To the audience, they are names on a program. To the actors, they are what keeps the show together. Behind the walls of the stage in Anathan Theatre, there is a team of over a dozen people who works quietly and without acknowledgement except by those on stage. As the theatre department works on its fall production, “The Government Inspector,” Director Monica Anderson shared a hint of all that goes on behind the scenes.
Anderson, who holds a doctorate in theatre, said the crew’s work is often underestimated. “One of the signs of a good performance is that you don’t see the work,” she said. “We try to make it look easy… People don’t see the hours that go into it, they don’t see the multiple attempts at getting something right; they only see the final product.”
Behind-the-scenes roles are all filled by students in Anathan. The stage manager is responsible for running the show come production week and is kept sane by the assistant stage manager, a design team, costume “elves,” the backstage crew and shop workers who construct the set alongside members of the stagecraft class, Theatre 120, offered every fall.
These shop workers spend weekday afternoons building the set from the ground up throughout the course of the semester. Depending on the theme of the show, this could be very simple or very complex.
When she designs a show, Anderson said she “boil(s) down what I think the play is saying and how it goes about saying that thing.”
Together with Dale Prey, Anathan Theatre manager and technical director, Anderson will provide this exaggerated “larger than life” set and costumes to convey the inner “grotesqueness” and vices of the characters.
“You can see in all the characters at least one deadly sin that is very prominent in their behavior,” she said. “We see that warping in the set, the skewing of perspective, as well as in the costumes.”
A black and white set with seven doors shows off the slashes of bright reds, purples and greens in the Russian costumes. Top hats bend to look at wares on merchants’ shoulders, and bright and flashy belts are concealed beneath long trench coats.
Rehearsals also provide challenges with the larger-than-life props and chairs with tables on wheels which can move at any time.
“We’re still getting used to it,” laughed senior Emily Flood, actor and publicity manager for the show. “It gives for a lot of funny moments and mobility for the actors.”
Flood, who has also served many roles on the production team during her years at Franciscan, said, “It’s a funny line the designers are treading of practical, mathematical with the creative, artistic vision. It’s taking this imaginary, artistic realm and making it real, bringing it into the real world so it works. We’re taking an idea and completing it.”
She also highlighted the work of the costume “elves.” Called elves because they appear where they are most needed at the appropriate time, this group of students headed by Kathy Walker creates the costumes and maintains them throughout the duration of production week. They are on hand in case of any emergency and can solve any worry the actors voice.
“They’re geniuses,” Flood said. “They sew things by hand, they’re good at foraging and putting things together and fitting it to the actor.”
One of the elves, sophomore Beth Buchanan, said she enjoyed researching the styles which would be used for this show. She said for a few of the costumes, they had to buy new pieces and then dirty or tear them to make them look old and used.
“We figure out who the characters are and make that come out in their clothes,” she said. “There’s such a huge creative aspect to it.”
Freshman Sarah Maciejewski, who has been sewing for eight years and has been involved in musical theatre for seven, agreed. “A lot of my friends work at a desk office,” she said. “I get to go into the costume shop and look for a fat suit, hoop skirts and suit coats. I like finding the pieces.”
Anderson spoke about the incredible experience it is for students who work on carrying out the design. “They are in a better position to see how the whole process works. While certainly actors learn their piece of the process, crew members are in a better position to see how all the pieces fit together.”
Four nights a week every week until mid-November, the production team, design team and everyone else involved will be in the theatre preparing to bring a story to life. Of the countless hours they will put into a production this size, only two will be observed by their audiences. But those two will be seamless, thanks to many hands and heads behind the many doors.