TAKE ONE: What I Learned About Stagecraft

By Kay Stoltz
Part 2 of 3

Oh yes, the setting is London. I practice and practice, watch online videos, study English programs on T.V. to no avail. I get a few words right, but Mother of Newsboy, Friendly Lady, Cop, get it perfect from the start. English Lady of course needs no help. Announcer, pitch perfect, plays Hitchcock, except when he hams it up, breaking tension.
Those accustomed to Director and the company of actors offer suggestions from time to time.
His standard phrase: “You want to be assistant director? No! I am the Director, got that? Good!” But always with a smile.
Someone presents a change: “Geez, another Assistant Director? Knock it off.”
“Costumes?” someone asks. “What do we wear?”
“Fashions from the 1940’s.”
I listen to the others and follow them online to find clothes, makeup and hair styles. Buy clothes online? Not be able to try on? The dress arrives, looking good. However, it form-fits my muffin top. And, I haven’t worn a skirt in years. The breeze goes right up my skirt. I feel naked. OK, find a slip and girdle. They don’t call them girdles anymore, what do they call them? I don’t know, but I find them, and take a selection into the fitting room. And my poor body, unencumbered all these years, struggles to fit into these ghastly things. Finally it works, a full body cast. It fastens in the nether regions. That means no liquids past noon.
Slender Lady brings treats every night. We rehearse during the conventional dinner hour, so all need a little sustenance, she figures. I’d better watch it, or even this body cast won’t be enough. When asked, she blithely says, “I love to bake.” A feeling of camaraderie develops among us, as we chat while waiting to go onstage for rehearsal. There are no prima donnas, and Director keeps it light along with the other jokesters, Announcer and Cop.

On stage left, a table holds the sound equipment: a marvel of ingenuity. One actor brings wooden salad bowls: the clop, clop of the donkey’s gait. Others: dishes rattle, drawers and door open and close, bong simulates Big Ben, a violin plays screeches of ominous foretelling, metal sheet shakes for thunder. All coordinates with the scenes. The sound people have scripts to follow even more closely than the actors. The booth in the back of the theater handles the “big” sounds: music, background, gunshots. Actors and sound people work together to make it happen.
More rehearsals, longer, with more detail. Actors listen for their cue, wait for the door to open before speaking. The transition music indicates a change of scene, it’s important for the actors to wait. “Count to six from the start of the music,” the Director says, “before you begin your lines.” It’s a dance, sometimes we don’t know who’s leading. Timing, timing; approach the mic too soon, you’re in the way; too late and the action waits for you, causing a break.
“Seat assignments.” The Director announces, as we get close to Opening Night. The actors sit on folding chairs at stage right. Brian has his reasons for the seating, mainly that the bigger parts and those with conversations should sit together. Even with only one or two lines, you stay on stage, in your seat, for the entire time.