Arts and Entertainment

Behind the curtain: ‘Enchanted April’ at Centerstage Theatre

Backstage at Centerstage’s “Enchanted April.”  - Maureen Hathaway
Backstage at Centerstage’s “Enchanted April.”
— image credit: Maureen Hathaway

As I sit quietly in the theater, I hear the humming of subdued conversation. The patrons quietly thumb through their programs and eagerly wait for the curtain to go up. My mind wanders. I imagine myself in the director’s shoes. I can almost sense the anticipation of the cast and crew, and their nervous excitement of the first scene. Will the audience be pleased to see actors from previous Centerstage productions? Would the director have preferred more rehearsals prior to the opening performance?

I look up into the dim lighting and imagine how the eventual bright lights and sound effects will cast a spell upon the audience. What is actually happening behind the scenes? Has part of the set malfunctioned? Has an actor found a torn seam in his costume? If so, how will the show go on with last-minute problems and the frantic activity taking place behind the long, draping curtain?

I quickly check my program and see that all of the performers and crew have extensive theater backgrounds. They will somehow climb over any hurdles and mesh together in this magical moment with everyone beating their drum to the same cadence.

Behind the curtain: ‘Enchanted April’

The Knutzen Family Theatre at Dumas Bay is where Centerstage presents its productions. Most recently, they completed a three-week run of “Enchanted April,” an Academy Award nominated film based on the best-selling 1921 novel of the same name.

Alan Bryce said that most of the actors for this play were from the Seattle area and that we have more theatrical groups per capita in this area than the rest of the nation.

“Enchanted April” was director Cynthia White’s fourth play at Centerstage. She and Alan began working together about seven years ago when Alan started at Centerstage. What drew her to this play was knowing and working with actors she had worked with before, in addition to working again with Centerstage staff. She noted “that if you know how someone works, that you can kind of cut to the chase. The ensemble has a connection with everyone and you are not spending half of the rehearsal learning about each other. It’s a bit of a coming home quality. An important part of any play is the cohesiveness of the cast.”

The casting was done at Puget Sound Theater at Seattle Center. Both Bryce and White chose the ensemble. There were two auditions to select the rest of the cast. Eva Doak, Dean Wilson and Rosalie Hilburn had been selected before auditions began, so they read opposite the actors who were auditioning.

Actors received the script around October/November 2009. Actor Dean Wilson said, “I had about fifty pages to memorize and each night my aim was to work on a page or two.” According to Rosalie Hilburn, “blocking the stage movement is set fairly early so the actors can memorize this with the lines. It often changes when we move into the actual theater.”

The director oversees the members of the creative team until they all have the same artistic vision of the play. This includes coordinating research, costume design, lighting, sound, acting, props and set design. In the beginning, the director is the most knowledgeable about the play, but by the end of rehearsals, the actors intimately know their characters and the director turns the play over to them. After opening night, the director moves on to the next project and the stage manager runs the process, making sure the show maintains the director’s vision and runs smoothly. For “Enchanted April,” that was Anna Blindheim. She sat up in a booth behind the audience and cued the sound effects and lighting. Other duties included calling of rehearsals, assembling and maintaining the prompt book, and the technical running of each performance.

The actors rehearsed for three weeks, six days a week, until the week before opening — tech week. This is when lights, sound effects, props and costumes were added. It is also when the tech crew comes in and practices its part with the actors.

Ron Leamon was the costume designer. He has an extensive background in costume history, construction, art history and fashion. In addition, he has experience in theater, film and television. A talented designer, he gets inside the mind of a character and finds the perfect clothes that will help tell the story and assist the audience in understanding the character. All clothing, hats, shoes, ties, etc., were authentic to the period of the play. Most of the costumes were vintage 1920s garments that came from the University of Washington costume stock as well as Leamon’s own collection. They were very fragile, and in selecting them, he had to keep in mind which ones would survive the run of the show.

The set designer was Greg Heinzle of Seattle Scenic Studios. The set for “Enchanted April” was built at Knutzen Family Theatre, then painted. The furniture and backdrop were rented.

The transformation from the bleak London set of the first half of the play, to the bright and cheery Italian castle in the second half, was breathtaking and had the audience gasping with amazement and delight.

After the performance, I watch as everyone stands up. I hear the sound of appreciation in the hearty clapping of hands. The cast widely smiles as they bow in unison. Most of all, I feel proud and happy that Federal Way has a top notch professional theatrical group right here in my community. As my mind continues to wander, my last thought is to hope that Federal Way will continue to support all of the precious arts groups that inhabit this beautiful city.

Check it out

Centerstage’s upcoming musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’” will be showing May 22 to June 6. Tickets: (253) 661-1444 or www.centerstagetheatre.com.

About this story

Federal Way arts commissioners Maureen Hathaway and Linda Pratt asked Alan Bryce, artistic director of Centerstage Theatre, if they could observe rehearsals, take pictures and interview the cast and crew. Many hours were spent backstage and at performances prior to the April 11 closing of Centerstage’s production of “Enchanted April.” The following is a synopsis of onsite interviews, photos, e-mails and phone conversations compiled during the past four weeks.

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