April 20, 2017
An insider’s view of one slight hitch
These past two weekends, instead of sleeping or hanging with friends, I spent my evenings performing in “One Slight Hitch” LHU’s main-stage spring semester play. While being in the show prohibits me from writing an accurate and unbiased article review, I have decided to instead give the Eagle Eye readers an insider’s look at what happens during a play. For those of you with delusions that theatre is a simple “hobby”, I’m here to pop that bubble.
A rehearsal for a show is run similarly to that of a practice for sports, but our rehearsals often go hours longer than sports practices. This statement isn’t meant to drag LHU’s sports program, but to prove that the myth that “theatre performers don’t work as hard as athletes” is false. During tech week, the cast spends most of their time onstage. On the dreaded 10-10 Tech Saturday, we rehearse for twelve hours (with breaks for lunch and dinner) using lights and sound. We memorize page after page of dialogue, learn cues, block movements and create our characters so that our final product can be flawlessly executed. We also can’t do this alone, because while the actors are what most of the audience sees, there is an entire crew working backstage and up in the lighting and sound booths. The show would be impossible without them. The backstage crew completes tasks like moving heavy flats and props, opening and closing curtains, operating the pulley system, and directing scene changes. Our costume team needs to be on deck constantly in case of emergencies. Costume malfunctions happen all the time, so there is usually someone backstage ready with safety pins, a sewing kit, and sometimes (when desperate times call) duct tape. Our costume team also stands backstage for quick changes, which are ten to ninety second costume changes between scenes that wouldn’t be possible without multiple people dressing and undressing you. Theatre people have no sense of privacy or modesty. Spend half an hour backstage with us and you’ll probably see someone in their underwear.
While most audience members arrive from 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., cast members are required to arrive at least an hour before the show starts to get ready for “places”, which is a theatre term for “get into your spot for the opening scene right now, or I will murder you”.
All of the girls (except for me) wore wigs, which was convenient in some ways, and frustrating in others. For me, this meant I didn’t have to take an hour to braid, pin-curl, and tuck up my hair for the inevitable wig cap event. I say event because it involves several people and a lot of pushing and shoving. I was glad I didn’t have to do that, but that also meant I needed to curl, frizz, and tease my real hair, which could take as long as wig preparation. All actors wear makeup because the stage lighting requires highlights of the face that regular lighting doesn’t provide. Wearing heavy costumes and layers of makeup onstage with the hot lights is a recipe for sweat. Commonly, actors will come offstage and head straight for a bottle of water, a sheet of perspiration on their foreheads. But the thrill of performing far outweighs any discomfort the actors may feel.
Once everyone is outfitted and has prepared their costumes and props for the upcoming scenes, we get into our places, the lights go down, the audience grows silent and we begin our show. Nerves are common on opening night, but the adrenaline that accompanies them is what fuels the cast to be better than they’ve ever been.
“One Slight Hitch” was unique from other plays I’ve done, mostly because it was essential for actors to be onstage and offstage quickly. This is the case for most farces. The set usually includes a large number of doors for characters to dash in and out of, and frequently there are long and highly comical monologues.
My character called upon me to act drunk because she was an alcoholic, and while I had fun stumbling around stage, it was also difficult to remain “inebriated” the whole time. I got to drink a lot of “alcohol”, which was actually just sweet tea in liquor bottles. But I’d be content to never drink sweet tea again after having so much of it each night.
There are a lot of mishaps that can happen onstage as well. Actors will sometimes come offstage with scratches or bruises they don’t remember getting due to set pieces they interact with. The set is a dangerous playground. Several times, in my “drunken state,” I accidentally hit my shins on the coffee table set piece. A few others slipped going up and down the stairs. One girl nearly broke her leg after trying to run quickly up the steps after her overly enthusiastic monologue. Stage lights fall, doors come unhinged, props break, accidents happen and the actors keep going. Part of the art is the ability to improvise or continue a scene in character after something goes wrong.
You create unbreakable friendships and unforgettable memories in theatre. Your cast becomes your family (dysfunctional though it be), and your character becomes an extension of yourself. You become attached to the set, the costumes and even the props. Props and costume pieces often go “missing” after shows because of this.
At the end of the night, the praise we receive is a reward unlike any other. Nothing in the world feels better than being up onstage after a great performance, the audience standing to applaud a job well done.