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From Page To Park: Focus And Anticipation At A Tech Rehearsal

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Winter’s Tale is well underway. But it takes a lot of time and effort – and people — to put the show together. For our series, From Page to Park, we’re taking a behind-the-scenes look at the process.

About two weeks ago in Southmoreland Park in Kansas City, Mo., actors, musicians, designers and directors were working through perhaps the most intricate part of staging a play, a rehearsal called tech.

Breaking it down and putting it back together

In the shelter of a decorative turret, Greg Mackender plays percussion, with mallets and bells that sound like a hammered dulcimer.

This day is called – tech. It’s when all the technical elements – from scenery on stage to musical cues to sound effects – come together. The festival's resident composer, Mackender has written music for the festival since its beginnings, and completes the sentence: “Tech is 'blank'...” like this: "I don’t know if I can say that on the radio."

He laughs. "Tech is necessary, how about that?"

"It’s necessary," agrees Executive Artistic Director Sidonie Garrett. "It’s not a necessary evil, it’s a necessary good."

Garrett says it’s important in tech to be clear, concise and keep things moving — and to always have a plan.

"We kind of have to step back from the storytelling process in the overall sense and look at it very minutely," she says. "You look at it from moment to moment to moment and break it all back down so it can all be put back together and run smoothly."

Making the transition to the outdoor stage

After the actors write Garrett's notes and corrections on their scripts, they take turns strapping on their wireless microphones. Actor Bruce Roach plays King Leontes, whose jealousy clouds his judgment.

"The first half of the day is really easy," says Roach. "And the second half of the day is very stressful."

It's easy, he says, because there are lots of stops and starts during what’s called cue-to-cue. And the focus, at first, is on the music and sound – not as much on the acting. But later in the day, it’s the first dress rehearsal – the first time performing in full costume — with lights, music, and sound — on the outdoor stage.

"It’s profound, it’s profound," says Roach about the transition from inside to outside. "All the work in the rehearsal hall is focused on the acting, and when we get out here, we’re adding all these other elements and it becomes a whole host of other problems."

Jan Rogge, who plays Paulina, a noblewoman, says the weeks of inside rehearsals provide a certain level of comfort — that's taken away when they get to the park.

"And you need to get grounded again in this scene that is going to be the norm," says Rogge. "For me, it’s just repetition to get that memory muscle in there and to enjoy the space outside, not to be afraid of it."

Stopping and starting in cue-to-cue

A dog trots past the stage, and curious visitors stop next to the stone walls. Production stage manager Jinni Pike alerts actors, musicians, and the sound designer to get ready.

"Once again, we are cue to cueing ... so we will run through something completely, then hold at the end," Pike says over the speakers.

Director Sidonie Garrett starts to call the cues: "We should go from adieu, my lord, I would never wish to see you sorry. Ready?"

Leontes, played by Roach, has accused his Queen, Hermione, played by Cinnamon Shultz, of adultery. They perform part of a scene, where she bids him an emotional farewell until Garrett calls out, "Hold there, please."

In tech, actors might do a short section of a scene over and over. In this case, they do the scene again  without the music, and one last time, with a musical interlude added in.

Actor Robert Gibby Brand waits offstage with a basket in hand, with a baby doll inside. Brand plays Antigonus, a nobleman the King has asked to take the child away.

"The biggest thing I do is what you’re about to see is Antigonus arriving on the shores of Bohemia," says Brand. "And there are a lot of internal cues, for the baby crying for thunder and lightning, for bear, you know I’m pursued by a bear in this scene."

Taking a break and then diving back in

A few hours in, during a 10-minute break, production stage manager Jinni Pike says she enjoys tech, in part because she gets to see — and hear — all the elements they’ve just been able to talk about in rehearsals.

"Tech for me is about focus and anticipation," says Pike. "My focus has to be in a lot of places at once, between what’s happening on stage, what’s happening next."

She says she always has an eye on the weather, even as she’s figuring out cues and how she’ll call the show — in anticipation of pulling it all together for an audience.

KCUR's summer series, From Page To Park, explores the unexpected struggles and conflicts in the life cycle of 'The Winter's Tale'. Key cast and crew members will share professional and personal journeys to create performances that speak to a diverse audience.

Heart of America Shakespeare Festivalpresents 'The Winter's Tale,' June 17 - July 6 (Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m.; additional show on June 30, but no show on July 4), Southmoreland Park, Cleaver II Boulevard and Oak Street, Kansas City, Mo. 816-531-7728.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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