By 7:00 Sunday night we were home. Minimal sets are a gift. The show was over by about 4:15 and the set was essentially down by 5:30. The final weekend was history.
Under the most normal of circumstances, closing a show is a bittersweet moment. These circumstances were far from normal, so emotions were probably a little higher than normal. Big casts have a little different flavor than small casts. With a cast and crew of more than forty, we kind of felt like a small (or maybe a mid-sized) army. And Mark Neels was our commander.
The second weekend began with the return of Mark Abels. His was the offstage drama that transformed this production into the stuff of Urban Legend. Abels – the original Brady – ended up doing two of the ten performances, with Mark Ables handling the other eight. He came back for the second Friday, but afterward decided that the part was strenuous enough that it would be unwise to continue.
Here is Mark Neels made over as a Harry Trumanesque Matthew Harrison Brady. This is a play that carries personal significance to him. It is ironic, poetic and a little serendipitous that this necessity should arise in this particular production. Mark was equal parts thrilled at the opportunity and saddened that Mark Ables – who also considered this a bucket list role – was unable to make the performances that he had worked so hard for.
These last two pictures are from the final brush-up. As sometimes happens in brush ups, a fair number of people weren’t there, so the mood was a little light and we had a little fun with the run through.
Regarding the picture of Jazmine. She had a “thing” going with Mrs Krebs. I was trying to get her “I’m watching you” hand gesture, but I was too late.
A final picture. After strike and before everyone went their way, it was time to give gifts . I came too late to see what Darrious got. Mark Neels gets a gavel. One that comes with a host of memories.
And suddenly its opening weekend. By degrees, the outside temperature is approaching the 97 degrees it’s supposed to be inside the courthouse. The theater is comfy cool for the audience, but the dressing rooms not so much.
Before the audience shows up, Nada and Ellen are on the job getting things ready.
Earlier in this series, I talked about some of the unsung heroes that every theatre company relies upon. At CCT, the Schroeder’s are the unofficial first family. Nathan has been a two-term president of the group, is the long-time technical director and light-designer. He is also the principal light hanger. Ellen assists Nathan in all of the above and takes notes during the meetings.
She also is always at the box office. Here she is getting things ready for opening night.
This is Nada Vaughn
Among her many tasks are the displays in the lobby. Here is a sampling:
Who knew that the theater would be such a newsy place?
We opened on Thursday – a good show without much incident with a decent sized house.
Then came Saturday night.
The opening scene dissolves into scene two. The townspeople filter in, setting up tables, bringing food, etc. Matthew Harrison Brady is about to arrive and the entire town has turned out to welcome him. The entrance of the newspaper woman Hornbeck only adds to the circus atmosphere.
Finally the moment is at hand. But the entourage is missing. We look over to the stage left entrance expecting to see the mayor, who does come on stage, but alone. He walks directly to the audience and asks: “Is there a doctor in the house?”
And with those seven words, the entire production was completely transformed.
As he waited in the wings to make his triumphal entry. Mark Abels (portraying Mr Brady) began to experience severe medical distress resembling a heart attack. I do not know exactly what the issue was, but the upshot of it was that Mark would not be able to go on.
Next for him was a visit from the paramedics and a few nights in the hospital. I am given to understand that a stint was implanted and he has been cleared to return this weekend. We were all relieved to hear that his recovery went well. That was the good news.
But the question remained, “what to do about the show?”
I suppose we could have cancelled the production – at least the rest of that opening weekend. But we did have another option available to us – Mark Neels, our director who stepped into the role:
This was a Friday night picture. For the Saturday and Sunday shows he had a legitimate costume and enough makeup to make him look like Harry Truman. I thought for sure that I got a picture of him in that get-up, but apparently not.
The shows Friday (we started over from the top), Saturday and Sunday went surprisingly well. As tightly rehearsed as a production of this magnitude is, you would think that the loss of a crucial element would have some kind of domino effect down the line. But it didn’t happen. Mark went on with a script of course, but the production didn’t visibly falter.
Credit, of course, to Mark Neels. As the director he was very familiar with all the particulars (entrances, blocking, etc.). But this isn’t at all a simple thing to undertake. He didn’t make a big deal of it – and neither did we – but there was more than a little courage involved in stepping into a part this demanding.
Credit, also, to the rest of us for going on without blinking. To a man we had complete confidence that Mark would do just fine. That made it easier for us.
After the Sunday show, CCT held its annual Volunteer Appreciation Picnic. After a physically and emotionally draining opening week, it was a welcomed relief to relax and enjoy the company. Some pictures follow.
I was watching the run through the other day, and thought about my favorite lines in the show. I subsequently asked others in the cast to share theirs with me, and have their responses to share with you as well.
I also add this invitation. Any cast members that didn’t get their favorite lines in here are welcomed to add them as comments. This extends to audience members and other interested readers – you may also share your favorite lines.
The show itself seems almost equally divided between insightful observations and comedic one-liners. Surprisingly, only two offerings came from the snotty reporter EK Hornbeck (who spends the entire play spouting pithy comments).
Tom Moore contributes “The boob has been de-boobed” with this comment: “It just sounds good, and boils down so much of the ensuing drama into one short, punchy line.”
Aaron Mermlestein admires the line: “I had a nice place to stay, but left it to come here.”
From the “agnostic” lawyer Henry Drummond, only one of his humorous lines was submitted, but it came in twice.
“College examinations notwithstanding, it takes a very smart fella to say ‘I don’t know the answer!'” was the favorite line of Jessa Knust for the following reason: “This line is my favorite because it very much encapsulates the idea and purpose of higher education. As much as I learned in college and graduate school, the most important thing I learned is that there’s always more to learn, and that it’s our responsibility to keep challenging conventional wisdom in search of new discoveries and new solutions. I think Drummond would agree with me. ”
Director Mark Neels also tagged this line. DOCTOR Neels has recently secured his PhD in History at the expense of considerable time, effort and treasure. He makes reference to this line in his director’s notes.
There are a couple from the “religious” lawyer Matthew Brady. “I do not think about things that … I do not think about!” was offered twice by Steve Garrett and by Nathan Schroeder .
Nathan also contributes “Blobs of jelly, then” from one of the young students of Bertram Cates, and this exchange between Drummond and one of the candidates for the jury:
Drummond: “I’ll bet you read your Bible.” Juryman: “Nope.” Drummond:”How come?” Juryman: “Can’t read.” Drummond:”Well, you are fortunate.”
That jury member is played by Howie Hirshfield, whose favorite line is the frequently repeated “I object! I object! I object” by the lawyer Drummond – who finds lots of things objectionable in heavenly Hillsboro.
Ann Eigenreither transitions us to the more serious side of the show with this from Brady. “. . . the Lord began the Creation on the 23rd of October in the Year 4004 B.C., at—uh, 9:00 a.m.” Her comment on this is: “Even in the face of diehard creationists, this has to sound ridiculous. And of course, it really marks a turning point in the arguments between Drummond and Brady. From this point, Drummond has Brady on the ropes until Matt loses it at the end of the scene.”
Another one of these is, again, from Nathan who gives us Drummond’s “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind; and the fool shall be servant to the wise at heart.” Nathan adds: “A key turning and revealing point.” He doesn’t say that it’s also the title of the play, but I assume he assumes we can figure that one out.
My own favorite line is also from Drummond and also at the end of the play. After all the courtroom drama has played out, he makes this observation. That Brady “was looking for God too high up and too far out.”
This resonates with me. As a believer (and probably more of a literalist than most when it comes to the scriptures), I think this is an all-too common failing among believers. If we are not careful, we make our God into an inflexible monolith whose function is to grind up and spit out the weak and unworthy beings that we all are.
Throughout the play, Brady refers to Him as the Heavenly Father. That, I think, is the God that is sometimes lost in our conversations – and sometimes even in our innermost thoughts. This universe and our existence in it is a triumph of the love of God the Eternal Father, not of his perfection. His Atonement is the conquest of mercy over justice. The Reverend Brown – in his zeal – loses sight of this at one point of the play. He is not necessarily alone in this failing.
For those not familiar with the process, Tech Week is the week leading up to the opening of the show.
In community productions like this everyone works their rehearsals around jobs and other annoyances of life. I think tonight is the first time we’ve actually had everyone together (if, in fact, we did have everyone together).
Up until now, we will have been rehearsing three or four times a week. Now, we will go every night from Sunday through Wednesday in preparation for Thursday’s opening.
And, of course, the “Tech” in “Tech Week” stands for technical. Up until now, the rehearsal process has been almost exclusively an acting process. Actors in street clothes, general lighting, no sound effects. Ours is not necessarily the most difficult process. Our costumers have put in several long days getting everything ready. This is them:
But ours is the most time consuming process. So our work is done in bits and pieces over several weeks as we discover how all our various roles mesh into the grand design.
Now it’s time for all of the other pieces to add in. Now, it starts to feel like a show.
Also, about now the rest of the crew surfaces:
The journey isn’t at all complete. We’ve got a three week run waiting at the end of tech week, and the show will transform itself again as the run progresses.
But the most exciting part of the journey is about to begin.
It’s Sunday, May 29th. We are 11 days away from opening night and John Lamb is in for a visit. And today we’re taking pictures.
John does all the photography for Clayton Community Theatre and several other groups. When you come, you will see his pictures on display in the “lobby.” Those aren’t the pictures that he’s taking today, though. He is here to take “publicity pictures” and “head shots.”
First, the head shots. We all file past him and get an individual picture taken. These actually will be on display in the lobby – come to think of it. You’ll see a close up of each of us with our name underneath. But the action shots that you will see will be shot later. John will come back during one of the dress rehearsals and take pictures of the actual show. Sometimes he comes twice.
Publicity shots are a different animal. Several of the principles will be posed in – what we hope will be – intriguing shots. Nothing that comes out of this will be very much like the actual show. You may see some of these in newspapers in coming days.
On the plus side, publicity picture day gives us a first glimpse of some of the costumes.
Here is the Judge:
And the counsel for the defense:
And then there is Rachel.
Rachel might be as close as this show has to a protagonist – in the classic sense. None of the other main characters really change much – their individual existentialist moments not withstanding. In general, it is actually the townspeople of Hillsboro who make the major character journey of the play. But Rachel is the kind of focal point of everything that goes on with the rest of the town.
And while all of these pictures are being taken, the rest of us wait:
We understand, of course. It’s all part of the process. It is funny though. A process that began several weeks ago with a lot of waiting, has returned to waiting.
After the pictures came the runthrough. Less and less the cast members are watching the show from the seats and more and more we’re spending the show backstage.
This means more waiting
And more waiting:
Tech week is coming up, so there is more waiting ahead.
So, what does everyone do on break? Act One is over and Act Two is coming up. In between, we have ten minutes to check the baseball score (Cards losing 2-1), grab a snack, or do other stuff.
Yes, yes. Where would any of us be without Facebook. I expect that at some distant point in the future, directors will call “take ten,” and the entire production company will collapse where they are and open up their devices. (I actually haven’t checked with any high schools. This may already be happening.)
This is Nathan Schroeder. He is a past president of this organization and our technical director. He is also a multiple-award-winning light designer and – for this show – a cast member (he plays Meeker).
And while he’s waiting for rehearsal to begin again, he spends his ten minutes in the booth.
Mark Abels, of course, is Brady. Sitting to the left is Aaron Mermelstein, who plays the mayor of Hillsboro.
Aaron has been on stage with us a few times before. He did “Oscar and Felix” and “Room at the End.” Aaron, by inches, is transforming the mayor into something of a comic character, and it’s a delight to watch. Nothing about what he’s doing is outside of the character. But Aaron is finding the humor kind of hidden inside of the mayor. There is always a sense of inspired lunacy when Aaron is on stage.
And speaking of inspired lunacy:
Dangerous Dan McGee spends his ten minutes reviewing old sheet music. This might be for an audition, but not necessarily.
All of life is a kind of non sequitur. Anything that he may be doing or saying at this moment may or may not be connected to the thing he was doing or saying just ten seconds ago. The book that you can’t see there because of the glare is about Greek mythology.
I believe that this is Dan’s first show with us.
Break is over. It’s about ten after eight and this very large, diverse and interesting cast is filtering into places for Act Two. Gotta go.
CCT is grateful and very pleased to have Steve Garrett with us in the role of Reverend Brown. In a recent rehearsal break, he gave me a couple of minutes to chat about his experience.
Joe: Inherit the Wind is your first show with Clayton, right?
Steve Garrett: First show with Clayton, yes.
Joe: Enjoying the experience so far?
Steve Garrett: Love it. The people . . . I’ve never seen such great people. With a cast this size, especially. You would think you wouldn’t get along with somebody over something. But everybody’s been just fabulous, as far as I’m concerned.
Joe: And Mark is a lot of fun to work with.
Steve Garrett: Yes he is. I’ve worked with him before he’s brilliant.
Joe: Where did you work with him?
Steve Garrett: KTK. He cast me at an Arnold theatre group first. We did “And Then There Were None.” – an Agatha Christie. And that’s the first time I met him. And then we acted together in Dracula. He was not Dracula, of course.
Joe: That’s right he was Renfield.
Steve Garrett: Oh yes. Great role. And he ate it up. And the flies.
Joe: Is that why you auditioned here? Because Mark was directing? Or is it the play?
Steve Garrett: I love the play. Actually I was trying to get a lawyer role – I think everybody want these roles. I’ve tried a couple other times, and I had mentioned to Mark sometime earlier that I had auditioned for this character. And he remembered that, and he said “why don’t you come audition,” so I did.
Joe: Is it a hard role to do?
Steve Garrett: To me, those kind of roles are easier, because there’s nothing subtle – well, I mean there is some subtlety. I think actors like these kinds of roles – you know, “Look at me! Look at me!”
Joe: The script doesn’t leave you in the dark about who this guy is.
Steve Garrett: It’s certainly fun to play. And I love it.
Joe: Yes, I can tell. You’re all over it.
Steve Garrett: Yeah, it’s really fun. I just love theatre and theatre people.
Joe: Does Reverend Brown have an existential moment? A moment when he questions himself?
Steve Garrett: I think when Brady confronts him, in my mind I’m thinking “you know, I never thought of that. Why am I doing this to my daughter? I’ve . . .I’ve gone too far, and maybe I don’t . . . maybe I shouldn’t be as certain as I am.” I think he does, yes. He kind of gets lost in his own deal.
Joe: Like all of us when we go too far we get caught up in our own momentum.
Steve Garrett: That’s what it seems like to me. And Mark is directing it that way. And, you know how Mark directs. You pretty much get a perfect picture of what he wants. And I’m pretty happy, so far, with the way its coming out. And I love the crowd. It feels like I’m in an amplifier. It helps me feel like, “hey, maybe I can do this.”
It’s Monday, May 23 and almost all scripts are out of hands. The anticipated runthrough almost happens, but we fall one scene short. Not an issue. We are polishing as we go. Scene by scene, the show is beginning to take its final shape.
After weeks of rehearsing the pieces in isolation, it’s a little compelling watching as all the pieces fit together. (Among other things, it’s at about this point in the process that actors start to figure out how long they will have between scenes). (There actually has already been one runthrough of the show – it just didn’t happen tonight.)
One of the things the audience will remember about this play is that it is very loud very often. The crowd scenes will bring a lot of that, but there will be other moments of individual conflict that will also be loud. A lot of the characters in this piece find themselves more than a little upset at various points in the story.
But as impressive as – and actually more important than – the theatre shaking moments are a series of exceptionally quiet moments that connect the dots of theme and plot. After the tumult of the prayer meeting there is a very soft exchange between Brady and Drummond. Rachel and Bert have a heartbreaking moment of betrayal before the contentious court room scenes. After the testimony scene is over and at the very end of the show the scenes that had begun in much sound and fury end in profound quiet.
It is in these moments where these very public and larger than life characters are found to be only human and surprisingly vulnerable.
All of the play’s important business happens in these very still moments. Critical to our success is our execution of the pianissimos as well as the fortissimos.
It’s about a quarter to two Saturday afternoon. We have just run through the main courtroom scene, and will be running the last scene in a few minutes. In between, Mark has a few thoughts for us.
All About the Face
In talking about the improvements in the scene, he praised the non verbals – the faces, the focus, the interactions. The aim is to find the life in these people. As we run through these scenes, the essential humanity of all of these characters begins to emerge. Mark doesn’t need to prod us anymore or coax the energy out of us. The energy is happening on its own, now. These are becoming very satisfying scenes.
The main courtroom scene – the one that ends with Brady in the witness chair – is, of course, the critical scene of the entire play. The drama is between Drummond and Brady, but the story is ours. Over the course of a very long examination, the momentum of the scene switches sides several times and – gradually and individually the loyalties of the town folk (some of them) change sides. It’s what Mark calls our “existential” moment.
The culture of this imaginary town – as with any society in general – is founded on a set of shared assumptions. The townspeople of Hillsboro are forced to examine these assumptions. Somewhere during this exhausting scene – in between the shouts and the amens – the good citizens of Hillboro will have (or won’t have) their own very private epiphany. Whether they accept it or not, they will be presented with a very different universe than the one they have been brought up to believe in.
Whether or not this constitutes an imperative for the audience to examine any specific assumptions will be up to you. I don’t think the play requires you to question your faith. The point of the play – as we set it forth to you – is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. And that there’s nothing wrong with not having an answer right now.
Meanwhile, while this was going on downstairs in the cafeteria, upstairs a set was rising out of nothingness.
We are less than a month away, and everything (existentially speaking) is beginning to come together quite nicely.
Erin Struckhoff is back at CCT for Inherit the Wind. She most recently headlined our production of The Women playing Mary and before that was nominated in the inaugural Theatre Mask Awards for her performance as Mrs. Scottish Person in the Scottish Play (footnote: I am not superstitious myself about the name of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy set in Scotland, but I know some people are, so . . .). Erin gave me a few minutes during a break in a recent rehearsal. Here are her responses to a few general questions:
Joe: So, “The Scottish Play” was your first show with Clayton. Is that what brought you here? Was Mrs. Scottish person a bucket-list role for you?
Erin Struckhoff: It was Clayton’s solid reputation that attracted my attention. By the summer of 2014, it had been eight years since I had been on stage. I had set theatre aside after the birth of my second daughter, and my husband’s work schedule being mostly evening shifts. But that summer, theatre was calling me again. Children were older, and schedules set. I searched for companies with solid reputations, and then waited for auditions to be announced. “Macbeth” is definitely a siren song to actors who love Shakespeare. I had played Lady Macbeth before, but I think it is role and a show an actor can do several times and always find it thrilling.
Joe: After Mrs. Scottish person and a transcendent performance in The Women, here you are as Mrs. Krebs. Is your process the same? How is it different creating Mrs. Krebs from the other prominent roles you’ve done for us? And how is it similar?
Erin Struckhoff: I think the process is always the same. You start with the text, because it gives you all of your information on how your character is to be constructed, and how you’re going to find the character within the context of the play. The major difference is when your character has fewer lines and little said about them, you have less information to guide you. So, in that respect, I would say creating Mrs. Krebs is a little more challenging. I have to come up with everything about her, beyond the hints from the text, and Mark’s vision for character.
Joe: Do you like Mrs. Krebs?
Erin Struckhoff: I admire her ability to – she has a clear sense of what she believes in and she sticks to it. I’m not particularly fond of her. If she were a person I probably wouldn’t be friends with her, and would probably avoid interaction as much as possible. But that doesn’t make it harder to play her. It’s more fun.
Joe: Will the audience like her? Should they like her? Will they see themselves in her at all?
Erin Struckhoff: I think there will be moments when they see themselves in her – as with all the characters. I doubt they will like her, though.
Joe: You are here with basically your whole family. Does that change the experience?
Erin Struckhoff: Yes, of course. My husband, Jeff, and I actually met doing a show. This is the first play for both of my daughters. To get to be on stage with all of them is a unique experience.
Joe: Have your daughters done anything in audition or rehearsal that have surprised you? Reminded you, maybe of yourself?
Erin Struckhoff: Well, Kellann cracked me up at the auditions. I wanted to see how the girls did without any guidance, so we had never rehearsed it or gone over anything beforehand. And she was so into playing the scene– and so much bigger than I expected – and she was the one who, in the beginning, was afraid to be up in front of all those people. And Delaney has made some wonderful observations during the rehearsals. They’re very happy to be in the show. They love coming to rehearsals. And I truly thank Mark for making it such a happy, fun, and creative process.