What drew her to this play was knowing and working with actors she had worked with before in addition to working again with Centerstage staff. She noted “that if you know how someone works, then you can kind of cut to the chase. The ensemble has a connection with everyone and you are not spending half of the rehearsal learning about each other - it’s a bit of a coming home quality. An important part of any play is the cohesiveness of the cast.”
The casting was done at Puget Sound Theater at Seattle Center. Both Alan Bryce and Cynthia chose the ensemble, Bryce noting that there are more theatrical groups per capita in this area than the rest of the nation, so the pool of talent is deep. Eva Doak, Dean Wilson, and Rosalie Hilburn had been selected before auditions began, so they read opposite the actors who were auditioning. There were two auditions to select the rest of the cast.
Actors received the script around October/November 2009. Actor Dean Wilson said, “I had about fifty pages to memorize and each night my aim was to work on a page or two.” According to Rosalie Hilburn, “blocking the stage movement is set fairly early so the actors can memorize this with the lines. It often changes when we move into the actual theater.”
The director oversaw the members of the creative team until they all had the same artistic vision of the play. This included coordinating research, costume design, lighting, sound, acting, props and set design. In the beginning, the director was the most knowledgeable about the play but by the end of rehearsals, the actors intimately knew their characters and the director turned the play over to them.
After opening night, the director moved on to the next project and the stage manager ran the process, making sure the show maintained the director’s vision and ran smoothly. For "Enchanted April," that was Anna Blindheim. She sat up in a booth behind the audience and cued the sound effects and lighting. Other duties included calling of rehearsals, assembling and maintaining the prompt book, and the technical running of each performance.
The actors rehearsed for three weeks, six days a week, until the week before opening - tech week. This was when lights, sound effects, props, and costumes were added. It was also when the tech crew came in and practiced their part with the actors.
Ron Leamon was the costume designer. He has an extensive background in costume history, construction, art history, and fashion. In addition, he has experience in theater, film, and television. A talented designer, he gets inside the mind of a character and finds the perfect clothes that will help tell the story and assist the audience in understanding the character. All clothing, hats, shoes, ties, etc. were authentic to the period of the play. Most of the costumes were vintage 1920’s garments which came from the University of Washington costume stock as well as Ron’s own collection. They were very fragile and in selecting them he had to keep in mind which ones would survive the run of the show.
The set designer was Greg Heinzle of Seattle Scenic Studios. The set for “Enchanted April” was built at Knutzen Family Theatre and then painted. The furniture and backdrop were rented. The transformation from the bleak London set of the first half of the play, to the bright and cheery Italian castle in the second half, was breathtaking and had the audience gasping with amazement and delight.
After the performance I watch as everyone stands up and I hear the sound of appreciation in the hearty clapping of hands. The cast widely smiles as they bow in unison. Most of all, I feel proud and happy that Federal Way has a top notch professional theatrical group right here in my community. I hope that Federal Way will continue to support all of the precious arts groups that inhabit this beautiful city! Centerstage’s upcoming musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” will be showing May 22 - June 6. For tickets or more information call (253) 661-1444 or check their web site: www.centerstagetheatre.com.
Maureen Hathaway is a member of the Federal Way Arts Commission.