There is something magical about sitting in an audience as the house lights dim.

The buzz in the room settles into quiet anticipation as we wait to be transported into someone else's world, someone else's story. But what we see on the stage is just the culmination of weeks, sometimes months of work behind the scenes by artists of all description: actors, directors, designers, wardrobe people, carpenters, painters, sound and light experts and others.

This blog will give you a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into that unknown world, following the rehearsal process.
This will be your guide to the hard work, fun and weirdness of putting together a play
for a professional theatre company.

You'll never watch a play in the same way again!

Friday, April 17, 2015


Now blogging: Ann Hodges, Director of The Hound of the Baskervilles

My sides hurt from laughing:  In the rehearsal hall with Gord, Toby and Aaron

Audiences are often amazed to discover that most professional plays are rehearsed in three and a half weeks. We work 6 days a week, which gives us 21 days. It still strikes terror into my heart when I buy a carton of milk in the first week of rehearsal and notice it expires on opening night. Yikes, really? We have to finish this show before the milk goes off?

But then again, we are all...ahem...trained professionals, and take our task very seriously. And when you are as much fun as Gord, Toby and Aaron, serious can be very funny.

Rehearsals at PTE usually start with “Meet the Donut” - an informal meet and greet (with snacks) of the entire PTE staff, production team and actors - all facing the same challenge together - that is, to create theatrical magic for the audience who will be arriving in 3.5 weeks whether we are ready or not. 

The designer (Brian Perchaluk) then does a design presentation, using a scale model of the set, and gorgeous full-colour renderings of the actors’ costumes. Most of the production staff are already building many of the items, but for the actors, it’s kind of like Christmas morning - they finally get to see what they’re going to be playing with over the next few weeks. Frankly I was surprised Gord Tanner didn’t quit on the spot when he saw how many costume changes were in store...

Next, we read the play aloud. With a play like The Hound of the Baskervilles, you can already tell then how funny it’s going to be. It’s a relief for a director to find that the actors work together as well as you hoped they would when you cast them almost a year ago. Next, the remaining PTE staff depart to go play their own parts in preparing the production, which leaves me, the actors, and two stage managers (Chris Pearce and Leslie Sidley) alone...in a room...for days....

Fortunately the staff heard very little but shrieks of laughter wafting up to the PTE offices (many of which have windows which look down into the rehearsal hall.)  In the rehearsal hall there was a constant good-willed collaboration and lots of hard work to ensure the comedy was precise, fresh and repeatable without being heavy-handed. These three actors have such an amazing chemistry together, and even the breaks found us all hysterically laughing about the most mundane things. It was exhausting, and yes, my sides often hurt.

Hound involves a lot of physical comedy, and quick costume changes, so timing is everything. A slightly late entrance may kill a laugh, so everything is plotted and planned to the milli-second backstage. During rehearsal, Chris and Leslie track all the elements the actors and I are developing so that things happen smoothly onstage and off. To help us, the production staff give us rehearsal versions of most props and costumes, such as a muslin mock-up of Cecile’s dress for Gord, or towels for the sauna scene. Having those items helped us discover some of the play’s funniest bits of physical comedy.
While we are working in the rehearsal hall, the production staff have been busy building Brian’s set, and constructing the costumes, hanging lights and building sound cues. Finally, all these elements converge about 1 week before opening, when the actors and I move from the rehearsal hall onto the stage.

The final week of rehearsals involves many 12-hour days as we incorporate the lighting, sound, quick changes, fog, revolve, projections -- all the elements that make the ‘magic’ onstage. Believe me, at times the magic seems quite elusive -- like when the fog seems to have a mind of its own and completely obscures the actors, or we have to do a quick change for the 15th time, or when the wrong sound cue happens, resulting in a lamb’s bleat instead of a frightening musical sting. But fortunately, this dream team of actors and production staff always chooses to chuckle and bear down, until ultimately their efforts result in a smooth integration of the work from the rehearsal hall and the technical elements onstage.

As for the director, my job is to guide and inspire and lead when it feels like we are all going to drown in a bog-like quagmire of missed cues, challenging costume changes, and headstrong fog. So, often in tech week, I will make myself a cup of tea. With milk. Which hasn’t yet reached its expiry date, meaning we still have a few more days to bring this Hound home.

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