What They Wear

As opposed to lighting, I think the audience is quite aware of costume design, especially in a show like Sound of Music, with nuns, cute children, elegant wealthy party guests. But you may not know exactly how much hard work and planning goes into costume design. With a cast of 33, and some playing multiple characters, it’s a lot of people to dress. Many have several costume changes.

There are literally hundreds of costumes for this show – 70 for the children alone. I visited the costume shop and found Ariana, Ellen and Erika, costume interns, working on some of the costumes. Some costumes are rented from other theaters, some are found in second hand shops and altered for use in the show. And some are built (not made or sewn) in the costume shop.

Anna Hillbery is the costume designer for this production. She lives in Jupiter, Florida and is spending the summer in Connecticut. She has been the Costume Shop Supervisor for all three shows.

Once the costumes are built, rented or otherwise acquired, they are adjusted and altered to fit an actor during rehearsal time and tech week. Sometimes, if there is a fast costume change, buttons are replaced with Velcro to facilitate the change and other adjustments are made.

But the work doesn’t end on opening night. Repairs are made and anything washable is machine washed, dried, and pressed after each performance. Costumes that are not washable are treated with a spray bottle of vodka – yes vodka, which is used to destain, deodorize and otherwise freshen up costumes that have gotten a workout during the performance… who knew?

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Self explanatory

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Ariana adding Velcro to Capt. Von Trapp’s dress shirt to facilitate
a quick costume change

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…and More Tech

Tech rehearsals continue today. I’m amazed at how much needs to be coordinated. Scene and costume changes, lights, sound. Cues must be worked and reworked so there are no awkward gaps in the action. Tech will go all afternoon and into the evening with a break for dinner.

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Tables which serve as desks for designers, the stage manager and the director are set up over the theater seats during tech week.

Tech, Tech, Tech

Today the cast is on stage in the theater for the first tech rehearsal. The blocking and staging is fine tuned. The lighting designer is taking notes and adjusting the lighting, by intensity and color. It’s an excitingly tedious process – an oxymoron, I know, but it’s the only way I can describe it. Everything that the cast will be using (benches, doors, furniture, etc.) is in place.

The sound designer, Matt Martin and sound intern, Gabe Luxton are following the rehearsal, taking notes. Most of the cast will have body microphones and the sound engineer must know who is speaking when, so he’ll know which mics to turn on and which ones to turn off – a tricky process which must be done very accurately. This is in addition to any sound effects that are required (e.g. thunder, abbey bells).

During the sound designer’s sound check, cast members were given their mics and were given quite specific instructions on how to use and care for them. Sound mixing is a very complicated and delicate process. During the sound check each actor sang or spoke so that the mics can be adjusted to the actors voice.

For dinner break a cast member, Dave Adams, provided a great barbecue for the cast, crew and staff.

After dinner was the tech run through – a lot of stopping and starting, learning how and where to move the scenery – and who will move it. Each move is done over and over until scene changes become smooth and seem effortless to the audience.

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The cast and crew onstage during the first tech rehearsal.

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The kids get their microphones.

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Cast and crew enjoy a wonderful meal during dinner break.

Shedding Light on the Subject

Since tech week officially starts tomorrow, I thought I’d spend some time talking about technical aspects of theater. First, because it is my favorite, lighting.

Many in the audience are unaware of how essential lighting design is to their enjoyment of a show. Their attention might be directed to a part of the stage by lighting one area and dimming another area. A spotlight may highlight a soloist. Known as a “follow spot,” it is run manually by a tech who follows the actor on the stage (I’ve run a follow spot. It’s really fun). Lighting serves to evoke a mood, to indicate the time of day, the weather or the season of the year.
Colored pieces of plastic, or gels, are placed in a frame in front of the lens of a specific lighting instrument to create the desired effect on stage. There is an art and a science to the combinations of colors, the light’s intensity and the types of lighting instruments. Much too complicated to discuss here; people earn advanced degrees in lighting design.
Once the design is finished, after the designer has seen the designer run, the lights are hung and “focused” or aimed during tech week. This tedious and time consuming process is done solely to enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the show. The lighting is further refined during tech rehearsals.
After the lights are hung and focused by the Master Electrician and his crew, they are wired to a “dimmer” and then to a special computer, or light board, which controls each light. Specific lighting settings are “cued” using specific lines in the script or to specific places in the music so that the stage manager can tell the light board operator when to change the lighting (I’ve operated a light board, too – equally fun). In Sound of Music there will be 100s of light and sound cues – everyone really has to be on their toes.
Chris Dallos is the lighting designer for Sound of Music. He has designed for many of TriArts shows. The Master Electrician is Zachary Cosenza.
So when you come to Sound of Music after you’ve taken your seats, take a look around and notice the lights. You may not think of them again during the performance but they are there, helping you enjoy the show.

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The light board at TriArts – ready for tech week

The Designer Run

The designers are: set designer, costume designer, lighting designer and sound designer. The “designer run” took place this afternoon. It was the first opportunity for the designers to see the show as it staged, and the first opportunity for the cast to perform in front of an audience. The designers have all read the script, many, many times. They have been in very frequent contact with each other and with the director and the musical director for a long time. Sets, costumes and lighting have basically been designed, and almost all built. I saw the designers pretty furiously taking notes, so they can make necessary changes. More and more props have been brought in for the characters to use. Some props are still “rehearsal props” and most will be used in the actual show. Rolfe’s newly green bicycle was in use, as was a beautiful desk used by Mother Abbess. I’m impressed by how authentic everything is. The pen and inkwell on Mother Abbess’ desk are very much of the period. The audience may not see what writing implement she is using but the more accurate everything is, the more easily the audience suspends its disbelief and becomes involved in the story.

The sound designer brought some thunder with him to the designer run. So that during “Lonely Goatherd” we heard real thunder, rather than Mike Iannelli shouting “thunder” from the stage management desk – much more effective to have a real thunderclap.
From where I was seated, I could see the faces of the “audience.” Even though the audience was made up of theater professionals (in addition to the designers, all senior staff was present), it was very obvious to me how much they were enjoying the show. And we still have rehearsal time left. I can’t imagine how good they are going to be by opening night.

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An Abbey scene from the designer run. Note Mother Abbess’ beautiful desk and chair.

Notes

This afternoon, Gary John gave “notes” before the “designer run” (more on that later). “Notes” is a theater term for direction and fixes the director gives to actors about any aspect of yesterday’s work through. The actors sit in a semi circle in front of Gary John. It seems to me he has notes for every actor. Examples of notes might be, “speed up a little here” or “take an extra beat before you turn around.”

Of interest to me was a discussion of how to deliver a laugh line – it takes great timing and good energy to deliver a laugh line. You never move on a laugh line. Sound of Music is a serious, dramatic show, very dark at times, but there are many hilarious moments. The audience needs the humor. It’s called comic relief.

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Sitzprobe

Tonight the actors are working for the first time with the orchestra in the sitzprobe. The term is German, literally “sitting rehearsal” (wondelprobe, literally wandering rehearsal is when the actors move through their blocking and staging with the orchestra.)

Michael Berkeley, TriArts’ Artistic Director, tells me that TriArts has always used

live orchestras, beginning with its very first production in Pine Plains, He feels, and I agree, that live orchestras are as important to the production as are a show’s characters. In fact, the orchestra is the unseen character in every show. The energy created by a live orchestra (as opposed to a synthesizer) adds immeasurably to the tone, atmosphere and the just plain enjoyability of a show. The grand musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein really demand a live orchestra.

For Sound of Music Michael is using 11 musicians, who play 17 instruments. Since there is no orchestra pit in the Sharon Playhouse, the orchestra will be off stage, left (house, or audience right). For the sitzprobe, the orchestra was on the stage. During one of the numbers, an actor who wasn’t in that particular number turned to me and said, “did you hear that? That’s awesome!” It was indeed awesome.

The photo shows the orchestra onstage with actors standing to the right. The set is partially constructed, stained glass “windows” are drying on the theater seats, work tables are set up 2/3 of the way back in the house. It gives you an idea of what a working theater looks like before the show opens.

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Spikes??

This afternoon Gary John is working through the show –

the show is done beginning to end with the full cast. In this production, as in many shows, some of the actors are responsible for moving some of the scenery and props; and today it was determined who will move what. There are “spikes” or tape marks on the stage floor so the prop movers will know exactly where to set the props. It’s very important that everything be set in the same place every time, for the obvious reason of continuity – but also because stage lighting will be focused, or aimed, at the props.

Tonight is the sitzprobe. Want to know what that is? Stay tuned…

Final Staging

Today, Michael is taking the children through their songs, sharpening them up, working on timing. Anyone who knows the show knows that the songs are not necessarily the easiest to sing, with harmonies, intricate timing and sometimes rather difficult, but pleasing melodies. The children are hard working and talented.

As the rehearsal was ending, we all broke into “Happy Birthday” for Rose, the actor playing Liesl, who is not actually sixteen going on seventeen. Birgitta baked cupcakes for everyone in honor of Liesl’s birthday.

Liesl and Friedrich enjoy cupcakes made by Brigitta for Liesl’s birthday.

Later, Gary John staged the final, and in my mind, the most dramatic scene in the show, with the Captain, Maria, the children, the nuns and Rolfe. The Von Trapp family is hiding from the SS Storm troopers in the Abbey’s cemetery. It’s a complicated and emotional scene to stage. With this final scene, all of the scenes will be staged and blocked, a nice milestone to reach. Of course, things will be changed and tweaked as we move into the theater (tomorrow!) and as we begin to rehearse using the technical and design aspects of the show – that period of time on the theater known as “tech week.”

Staging the final scene.

The Stage Manager

Most people have heard the term “stage manager” but not many people actually know what goes into this demanding job. You might think of the character in “Our Town” but in reality a stage manager has very little time to reminisce or muse about the town’s residents (or the theater’s residents).

To be a stage manager one must know the theater inside – out, know the show really well, be extremely organized and be able to get along with the varied personalities of actors, technical staff, crew (and even the blogger). During the rehearsal process, the stage manager works with the director, taking notes, following the script closely – calling lines when the actors need them. In addition, the stage manager “calls the show” at every performance (more about that later).

Mike Iannelli is TriArts’ stage manager for Sound of Music. He has an assistant, Keri Dumka and both are kept hopping before, during and after the rehearsals, coordinating rehearsal schedules, making sure the actors know where they need to be and when (thank goodness for email). The stage manager makes sure the actors get their breaks, and makes sure they return from their breaks.

Mike Iannelli and Keri Dumka at work during rehearsal.

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Today, Gary John staged the Party scene. Tomorrow is a day off for the actors, but not for staff. Altar Boyz closes with its 5pm show today. They’ll strike that set and immediately begin setting up for Sound of Music to move into the theater. The orchestra, 11 pieces, arrives tomorrow and they have their first rehearsal tomorrow evening.

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