As we finally settle into fall, Georgetown’s campus theater season has launched into full swing.
Productions by the Mask and Bauble Dramatic Society and Black Theatre Ensemble have already graced the various stages, making it clear that campus is brimming with on-stage talent. Yet it is easy to forget that the well-executed and well-put-together final production has taken months of work and planning, and that a large portion of this work is executed by a talented production team. Only when the lights go up on opening nights can the production crew see the fruits of their labor for the first time.
Spring marks the sowing of the seeds of production. With Mask and Bauble, a young director applies and is chosen by the club’s board of seven to spearhead a show that she wants to do. The club board, in the words of 14-show-veteran Katherine Sisemore (MSB ’15), “guides a [Mask and Bauble] season as a whole.” The director begins work while the club board hires the rest of the directing staff.
The producer will report to the board for the next seven months, making sure the play is staffed, on budget and on time. The stage manager takes charge of running all practical aspects on the stage, knowing how each technical item works. Together, this forms the core team. The director writes and distributes a 10-page concept that details his or her vision based on the script. It includes characters, key themes, setting, lighting and outlines of each aesthetic piece of the show. Some designers are hired prior to the summer to begin imagining their work. Cue summer and the brainstorming period.
This is the time when designers begin to imagine how they will bring together the many artistic elements of the production. Black Theatre Ensemble music director, Jordan Blackwell (COL ’15) emphasized the importance of achieving this combination.
“In order for the audience to understand the playwright’s message, acting and music have to go hand in hand,” he said.
In the case of the company’s recent production of “In the Red and Brown Water,” he had to find a way to match vocals to run atop an existing musical score. A similar brainstorming process took place in the mind of Zoe Novak (COL ’17), the sound designer for Mask and Bauble’s “Inherit the Wind.”
She began hunting for music well before classes started in August, looking through countless clips for noises that fill in the space.
“Only 40 to 60 percent of the audience will hear something,” Novak said. “I selected the songs before school started, once school began it was only fine-tuning the music to the production.”
>Now, with fall, comes the theater season. Classes begin again and the productions go into full swing. At the beginning of the year, all four student theater companies, Nomadic, Mask and Bauble, Children’s Theatre and Black Theatre Ensemble, are working on different projects. In August, the tight-knit directing staff looked to recruit freshmen and existing members to work on each department. Actors auditioned and production staff were hired. One such hire is Marnie Klein (NHS ’17), a member of the build team for Mask and Bauble, who maintains that the group dynamic can make or break any production.
“The more opinions go in, the better the product,” Klein said. “I don’t know everything. It’s important to have everyone help out.”
During the rehearsal process the production staff is hard at work. Each department holds the crucial responsibility of finding a way to execute the designer’s vision. Adam Bacigalupo (COL ’16) worked lighting for “In the Red and Brown Water,” a co-production between the Black Theatre Ensemble and the Theater and Performance Studies program. He worked under a professional lighting designer, learning from the professional’s experience.
“You start with a dark space and you can build anything with light and color,” he said, exuding an easily noticeable enthusiasm.
The building continues and the show begins to come together. Sisemore noted the importance of research when designing costumes for Mask and Bauble’s “Inherit the Wind,” including investigating hairstyles from the early 20th century, accruing pictures of Katherine Hepburn and Fred Astaire for inspiration.
As tech week approaches, sets and lighting reach their final stages. Nomadic Theatre’s tech director, Leia Alex (SFS ‘16), instructs production staff members as they assemble the final parts of the set late past midnight.
“Time sensitivity,” she said about directing the production staff, “That’s the most stressful part. I have to make sure that everything is functional. Lights. Soundboard. Make sure the set is existent. Lights are the biggest push with a crazy plot, it’s a lot to deal with.”
The weekly meetings among production teams ramp up. Tech week begins. Sisemore spends hours in the dressing room, talking with the actors as she does their hair, while Bacigalupo is restricted to the lighting box, running cues from what he argues is “the best seat in the house.”
Black Theatre Ensemble stage manager Abi Vega (COL ’17) runs around backstage making sure actors are ready for their cues, and checking the props she has purchased.
It’s opening night, and the show begins. Blackwell sits in the audience, running over his notes he gave the actors. The curtains open, the stage flushed in color. The two actors enter the stage, perfectly timed. The audience dives into the show while somewhere nestled well behind the scenes, the members of the production crew are still toiling away. The show runs like clockwork and halfway into the first act, the crew can breathe, taking in a moment of unusual calm. The work of the production crews is incessant and exhausting, and may often be forgotten by the audience taking in the final performance. Yet it is clear that it is exactly this work which makes the artistic vision truly come to life.