An Insider's View
On the Stage
Directed by Patrick Bradford
At Loeb Mainstage
April 25 through May 3
THIS IS THE bigtime, the Broadway of Harvard drama. The Mainstage.
It's Sunday night, the beginning of production week for The Tempest. The cast is tense yet confident, like a seasoned platoon preparing to return to the front. Tonight we must finish the cue-to-cue work, synchronizing the lighting changes with the actors' scenes on stage. The director, Patrick Bradford, is trying to decipher his notes, hastily scrawled during last night's technical run-through. Apparently my performance was flawless, for none of the five lines I deliver are commented upon.
We are under time constraints to compensate for a handful of technical problems: the music isn't ready yet, and the lighting is behind schedule. Shakespeare's players performed in broad daylight, but modern productions are obliged to impress their audiences with the magic of modern technology: there are so many lights at the mainstage that they must be controlled by computer. Our current problem is controlling the computer, to orchestrate the lighting changes with the hundreds of cues in the play. It is going to be a long night.
After Patrick finishes going through the notes, the cast files into the dressing room for costumes and makeup. Although my makeup is fairly straight forward--roughly equivalent to what an aging barfly might wear--it is an enormous struggle for me to get it right. Smudging a streak of eyeliner across my cheek, I curse the society that encourages women to go through this bizarre ritual on a daily basis.
Ben Evett and Kerrick Johnson really have it bad, though. Respectively playing wood sprite Ariel and the demidemon Caliban, they must cover themselves in body makeup. In the words of Kermit the Frog, it's not easy being green; it takes Ben an hour-and-a-half to apply the frog-colored goo that allows him to pass for a sprite. Later, with practice, he hopes to be able to go through the process in a mere hour.
WHILE THE LEADS go straight to the stage to begin the run-through, I retire to the infamous green room to await my cue. While the big-time actors are praised for their voices and stage presence, the prime virtue for a spear-carrier such as myself is patience. Someday, perhaps, will come fame and adulation; for now I must content myself with a day-old New York Times and a comfortable spot on the couch.
Out in the theatre the actors are coming to grips with the extra-large stage. The front row of seats has been removed to provide for an angled extension called a rake. Although the actors are closer to the audience on the rake, they also must take care not to be swamped in the hugeness of the spacial void. At the same time, the stage crew is learning to time the raising and lowering of the various set components, including three enormous palm trees. Special care is given to the scrim, or see-through cloth; it belongs to the American Repertory Theatre and is said to be worth thousands of dollars. No one is anxious to see that sum appear on their term bill.
THE HANDS ON the clock of the green room wall go round and round. The sounds of the run-through leak endlessly through the intercom until finally the call comes: "King's party backstage!" We leap to our feet, throw on our cloaks, and charge into the backstage darkness. The stage manager, talking into the headset, directs us onstage.
We mill around, joking and sparring with our prop swords. Patrick discusses the cue with the lighting designer and finally tells us where to start. We run our scene, pausing for a few more cues, and return to the green room.
As we while away our time with a game of twenty questions, the knot between good acting and good lighting is tightening onstage. Nick Lawrence, Andrew Sullivan, and Naama Potok--as Prospero, Ferdinand, and Miranda, respectively--are already confident in their roles, consistently delivering fine performances. All that remains is to ensure that they don't have to speak their lines in darkness.
WHILE WE WAIT, discussions arise about the script, such as power triangles among various characters, the merits of it's structure. Kevin Walker, who plays Alonso, is concerned with the interpretation of one of his lines, and decides to discuss it later with Patrick. We also speculate on what kind of audience we can expect. Although The Tempest is a well-known and popular play, it will have a hard time matching the audience generated by the abundant publicity and pop appeal of its predecessor on the Mainstage, Wuthering Heights.
After several roundtrips, to the stage we finally complete the final cues. It's almost three o'clock in the morning as the cast wearily assembles for one last round of notes. We discuss the rehearsals tomorrow and the day after, juggling availability and commitments. It will be a long week before the curtain goes up.