I finally staged my first play!
Last year, I graduated from the University of Lethbridge with a degree in dramatic arts (well, I minored in French, too). When I was going to school, one of the most common responses I received when people found out what I was majoring in was asking me what I would do with it.
I didn’t go into theatre with the idea that I would work in the drama industry; it was actually the third major I had. I switched over to dramatic arts after having taken the introductory class and fallen in love with theatre. As a result, I never continued with the programme thinking I’d ever professionally work in drama; I was in it solely for the pursuit of the education.
Consequently, a year later, I’m not working in drama in any way. (I own a communications company, actually). That being said, almost right from the day I decided to switch my major to dramatic arts, I knew that I wanted to be involved in theatre somehow, if not employed by it.
Two years ago—a year before I graduated—I was a lead actor in a local production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. The previous fall, I acted in two independent, short films: one minor role and one lead role.
2011 and 2012 was a pivotal time to me, and I desperately wanted to get involved in theatre. It had been a few years since I was on stage, so I had kind of lost touch with what it felt like.
Anyhow, early last year, after I completed all my coursework, I felt like I wanted to do something with my degree, so I decided to try to stage a play. I chose to do an LDS play because plays were popular in the church years ago, but for some reason had fallen out of favour. I wanted to bring that back.
I went with The Order is Love by Carol Lynn Perason. I had acted in it in high school, and I thought that, as a musical, it would generate a lot of interest. Unfortunately, I underestimated how complex the play was. It had a cast of over 3 dozen, as well as choreography, singing, set, and costumes. I never had a rehearsal with more than half of the cast showing up, and we ran out of time to stage it on the performance date. We tried again in the fall, but I lost my stage manager, my ASM, and my music director by that point, and my cast was down to single digits. Regrettably, I made the decision to drop the play.
I spent the next couple of months looking for something else to stage. I wanted something contemporary to limit budget expenses. I used up several hundred dollars on the church’s dime on The Order is Love and had nothing to show for it, so I wanted to make up for that. I wanted something with a limited set and costumes actors could bring from home.
I found it in The Busy Signal by Gerald Pearson, Carol Lynn’s husband coincidentally. It had a cast of only 6, it was under an hour (so I could have a short rehearsal schedule), it required a static, minimalistic set, and there was no singing or dancing. Plus it had a twist at the end that I think could be a powerful message.
I started casting in March, skipping auditions entirely (half of the cast came from last year’s cast). Once we had everyone cast (except one minor role), we met together for a read through. The lead actor was away for a couple of weeks, so he wasn’t there, but we scheduled our first rehearsal for the day after he got back. The read through was great, and I was excited about it.
The day for rehearsal came, and the lead actor was missing. It wasn’t that big of a deal because his character sits in one place for the entire play, so we could work around it for everyone else. Unfortunately, he never showed up to any rehearsal. In fact, over a month into the play and less than two weeks before we were to go on stage, he emailed me to say he was dropping out.
That was frustrating to say the least, but we scrambled to find someone else. We found someone who was younger than I hoped, but we could make it work. We also had to make another cast change because the actor playing the brother had to go out of town to a workshop. We just switched roles between two actors, and that worked out.
Having to recast the lead put us back a month, but it worked out well enough and gave everyone else extra time to study their lines.
Well, to bring this long story to a close, we staged it last weekend. We had no idea how many people would show up or even if LDS members would be interested in theatre again. It turns out that we had over 100 people in attendance.
I was more than pleased with those number. It was in the middle of summer, we had a limited advertising budget, and this was the first play performed in this building in years (if not decades). We had put out 100 chairs originally, and I was more than happy to have to put out more.
It was an amazing experience. It was the first time I had ever directed a play. I never took a directing class (even though I wanted to), so I was a bit nervous at first. But I have a good spatial skills, a vibrant imagination, a love of theatre, and years working in design. I figured I could hack my way to a decent production.
So many people came through to make it a success. Mary was my stage manager, and she was a big help. Eric Garner took care of lighting and sound. Kyle Ledyit, Chelsea Ficiur, Rosemary Snead, Jesse Giesbrecht, Sean Murphy, and Garrett Bishoff were an outstanding cast.The University of Lethbridge lent us pieces for costumes, Travis Bevan and Emily Frewin lent us some props, Kelli Benis helped with some logistical challenges, and Lethbridge Laser was a lifesaver for our printing needs. Wo, that sure took a lot of people. 🙂
I’m glad that I have my weekends back now and happy to have less stress in my life, but it was a great experience, and I look forward to my next play.
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