Technical rehearsals are a slow, painstaking process. When all of the technical and design elements — light cues, sound cues, sets, props, costumes — are layered in and integrated with the timing of the actors. Whenever I work at other theatres around the country I’m always curious to witness how other companies run a tech. The procedure is the same but the experience is different. Some are slow, some fast, some meticulous and detail-oriented, some breezy and easy-going.
As a director myself who just opened this play in Los Angeles, watching director Jeff Zinn run the tech rehearsal is like letting someone else drive your car. You hand over the keys. Sit quiet in the passenger seat. And try to not to shout out “No! Turn here! Go faster! Slow down! Look out!” No one likes a back-seat driver. Let Jeff drive. See how he handles the road.
Whether in a sparkling new 200-seat venue or the funky intimate Fountain, the basic questions and challenges of a tech rehearsal remain the same: how do we make this moment work? What story are we telling in this scene? What should the lights be doing as she crosses to the table? Let’s work out the timing of sound cues for the opening. How do we create the best lighting effect for the end?
The set for "Bakersfield Mist" on the Julie Harris Stage.
At 12 noon, actors Ken Cheeseman and Paula Langton arrive on stage and walk on the set for the first time. After weeks in a barren rehearsal room, they finally step into the colorfully eccentric universe of Maude’s trailer. Their eyes light up. Grins spread over faces. They explore the set, picking up props and playing with all the weird-looking tchotchkes like giggly kids on Christmas morning. Continue reading →
Wellfleet Harbor sits nestled on the edge of Cape Cod just a few hamlets over from Provincetown. A tiny beachfront resort village famous for its oysters and art galleries. A galaxy away from the smog, traffic and congestion of Los Angeles.
I’m here for the opening this week of my play, Bakersfield Mist, at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. Arriving for the final week of rehearsals, tech week and opening on August 11th. This is the second production of the play to be produced, the first since our opening at the Fountain (which is still running). It will be the first time I get to see the play directed by someone else, performed by a different cast of actors. I expect to learn a lot. As playwright, I’m here to continue tweaking the script, lend support, offer guidance, and try to stay out of the way.
My apartment is up the stairs to the second-floor balcony.
For my one-week stay, WHAT has provided me with “artist housing”. My apartment sits nestled on the edge of beachfront, overlooking the harbor. It’s funky and bohemian and absolutely divine. From the second-floor balcony I stand and peer out over the harbor and bay. Mac’s Seafood Market is an arm’s reach next door. The crisp aroma of steamed oysters, clams and lobster mixes with the salt air and drifts up to my balcony. Delicious.
“Downtown” Wellfleet is a postcard of charming, picturesque shops, cafes and galleries. Tree-lined, quaint. Townfolk and tourists stroll leisurely in t-shirts, shorts and sandals. The pace is slow. Languid. Why hurry to go anywhere else?
This morning I meet Jeff Zinn for breakfast at a homey little cafe off the main road. Jeff is the Artistic Director of WHAT and directing their production of my play. He’s smart, warm, easy to chat with. We talk shop: discuss new plays, new writers, share ideas, complain, bitch and gossip.
I do a quick phone interview with the Boston Globe, then Jeff and I jump into his car for a short drive over to the theatre.
The Julie Harris Stage
Jeff gives me a tour of his gorgeous new venue: the handsome Julie Harris Stage. Named for the Tony-winning actress, of course, who did Beauty Queen of Leenane at Wellfleet in 2000. The new $6.8 million year-round theater seats 200 people and complements the 90-seat Harbor Stage where the company has been performing since 1985. “The Julie” is exquisite, glittering fresh like a new Cadillac. The stage is huge, tall and wide. The building also holds a labyrinth of office space, a costume shop, dressing rooms, green room, rehearsal room and a two-level lobby. Although I wouldn’t trade the quality of our work at the Fountain with anyone, I can’t help but gape at the glory of a fully-rigged two-story new theatre building with 200 seats and drool with envy. I mutter Yoda’s mantra (“Size matters not”) and keep moving.
The Bakersfield set is being assembled on stage. Carpenters, technicians and designers scurry about clutching power tools and design plans. Because the Harris stage is so much bigger (and taller) than the Fountain, Maude’s trailer sits entirely on stage like a mobile home parked on blocks in a trailer park.
Jeff ushers me into the rehearsal room for a quick introduction to the Bakersfield actors, Ken Cheeseman and Paula Langton. We’re delighted to meet each other and equally excited about doing the play at Wellfleet. I’m then quickly guided out of the room so the actors can run lines with the stage manager.
Back at my apartment at sunset, I stand on my rickety wood balcony and peer out at the ocean, the orange sun painting the harbor water a shimmering coral rose, marveling at how lucky I am to be visiting such a beautiful place. And how blessed I am to be doing what I love.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) will be a long, full 10-hour tech day.