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Play: Magic behind the scenes

Owens puts on 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown'

By Amanda Aylwin, Staff Writer

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Rehearsal photos by Amanda Aylwin

This is just the beginning for the cast and crew of the musical ‘You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.’

The play, directed by theater professor Jeremy Meier, is a fresh approach to the 1967 classic, based on the comic strip by Charles Schultz. Sally Brown joins Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, and Snoopy in this revue of vignettes and songs. It runs April 5-8 at the Center for Fine & Performing Arts Mainstage Theatre.

In the next few months, the actors in this Owens Community College play will go through hours of dancing, singing and blocking rehearsals before show time. The audience doesn’t get to see the many steps it takes to prepare for a show like this. Every single performance put on by the actors is the result of months of hard work behind the scenes.

Technical director Rick Clever.

Before this process even begins, actors go through auditions. In this part of the process, the actors read a monologue, sing a song and dance. This gives actors the opportunity to show what they can do and why they would make this role better than anyone else auditioning. This also makes it easier for the people involved in the show, “to compare the actors and reflect on their experiences and our experiences with them,” explained by Rick Clever, the technical director here at Owens Community College.

When the cast list goes up and the scripts are handed out, the cast then meets for table work. This gives the actors a chance to break down their scripts into manageable parts, and also gives the actors the chance to get familiar with their characters and hear their director’s concept for the show. The table read normally takes one or two rehearsals before they are ready to move on.

Before the actors begin to “act,” they learn the blocking of the performance for their own performance, as well as for the characters they will share a scene with. Blocking is the precise staging of actors in order to facilitate the performance, and is done by scene, involving only the actors needed for each given scene. The director will then work on actor and rehearsal notes. The actor notes will convey any suggestions or points that may need improvement for the next rehearsal. Rehearsal notes are given to the production team in order to keep them informed of any questions or visions the director may have.

The next step is to focus on the tempo of the show, called the run-throughs. This is when actors start to get used to the timing, the length of the scenes and the process of what happens between scenes. The director will listen for changes in the tempo in order to keep the audience engaged for the entirety of the show. A run-through is usually a complete uninterrupted rehearsal, though normally done without make up or costumes.

While all of this is going on, the production team is working on costumes, finding the props and set pieces that will be used in the performance, finding the right sound effects, getting ideas in mind for lighting cues, and finally building and painting the set. The set designer meets with the build team, and they go over the floor plan for the set and start working on completing it for the up-coming tech week.

Brendan Bean (Linus) with his Blankey.

The last step in the process is tech week. This is the week when actors finally get to rehearse on stage, but not for themselves; this week is to get the lighting, sound, orchestra in and set finalized, while also adding in all the elements of props, costumes and costume changes.

Once the set is complete in its build, the set dresser can add the furniture in place and have a better idea of where the props go and where they are stored when not in use. Tech week runs right up until the night of previews.

Not all theaters can or will have a night for previews, but they can be extremely helpful for the director and actors because it helps them get their timing down and figure out how long to hold a line while the audience applauds or laughs. Most of the time previews are only used for Broadway performances in order to allow people to see an unfinished product for a lower ticket price. During a preview anything can be changed, from lighting to eliminating a music number. Nothing is yet locked in stone.

The final step before opening night is the final dress rehearsal. Sometimes there are invited guests, and sometimes it is just the production team who are there to watch the show run in its entirety, as it should when it opens the following night. This is also the night the director hands the show over to the stage manager, whose job to call the cues, organize the actors, and make sure the costumes and props are ready and in place while also running the crew, usually over a headset from the booth.

After most shows open, the director has already moved onto his or her next show and aren’t present, but here at Owens our director is always present, whether in the audience enjoying the show or at the box office making sure everyone gets their ticket to enjoy the show.

Putting together a performance is a show in itself. The audience only sees the show for the magic it portrays on the stage, but the real magic is the imagination, hard work and energy that it takes to even make these shows possible.

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