Building the 'Bridge:' Gay and cast reflect on their work

by Frances Cha | 11/25/03 6:00am

This is the third 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."

Snippets of animated discussion could be overheard as the audience streamed out of The Moore Theater following last Thursday's performance of "A View from the Bridge." Shocked exclamations over Eddie's brutal death were mingled with high praise for the actors and the play as a whole.

Backstage, the cast changed out of their costumes and joined the stage management crew, assistant director Sarah Sirota '04 and director Jackson Gay for an wrap-up interview with The Dartmouth.

Thursday, Nov. 20

The Green Room, just after 10 p.m.

Tired but triumphant seemed to sum up the general atmosphere of the cast and crew. It was now time to kick back and relax for the few hours before their next performance. Although there had been a few unforeseen improvisations during the performance, professionalism had carried the day and the audience had been very receptive.

Concerning the audience in general, the actors said that the response varied every night. A number of scenes had provoked a somewhat nervous laughter from the audience, which had intrigued the actors. Katie Asche '04, who played the role of Beatrice, said "It's the most interesting to see where the audience laughs, especially the first night. And as the runs continue you start expecting the laughter where it was before and it's always different."

Andrew Dahl '05, who played Rodolpho, agreed -- "You're just left standing there stranded, waiting for the laugh." Jonathan Smolian '04, who portrayed Eddie, added that sometimes they could tell when silence was even better because "then they're engaged and we can feel that they're really into the scene."

Asche said they hadn't been expecting any laughter at all before the first night. "Especially in a tragedy -- we were completely surprised by it," Asche noted, "But that's the magic of Arthur Miller's writing in that you would never construct a good tragedy without a light element because it's so important that these are real people."

Sometimes, however, the laughter was not entirely welcome. This was especially true with regard to the scene when Eddie violently kisses his niece's lover out of desperate jealousy. "Whenever they laugh at the kiss between Eddie and Rodolpho, it totally frustrates me," said Sirota, "I understand that it's because they're nervous, but it such a serious moment."

Another such reaction came from Nicola Korzenko '07 who played Catherine. "It's interesting how they always laugh at the scene when Rodolpho and I come out of the bedroom," she mused. In fact, many noted the chuckles from the audience during the scene when Eddie comes home to find Rodolpho and Catherine hurriedly putting their clothes back on. "It's probably because they were in the same situation last night," joked a fellow cast member, provoking a burst of laughter from everyone in the room.

Actors and crew members alike seemed to have gotten used to expecting the unexpected during performances. One night the lights failed to come on backstage during blackouts, an experience which the actors found "really scary" as they had to find their places in complete darkness.

Certain scenes were also described by the actors as being impossible to take for granted. "The scene between me and Catherine feels different every night. It's really strange," said Asche.

Notable anecdotes from rehearsals and actual performances included missed cues and flubbed lines. Some confusion over hand signals produced one of the most amusing stories. "I remember I thought the standby was the go and so I go out on stage too early, and instead of just getting into character I start waving go frantically," related Cliff Campbell '04 who played Marco. Korzenko once got a few key words mixed up and said, "If I was a man, I would make a wife happy," during dress rehearsal.

One part the audience was most curious about was the scene with Marco picking up the chair with one hand in a difficult position. When asked how he did it, Campbell simply smiled and replied evasively, "If I believe I can do it, then the audience believes I can do it too."

The actors and Gay expressed a unanimous wish for the stage managers to be recognized for their hard work. The five student stage managers, all part of a stage management class, worked countless hours alongside the cast but often were not as appreciated.

As Asche said, "Stage management is the most difficult and most thankless job in theater sometimes. I just have so much respect for them, especially because of the fact that someone with a Dartmouth load in their schedule would be willing to give themselves over to a project in this way."

Smolian had high praise for the entire crew. "It all starts with them really," he said, "because from day one they've dedicated themselves to giving everything they've got to make sure that every last detail is the way it should be." He also added that it was great motivation for the actors -- "It makes us think that if they're going to do a job so damn well, then we better do it too. It's a great reciprocal relationship."

At this, Korzenko chimed in "The just make everything we do so much more polished."

Gay had the highest praise of all in remarking that "they really kept their sense of humor throughout the whole thing."

Stage manager Chelsea Carroll '06 said that although her job is frequently considered to be a thankless one, she has not found this to be the case with this cast.

"They've been one of the most supportive casts imaginable," Carroll noted, "they're just so talented too, and I hope I have the opportunity and the privilege of working with them again."

Working with visiting director Gay was also enthusiastically proclaimed a positive experience. Apparently, Dartmouth's history with visiting directors has not always led to such success, but " in contrast " working with Gay was described as "such a blessing" by Asche.

Whether or not Gay comes back to Hanover again, the memories will remain for those who worked with her. Not only will the sweet smell of success linger in their minds, but so too will the proverbial dirt under their fingernails.