'Bridge' production nears debut

by Frances Cha | 11/12/03 6:00am

This is the second in a series of three behind-the-scenes articles looking at the creative theatrical process by chronicling the theater department's mainstage production of Arthur Miller's play "A View from the Bridge."

Since rehearsals began in early October, the cast and crew of "A View from the Bridge" have been separate entities. Now, as the deadline of opening night looms large on the horizon, the two groups must come together to achieve a common vision.

It is a feat director Jackson Gay and her team of students and professionals hoped to accomplish in this last week before the curtain rises. The Dartmouth was granted full access to these final rehearsals as they tried to make the puzzle pieces fit.

Friday, Nov. 7

Moore Theater, 6 p.m.

Tech rehearsal was on the agenda Friday, an essential transition into the nerve-wracking week before opening night. No actors were present as lights, sound and stage management worked independently, but with equal fervor as each manager/designer discussed various details with Gay. Separate stations were set up for each crew.

At the start, Gay said, "Tonight's rehearsal is about testing things out and making sure everything is safe."

Stage management director Kathleen Cunneen called the crew of assistant stage managers together for a brief pep talk before they went backstage. "Our goal tonight is that we don't want rehearsal with the actors tomorrow to come to a grinding halt because of anything we didn't do tonight. Our first priority is safety backstage and onstage: both real safety and feeling safe," said Cunneen.

Each armed with pen and paper, Cunneen and the five stage-managing students took a tour backstage to check out what needed to be done. A marked contrast from the striking simplicity of the actual stage, backstage was a maze of stairs, curtains, ladders and cords.

"The stairs are really, really, really not safe!" exclaimed a crew member worriedly.

Glow tape and rails were to be placed at varying locations of the raised ramps and along the two stories of the brick arch faade to prevent the actors from falling off during blackouts between scenes. A suggestion to give actors little flashlights was quickly vetoed by Cunneen.

"Heads up!" called out a lighting assistant as heavy black curtains descended over the heads of the stage managers. Curtains continued to go up and down for a while as decisions were made concerning their locations.

"We basically put the whole show together during tech and play around with different ideas for lighting and sound -- it's good to see all this before the actors come in. Also, it gives them a night off before the intensity of next week," said Gay.

Also sitting in on rehearsal were dramaturgs Amy Holzapfel and Mark Orsini '04. Holzapfel, of the theater department, described her role as "helping the more conceptual aspect of the play." During rehearsal she worked on developing, cutting and adapting the script with Gay.

Holz-apfel explained that dramaturgs research the history and background of the play to pick up on the themes of the play. She added that cuts in the script usually happen up until the last night in professional theater.

"The cuts make it exciting," interjected Gay. Holzapfel agreed that it inevitably pushed the pace of production. "We're the third eye in the theater. We research the history and background of the play, picking up on the themes. Basically, we aid in getting Jackson's vision across," she said.

All the elements appeared to be in operating order by the end of the marathon session. But nobody could be sure of what this created environment would be like until the actors were there to inhabit it.

Sunday, Nov. 9

Moore Theater, 8 p.m.

Sunday's rehearsal was a continuation of Saturday's 10-hour- long chronological run-through. The entire cast adjusted to the new cues of light and sound as props were also integrated into the scenes.

Much of the cast sported hats for this rehearsal. Chorus member Aaron Golas '07 explained, "They wanted all the people with wide-brimmed hats to wear them because they're trying to see how the shadows would play on our faces during the show."

As the chorus is meant to be reminiscent of a traditional Greek chorus, the shadows on their faces heightened their passing of judgment, which was made effective by their stature and presence.

In the scene being rehearsed, particular emphasis was placed on the entrance and exit cues of the chorus. "I want you to look at each of them -- you're entreating them," called Gay to Jonathan Smolian '04, who plays Eddie. "You have to get every single one of them to turn their backs on you."

The nature of their exits thus highlighted the silent and forbidding manner of the chorus. But Gay was not yet satisfied, telling the chorus to make their movements slower and more calculated.

After exit cues for the leads were tested out and incorporated, Gay announced a 15-minute break. The actors shot off to the "Green Room" where refreshments were provided for their few respites, while the managers also grabbed a quick bite to eat. Another room was provided for those who needed to study.

"Chronologically, we started yesterday and went through a total of about 18 hours counting today, and we still have six or seven pages of the play left!" said Cunneen.

"The main actors have been on mostly, but the chorus have been here the whole time, too, and it's been sort of slow for them because we keep starting and stopping," said Gay.

However, things will cease to be slow soon, as the countdown to opening night will soon be measured not in days but in hours.

"A View from the Bridge" opens tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in the Moore Theater.