The Making of a Masterpiece: Behind the Scenes of Theatre Fairfield’s “The Glass Menagerie”

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A LOOK BACKSTAGE SHOWS THE JOURNEY TO OPENING NIGHT

In a few weeks, Theatre Fairfield will be presenting its 2012 spring production of the great Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” Audience members will gather in The Wein Experimental Blackbox Theatre in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts for the performances; the lights will dim, the curtain (well if there’s one) will rise, the players will enter on cue and put on what is bound to be a great show; and when it’s over, they’ll take their bows at curtain call to well-deserved rounds of applause and standing O’s.

No doubt, audiences will enjoy and appreciate it because the folks here at Theatre Fairfield know how to bring their best and always do.

But amidst the cheers, will the audience really know how much work went into putting on a show that will only last a few days and, moreover, for their entertainment and benefit? Probably not, and it is likely that very few audience members ever truly understand the amount of time and effort that is dedicated to putting a production like this together.

Surely some people must wonder what exactly goes on behind those sacred doors of the theater when no one is looking. In other words, how does the magic happen?

A behind-the-scenes look provides much insight into the goings-on of the theater community.

The PepsiCo Theater serves as headquarters to all things Theatre Fairfield, from auditions all the way up to the final performances, and everything in between, even the necessary paperwork that has to be taken care of, so naturally this is the place to be to get a good look at what it’s like backstage as everyone prepares for the show.

Official Poster for Theatre Fairfield’s 2012 Spring Production of “The Glass Menagerie”

This production of “The Glass Menagerie” is directed by Dr. Martha LoMonaco, affectionately known by those at Theatre Fairfield as Dr. L. She oversees each rehearsal, works personally with the actors, and guides the decision-making about what happens onstage. As the director, one would think she’s in charge here but it is, in fact, the stage manager who really runs the show.

In this case, it’s Pam Perrimon, a senior at Fairfield double-majoring in Anthropology and Theatre, along with her loyal assistant Kelan McDonnell, a freshman who has quickly learned the ropes within the past year.

This is not the first time Perrimon has served as the stage manager for a show so she’s a pro at this. As part of her responsibilities, she leads weekly production meetings in which members of the producing staff gather together to discuss the progress that is being made in each of the different production crews.

These meetings cover issues surrounding costumes, props, lighting and sound design, set and scenery, ticket sales, promotional material, and even safety precautions … just in case, of course. After all, there will be lit candles involved during the show so it’s a necessity.

Each crew does its own research to make sure that what they will present is ready for use and is as accurate as possible. The staff thinks of everything necessary to ensure that this play will have a successful run and in these production meetings, it is evident that producing a play like this is very much a collaborative effort by all involved. Everyone plays an important role, no matter how big or small their job is.

Perrimon’s list of duties is endless it seems. In addition to running rehearsals, she sends out frequent e-mails to the production staff to make sure everyone is up-to-date with the latest news, works with the actors to make sure they know every single one of their lines, keeps multiple reports of everything that has transpired, and handles a million other things in preparation for the show. Above all, the stage manager and her assistant do their best to keep everyone calm, cool and collected which is essential in making sure that everything runs as efficiently as possible.

According to Dr. L, this production, compared to previous ones, is “easily the most relaxed” since the cast for this play is much smaller than usual with only a total of four principal actors; and, as there are few new faces in the entire production staff and crew, everyone on set already knows each other quite well. This is the general consensus among those working on this show.

“This rehearsal process has been a unique experience for me because the cast is much smaller and there’s a lot more experience in producing,” says Perrimon.

While there is a certain familial atmosphere that allows things to flow fairly smoothly for everyone, this is no excuse to slack off and each individual works just as hard as ever, particularly the cast.

Rehearsals are understandably one of the most taxing parts of putting this play together. They began at the beginning of the second semester but auditions and casting for the roles took place back in November which is very unusual here at Theatre Fairfield. Starting so early has given everyone six months to prepare so instead of the rushed atmosphere that is standard when putting on a production, things move at a steady pace.

At the PepsiCo, the cast rehearses on typically five nights per week for 3-4 hours. A makeshift set is put into place and lines of red tape are laid out across the floor to give the actors a general idea of what the actual space they will use for the final performances will be like. In the meantime, the real set is being assembled elsewhere by the hardworking carpentry crew and will be put up in the Blackbox in time for the shows.

The cast uses a makeshift set during rehearsals in the PepsiCo.

Sitting in on rehearsals to watch the actors at work is an eye-opening experience for anyone who has the chance to do so. It often seems as though an actor’s job is fairly simple. He or she just has to learn the lines and be able to successfully deliver them while conveying some kind of emotion, right? Wrong. So much more is called for from the actors and the four stars of this production, Casey Grambo, Nancy Laskowski, Michael Maio and Greg Jensen competently rise to the occasion in preparation for the show.

The actors begin each rehearsals with a brief yoga session and constructive rest that helps them relax and get into the mental state they need to be in for their performances. This lasts for about 15 minutes and then the acting begins.

This is one of the most stressful parts of the whole process. The actors can be very hard on themselves especially if they miss lines, forget their cues or have a hard time understanding the scene they are working on and how to give it life.

During rehearsals, the director and cast sometimes choose to alter certain things about the play as long as the changes are not drastic. This allows them to present their unique take on this classic play while staying true to Tennessee Williams’ masterpiece.

For instance, Laskowski’s Laura is being played in a much more independent and feisty way, unlike the overdone portrayal of Laura as the timid, innocent victim hindered by her deformity. Here, Laura shows strength and knows more than she lets on but the portrayal does not stray too far from the original and she is still the same character that Williams’ created. Choices like this are made very carefully and have a lot of thought given to them.

It is astounding how much mental work is put into this whole project. Each actor, both on their own time and along with the director, gives his or her respective character an in-depth analysis in order to understand what objectives they are meant to be pursuing throughout the play.

They really put their minds to work as they dissect this play, line by line, scene by scene. This can be frustrating, tiresome, and tedious, especially when it comes to rehearsing the same thing over and over again in order to deliver a scene in the best way. But there is always a moment when something clicks and the scene works as it is transformed from words on paper into a three-dimensional situation in real life. Moments like this make it all very rewarding.

The swift progress that is made is extremely notable and it’s a shame that audiences don’t always realize the intense journey made throughout this whole process. For the actors, it is difficult but it is fun, and it will be fun for the audience as well when they see the final product.

Amidst all the grueling work are the many laughs shared by all backstage. “We’re a riot, we’re hilarious!” says Perrimon.

She spends no time trying to hide the fact that madness ensues here. In fact, she boldly declares it! Sometimes what goes on has to be seen in order to believe it. But whether it’s sharing backstage secrets on the show’s Twitter account, the insane one-liners these theater people come up with, or using My Little Pony toys as props, it’s all part of the experience to be had at Theatre Fairfield.

Sure, it’s a lot of work to prepare for a show like this but everyone helps to boost morale and keep spirits high and they are all very supportive of each other.

It’s certainly going to be exciting when the play finally premieres on April 25th which is quickly approaching. Time in winding down and everyone in this production is working harder than ever, most likely up until the very last minute but that’s nothing new. That’s just everyday life in the theater.

With so much dedication given to this project, “The Glass Menagerie” will surely join the ranks of Theatre Fairfield’s successful past productions which include “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” and “The Rocky Horror Show”. Each of these has been an impressive spectacle and has provided unique theatrical experiences. Audiences can expect that this production will be no exception.

The entire team at Theatre Fairfield is to be commended on all their hard work, especially the students who willingly take on this added responsibility in addition to all the other obligations they have. It’s no easy task to balance it all and their efforts have often led to many sleepless nights. But they do it because they love it and that, perhaps, is the most important thing.

Perrimon sums up her entire experience simply stating, “There is nothing more fun that putting on a show!”

And quite a show this will be! So to the gang at Theatre Fairfield, as they say, break a leg!

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