Dressed in black, stagehands mop the empty black stage. Other similarly dressed stagehands remove the set of one production and replace it with another. A table and chairs connected into a single unit slides from stage right to stage left, disappearing in the wing. The pit, an area between the stage and the auditorium in which musicians perform, is unoccupied, but will later be filled with an orchestra.
The stagehands are preparing for Southern Oregon University’s Department of Performing Arts’ first technical rehearsal of “Lucky Stiff,” an award-winning musical farce by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.
“I really enjoy tech rehearsal,” says director Dennis Smith, an SOU professor emeritus. “It’s when it all comes together. The lighting. The sound. The actors. And when it all comes together,” Smith continues, “it’s really exciting.”
With dozens making up the cast and crew, “the hardest part of a tech rehearsal,” he says, “is getting started.”
Each member of the cast and crew is busy with their respective job, everyone has a role to play. To those not familiar with the theatrical process — a process that begins with a script and, after many sleepless nights (or weeks), ends with a polished production — the scene might seem chaotic. But to those adjusting the lights and volume or aligning props and set pieces, the scene is an enjoyable part of a well-known process.
A loud voice bursts from the speakers, interrupting the near constant hum of cast and crew as they make last minute preparations. The speakers play a recorded dialogue between two of the characters.
“Is the airplane supposed to bounce so much?” says a man’s voice.
Cast and crew look to the sound control booth, located in the rear corner of the auditorium.
“What are you worried about?” a woman’s voice asks from the speakers. “Vinnie, come on, control yourself.”
She’s a little loud, says a crew member from the sound booth. Another member from the crew, only partially visible high above the stage on a narrow catwalk, weaves wires from the wall and ceiling to speakers or lights, maybe both.
The recording plays again. She sounds just right this time, according the man in the sound booth. The crew member on the catwalk agrees.
“Ten minutes to places,” announces Ewa Prokopczuk, the stage manager. Prokopczuk, an SOU student working towards a B.A. in theatre arts and a B.S. in psychology, has one of the most demanding jobs in rehearsals.
The stage manager is something of an overseer. Prokopczuk helms the communication hub, talking with the light and sound crews, the director and the actors. Additionally, she is responsible not only for ensuring that the director’s artistic vision is carried out but also for keeping the rehearsal on schedule and recording all cues and other important information in the promptbook, or as it is sometimes called, “the bible.”
“Five minutes till go,” Prokopczuk says. “Actors to places.” The red velvet curtain, which matches the upholstery of the seats in the sparsely populated auditorium, closes. Curtain now closed, the hum of the cast and crew becomes quieter, the lights at the wings dim, and Prokopczuk dons her headset.
“Music go,” she says. Music begins. “Actors, go.” The actors begin the opening act, a Greek Chorus-style prologue that warns the audience of many plot twists to come.
“Hold please,” Prokopczuk requests. The actors relax. “Thank you hold,” one actor responds gratefully.
“We need to double check the fishing line for the airplane,” says Smith, the director. “It needs to be taut,” he explains. “That fishing line can’t live there.” An unseen crew member tightens the fishing line.
“Actors, go.” They go.
So the technical rehearsal begins. Every detail, every word, every step is planned. Moment by moment, under Smith’s artistic direction, the production slowly comes together.
The cast and crew of “Lucky Stiff” have only days before they go in front of an audience. The technical rehearsal spans the entire weekend, two grueling 12-hour days.
“If we come out of tech rehearsal and the sun is still up, we’ve done something wrong,” Smith says, a cup of Dutch Bros. coffee in his hand.
“Lucky Stiff” opens Thursday, May 17, at the Center Stage Theatre on campus. The curtain rises at 8 p.m.