The difference between magic and hard work is the effort put in behind the scenes. And if done right, the two are seamless. That’s what theatre audiences love, and that’s what Huronia Players in Midland strives to accomplish.
For the upcoming production of Stag and Doe, months of hard work are being put into that moment when the curtain rises and audiences are transported away to a centuries-old tradition of stage entertainment.
Theatre is a lot more modern these days, however.
The home of Huronia Players is at the Midland Cultural Centre on King Street, and rehearsals take place over months before opening night. There are occasional days where it’s just the actors for lines and blocking (where to stand and where to move), and sometimes it’s for the tech crew to prepare the special effects and props.
Full disclosure: I have been a member of Huronia Players and have acted with the company in several productions over the years.
On a night in mid-January, just weeks before the show is set to air, Stag and Doe director Kristine Mannion shared what happens when the cast and crew arrive to get the theatre set up.
“Typically, Stacey (Dorion) the stage manager arrives first,” said Mannion. “Rehearsal starts at 7 p.m.; she’s always here by 6:30 p.m. if not before… opening up the doors, getting everything ready. Sometimes she’s the first person here, but other times some lighting and sound people have been working for five hours before rehearsal to get ready.”
Stag and Doe, written by Mark Crawford, is a romantic comedy set around a wedding in a rural Ontario community hall.
“This play is going to be nothing but sunshine and laughter and fun and love… with a drunk bridezilla,” Mannion disclosed.
On this particular night, it’s a fairly standard rehearsal with the stage crew diligently preparing where the wedding foods will be placed, the actors purposely wandering while they rehearse their lines and warm up their voices, and the production crew in the booth behind the audience seats firing up the technical equipment.
For this evening, the sound operator is running a little behind. The weather is average for Midland being in the snowbelt, with touch-and-go conditions.
Jonathan Killing is the 'all-arounder' of Huronia Players – set designer, special effects, sound, lighting. He’s filling in as the temporary lighting operator for the rehearsal, and if that sound operator runs late it might be an issue.
Lighting needs to check for placement and conditions of bulbs, sound has to keep track of the multiple speakers; Stag and Doe has six speakers for its production including a radio atop a fridge on stage. Killing has no worries about first-time stage manager Dorion who also resides in the booth during performances.
“The stage manager is responsible for the entire show when it’s running," Killing said. "So they’ll check on the entire show making sure that no issues come up, and then eventually they’ll come up here and get their books set because they’re in charge of calling every single cue in the show and making sure the sequence of the show runs properly. They’re the boss when the show’s running.”
Behind the stage is the green room, a segmented waiting area where actors gather to await cues from the stage director for their turn in the spotlight. It’s a rest and prep area with a live television showing the same set that the audience sees.
“I get into costume right away because I just find it helps me get in the zone a little bit,” said Rob Walker who plays the character Rob in ‘Stag and Doe’. “Then I tend to listen to music in my earphones, just to get myself in the mood.”
It’s a similar experience for Caley White in the role of Dee, who has three costume changes throughout. “I’m showing up with my hair already done because it’s very long and I have a lot of it. That way I don’t have to worry about it.”
Meanwhile, Stag and Doe isn’t the only production being rehearsed in the Midland Cultural Centre.
Another play, The Old Man and the Old Moon, was slated to run in 2020 at the time when provincial health regulations shut down public institutions like Huronia Players for safety concerns. In a concrete room on the second floor above the theatre, cast for the upcoming production work on their scripts through taped lines on the floor and black boxes as stage design.
“Before we get down to the stage, this set is taped onto the floor and we’re doing blocking,” said director Sue Cook. “We’re just getting everybody into positions.” Once Stag and Doe concludes, they’ll move into the main stage to show the world the play they’ve been working on for three years."
Half an hour into rehearsal the sound manager still hasn’t appeared, but assistant stage managers Hope Adams and Rhona Millar are making calls and have been assured that the storm won’t cause too great a delay. And while the stage manager is in the booth queuing the production, they ensure everything else is handled without the audience even noticing.
“It’s really important to be flexible when you’re backstage,” said Adams, “to find solutions very quickly so the show must go on.”
On stage, set design has also finished preparing the rehearsal. Laura Eveleigh and Jean Miller have worked on the extensive props in the play; they proudly show off their lettuce, made of green-painted coffee filters.
“Food-wise, it's phenomenal,” said Eveleigh. “It’s probably the most amount of fake food we have ever made; because it is a food-heavy play, the cost of doing it with real food would have been astronomical.”
They’ll be aided by the character ‘Jay’ placed by Adam Brooks during the play, switching around the set in the dim light between various scenes and acts before the lights return to full and the show continues.
Finally, it’s confirmed that sound manager is on the way. It’s relieving news for the Stag and Doe gathering; the cast is warmed up and the booth has run its pre-screening checks and balances.
Stag and Doe opens January 27 for 10 performances over three weekends through until February 11. Tickets are available through the Huronia Players website.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca