Thursday, May 19, 2011

One more peek backstage at Christopher Durang's "Beyond Therapy"


A Different Perspective

by Annie Keefe
Artistic Advisor

Having worked 35 years as an Equity stage manager, I’ve spent a lot of time in black clothes.  In fact, my wardrobe over the years has so little color in it that when I actually manage to turn up somewhere in my one red shirt, it elicits all sorts of comments!  It has been a long time since I have completely ‘suited up’ in all black.  So it was sort of fun a couple of weeks ago to don the black pants, shirt, socks and  quiet black shoes  that are the uniform of everyone who works backstage in order to fit in on a recent visit to the wings.  We wear black so as not to be seen by the audience and to be able to melt into the background and not disturb the actors who might catch us out of the corner of their eye while onstage.
I was doing a little ‘dress rehearsal’ for and event which was to take place during one of the final performances of Beyond Therapy.  Last fall, as part of our Playhouse Gala, we offered a silent auction item called Backstage with Annie Keefe.  The winner and three friends would get a pre-show backstage tour, have dinner at The Dressing Room, and then the winner would sit backstage during a performance, while the friends sat in the audience.  At the end of the show, we would all meet in the theatre’s greenroom for a glass of champagne and a meet and greet with this heavenly cast. So, I wanted to make sure that I could identify some good stuff to show this person, figure out where to be and when to be there so we saw the most interesting elements of the workings behind the curtain.
I cleared my presence stage-left with Matthew Melchiorre, our wonderful production stage manager and fellow blogger and joined the flyman (who makes the walls of the set come in and go out), the wardrobe mistress (who does the lightning fast quick changes) the stage manager, (who coordinates the set changes), the production assistant (who assists the stage manager in moving the props and furniture, and who also runs the turntable for the production backstage)  just before the beginning of the show.  All of us dressed completely in black.  A merry band of 5 professionals doing their jobs, observed by yours truly.
I wasn’t prepared to be so moved, or so impressed. I’ve been away from the backstage work for more than a decade and one forgets how exciting being part of a team can be. The lights went down, the actors entered, the show started and I watched a seamless ballet conducted by such a small group of talented people.  I don’t mean the actors.  I had seen the show from the front three times prior to my backstage visit.  The actors were beyond question terrific.  But standing there in the dark as the wardrobe mistress, flashlight  between her teeth so as to have both hands free, changed Nicole out of her restaurant dress (now soaking from having had water thrown in her face) into her second outfit in under 30 seconds in the dark and then just move on to her next assignment was a treat.  To watch three people transform the restaurant into Bruce’s apartment in about 3 minutes carrying furniture on and off through narrow spaces, putting things precisely into place, moving in concert from one piece to the next, without a word passing between them, never running into each other, unhurried, confident – and then going straight to preparing for the next change was like watching a well choreographed dance routine.  And all done in the dark!  I went to stage-right  to watch the Kevin, the flyman as he unlocked his lines and prepared to fly in the walls for the apartment, while Ed, the production assistant ran the computer that operated the turntable. I was lost in the magic when I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Kevin pointed to a large speaker on the floor next to me, to remind me that the sound effect of the breaking vase was about to happen.  I’m glad he did as it was much louder than I would have imagined, and I would have jumped a foot had I been unprepared!
 I was aware of the actors coming and going, getting into place, picking up their props from the prop tables, checking themselves in the mirror, mouthing their lines in preparation for the next scene. I could hear the muted dialogue through the walls, I could hear the audience screaming with laughter, but I was transfixed by a show that I felt privileged to be watching – the often unsung talent making the magic happen.
A week later our guest joined us.  She also arrived dressed in black at our request.  She took a ride on the turntable, had her tour and shared what we hope was a unique experience.  And afterwards in the greenroom, the cast and crew toasted her generosity to the Playhouse.  We are blessed with generous donors, but for generosity of spirit, you can’t beat a talented cast and crew.  The cast and especially the crew of Beyond Therapy were in this case…beyond generous.

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