Behind the curtain


By Alexia Boyarsky, Cathi Choi and Dana Glaser



5:30 Park takes a stuffed puppy down to Coldwater Canyon and rubs its face in the muddy gutter. For the past few weeks, Park has been coating the puppy, named Elmer, with layers of dirt. When thrown, the puppy unleashes what Park calls “maniacal laughter.”


Park decided to use Elmer as a prop in his play. “The plays always start with dialogue and you just fall into routine. I wanted to shock people in the audience.” He wanted Elmer to seem “like it fell from the sky.” Elmer, Park says, mirrors the innocence of Wagmeister’s character in the play.


5:45 Actors and directors are dashing around backstage setting up props. Brandon has no props to set up, so she settles in Chalmers East for some “down time” before the show. The lounge is transformed into a dressing room, cluttered with racks of clothing, bins of shoes, flatirons in every plug and tables topped by a long, low make- up mirror. Several times Brandon walks over and sits down, make-up bag next to her, to apply a layer of pink lip gloss or help Serena Berman ’09 work her hair in to a twist. 


6:30 In Chalmers East, “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 blares as Brandon and the other actors get up to dance and sing over the chatter. Park plays with Elmer, while chatting with Jason Hirschorn ’09 and Kyle Kleinbart ’09. Wagmeister serenades Park with “Oh, baby give me one more chance…”


“The house is open, do not go on stage!” drama teacher Christopher Moore shouts into the low hum Chalmers East.


Brandon, Wagmeister and Park decide to run lines for their play.


They climb the stairs to Seaver as the sun fades and the sky becomes gray.


“Half the rehearsal process has been finding curbs,” Brandon joked.


They settle on one just outside of Seaver. They are silent, Park standing several feet away like an artist standing back to view his work, watching intently as Wagmeister stares at the ground, Brandon in the offstage position. Wagmeister, playing the role of a snubbed poet, tosses Elmer on the floor, where it rolls several feet, barking mechanically and comes to a stop.


6:42 “Oh, we’re missing props,” Matthew Krisiloff ’10 mutters. He’s not sure where the Game Boy or robe are. Assistant Director Ben Goldstein ’09 says Jack Usher’s ’10 mom is five minutes away and she has the Game Boy. Director Paul Norwood says he has found a robe for Matthew, it’s on stage left. Matthew heads backstage to check on it and the rest of his props.


6:46 Brandon and Wagmeister let the long, awkward silence stretch on into the impending evening even though they are the only ones to feel it. They stand up off the curb and make their way to the parking lot.


Suddenly the tension in the air relaxes – the rehearsal is over, and Park, Brandon and Wagmeister go over some last instructions.


“Were you shivering for real?” Park asks Wagmeister. Part of his role includes giving Brandon as Julia, the object of his unrequited love, his jacket. “Because that was great acting.”


“No, that was for real.” Wagmeister smiles. The sunny day has faded into clouds and cool air. “I’m freezing!”


“It’s okay,” Brandon says, smiling in response. “You can shiver on command, right?”


6:55 In the backstage dark, Goldstein finds Krisiloff because he’s finally got the Game Boy. Krisiloff sets up his props, and puts two of his lunchboxes on the ladder. In the play, Krisiloff retaliates against a bully in his play by bringing peanuts in his lunchbox. His bully is allergic and Krisiloff threatens him with them. “It’s ironic I guess because I’m allergic to peanuts. We’re using cashews – it’s the magic of theater.”


6:58 In Chalmers East, Brandon has ducked behind a black curtain labeled “Ladies Only” to change into her costume, a pair of gray skinny jeans and a navy blue, frilled tank top.


“It’s basically what I wear every day, but a little different,” she explains.


She rummages through several bins tucked under clothes racks, looking for her shoes.


Brandon pulls out a pair of beaten-up Converses, tying the laces and listening to Park’s last minute directions.


“Make sure you get that dog all the way to the side,” he instructs Wagmeister.


7:06 Axelrad slips into the theater with a group of friends just before the show begins.


In the tech booth, a dark, closet-like room at the back of Rugby theater, Barad gets ready to cut the lights. He opens his cue binder, which has scripts of all of the plays and notes on lighting written in it. Eve Bilger’s ’10 recorded voice makes the official announcement that the first play is beginning and Barad cuts the lights to black as “What All School Children Learn” begins.


7:16 Evan Ryan ’09, plays the bully on stage. He pours milk all over Krisiloff’s lunchbox. Watching from the soundbooth, Barad laughs at Ryan’s convincing performance. 


7:22 On Rugby stage, Krisiloff plots retaliation. He asks his Mom, played by Rebecca Contreras ’09, for a special lunch of fried chicken with peanuts for dessert.


Backstage Krisiloff is looking for his “special lunch” containing the deadly peanuts. He can’t find it, but it’s his cue, so he grabs the other lunchbox. He walks on stage and swings the box onto the table. Milk flies everywhere. Ryan is supposed to be stealing and eating fried chicken, but instead has to eat a milk-drenched sandwich. Improvising, Krisiloff threatens, “Maybe I rubbed peanuts all over the sandwich.” Then he has to pretend a granola bar is actually a packet of peanuts.


7:35 After his play ends, Krisiloff meets director Paul Norwood in front of Chalmers who tells Krisiloff “Nice adjusting.” They talk about what happened with the prop malfunction, but neither of them know what happened with the “special” lunch box.


7:48 As the audience feels the long, awkward silences that punctuate “Curbside,” Barad frets that Brandon has not stepped fully into the spotlight. Muttering under his breath he urges her “to take just one step forward.”


He turns to Moore. “She’s doing it on purpose.” Then he begs through the glass, “Why Sarah? Why?”


Down on stage Brandon, as Julia, accuses Will, “Henry went to the qualifier,” referring to her “supportive” but less-than-intelligent boyfriend.


“Ooh!”A member of the audience breaks the building silence. The crowd erupts in laughter.


“They laughed at parts that we didn’t think were funny and parts that we had stopped thinking were funny after rehearsing them several times,” Brandon said later. “It was definitely hard to keep a straight face. Having an audience for the first time was really different.”



8:06 Back in the costume shop, Merrill and Brandon hug, celebrating the first successful performance of the play. At one point in the play, Brandon discovers a note from Will in the pocket of the jacket which she is wearing.


Merrill wrote three real notes – one for each performance of the play – for Brandon to read off stage while the awkward silence balloons on stage.


“He said he was going to write the last one just from him to me. I doubt he will do it though. I told him not to make it anything that will upset me too much,” Brandon said during rehearsal.


“It was great, you guys,” Merrill tells Wagmeister and Park. “When you [Wagmeister] threw the dog off to the side, and the dust went up, it was perfect.”



 


8:10 Problems have arisen in the tech booth. David Shaughnessy (Amy ’08) comes in to the booth to inform Barad of three cues he missed. An apologetic Barad explains that they weren’t marked in his cue book. Five minutes later, at the end of the play, the director returns. He congratulates Barad – the audience didn’t notice a thing, and the rest of the play ran smoothly.


8:17 Brandon walks in to the tech booth to gossip and ask what they thought of her performance. She and Barad pick up a friendly banter discussing their favorite plays. They burst into laughter when Brandon trips and knocks over a walkie talkie. The booth is sound proof. 


8:35 It’s intermission and Park, Krisiloff and Jack Kuhlenschmidt ’10 talk about the plays they’ve seen and Krisiloff’s prop malfunctions.


Axelrad accepts congratulations from his friends. His play “A Mendelsohn Legacy” has just concluded, and he just watched it performed for the first time.


“When you write it, you imagine it. But to see it performed — it’s slightly weird but very cool.”

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