Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Behind the Scenes: A Virtual Tour

By Beth Huisking
Associate Director of Marketing

Working at the Playhouse, I can occasionally forget how magnificent our building and campus are, especially in the winter months when our beautiful garden is hidden under a vast amount of snow and the sky is just so dreary. But when I spend an evening in the lobby watching our audience arrive and seeing the space through their eyes, I am reminded how lucky I am to come to this unique theater every day. So, as I’m sitting here marveling about how lucky I am to be here, I thought I would take you on a virtual tour of some areas you may not always get the chance to see. And at the finish, I’m sure you will be as in love with the building as I am!

First, we’ll head upstairs and start in the lobby – a space I am sure many of you are familiar with. But did you know that prior to the renovation in 2005, spearheaded by Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman and a dedicated group of community visionaries, it didn’t really exist? An 8 foot by ten foot room housed both the lobby AND the box office. On rainy nights, audience members would wait in their cars and enter the theater just before the show started as there wasn’t room for everyone inside.   

View of the lobby from the front doors

A section of the poster wall
The new lobby, which is certainly more impressive, can now hold every member of our audience and also houses our extensive poster collection. Of the over 800 shows that have taken place on our stage, approximately 300 production posters survive and, of these, 100 are displayed. If you get a chance to check it out, you’ll see names like Jane Fonda, Jerry Stiller, Liza Minnelli, Franchot Tone, Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy, just to name a few.

Down the galleria of the lobby is our history wall, containing physical pieces of our past that we felt were important to share with everyone. One of the church pew benches that served as the theater seats, an old ticket collection box, bottles discovered in our foundation during the renovation, a paint-worn dressing room door, a piece of the original red velvet main act curtain and photos chronicling past productions are just some of the treasures included in the display.  

The history wall features the original theater entrance doors and theater seats, pre-renovation photos and a variety of other artifacts.

From the history wall we’ll head into the theater – where all the magic happens!

Looking at the stage from the mezzanine level

I thought it was best to start with a photo here – nothing I say can be as exciting as the space itself – but let’s see what fun facts I can throw at you:

o Three of the four walls are original to the space. The original building was encased in steel to allow for the addition of heat and air conditioning.

o The ceiling was raised approximately ten feet to add a catwalk

o Approximately 1/3 of the balustrades used in the railing of the mezzanine are original to the theater. Due to new fire codes, we needed three times as many so new ones were constructed to match the old ones

o The tin pie-plate light sconces around the room are original to the building
And now, let’s head to some parts of the building not everyone gets to see – the stage and backstage! If you ever get an opportunity to stand on stage, here’s the view that awaits you!

Looking out to the theater while standing on stage

When you’re on stage, you’ll notice that what’s seen by the audience is really just a portion of the stage. To either side are the wings, which house a variety of things integral to each production including the stage manager’s calling station, space to hold set and prop pieces, lights, a place for the cast to wait before they make an entrance, the weight and pulley system that raises and lowers the curtain and any set pieces that “fly in” (a theater term for stored above the stage and lowered when necessary), etc.

A piece of the original stage was saved and placed in front of both the left and right stage entrance doors so that all of our performers walk on the same stage as the performers who have appeared here since 1931.

A piece of the original Playhouse stage in front of the stage left entrance door
At the back of the stage there are two very large doors that lead out to the crossover (a hallway that allows the cast and crew to “cross over” to the other side of the stage during a performance) and to the scene shop, where our crew build each of the sets for our shows.  Due to our performance schedule, they are usually building one show while another is on stage, sometimes during a performance.

Some of the many tools used in building the sets and general theater maintenance

Building the set for She Loves Me

From here, we’ll head downstairs to the dressing rooms. We now have six dressing rooms. Some hold just one person, while others are designed to fit eight to ten people each. Between all six rooms, we now have space for 30 company members.

 Ten-person dressing room                 Eight-person dressing room

When actors are at the Playhouse, the dressing rooms become their space. Some will bring photos and trinkets to decorate. In most dressing rooms we do provide a cot in case anyone wants to take a nap in between shows.

The dressing room area also houses the wardrobe room, for costume maintenance and repairs, and a laundry.

In addition to sewing materials, the wardrobe rooms has hair and makeup supplies as well as a variety of costume pieces from past shows.

The hallway in this area is also home to our collection of actor headshots.

Approximately 300 headshots line both sides of the hallway

I have seen many actors quite surprised by the faces they find on the wall – Shaun Cassidy, Marion Ross, Neil Patrick Harris, Eartha Kitt, William Shatner, Tim Conway, Gloria Swanson, Swoozie Kurtz, John Ritter, Lynn Redgrave and many more, all who have appeared on our stage. Much like the posters in the lobby, the list is endless! While the majority of the actors are identified, there is a small photo wall devoted to unnamed actors from yesteryears where current cast members try to guess who they are.
And now, for the final stop on our tour – the greenroom!

For those who don’t know, the greenroom is a space for the cast, crew, and sometime staff to relax. The Playhouse’s Greenroom is dedicated in memory of Eva Le Gallienne (1899-1991), an actress and a major force in American theater, whose performances at the Playhouse spanned 45 years. Our staff uses the space as a lunch area while the cast use it as a space to greet guests after performances and spend time with each other.

Do you know the origin of the term greenroom? There are several stories as to where the term came from; I’ll let you decide which one you like best!

o Theater used to be performed outside on the town green. Thus, people would meet on the green. So, the term stuck when theater was moved inside

o It was the space where actors were paid, thus taking the name green from the color of money.

o The lights on stage used to be phosphorus and would make the actors sick. And the greenroom would be the place they would go when not feeling well, or “looking a little green.”

Thank you for joining me, virtually, for this peek at the Playhouse space. If you would like to take the real tour I invite you to come to our Community Day event on March 19th and see everything in person!

Fly rail and couterweight system used to raise and lower the curtain, among other things
View across the stage

    Using the counterweights to lower the lights

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