There are a lot of perks of a faculty member in an academic theatre program. Among the chief ones, I would say, is the opportunity to observe the next generation at work doing the work that we have loved all our lives. This past weekend, I observed the tech for our current BFA JR Production of “Dark of the Moon” by Howard Richardson and William Berney, directed by John DeMita, with choreography by Lili Fuller.
The design process began about two months ago, with initial discussions between John and his designers:
Scenic Designer Katrina Coulourides, Lighting Designer George Austin Allen, Costume Designer Meagan Smith, Sound Designer Danielle Kisner. Through research of the Appalachian region, shared via Dropbox and in conversations together about the nature and arc of the play, the team developed a vocabulary together about how to convey this tragic tale to a contemporary audience.
The play is a dark, haunting work about the desire of a witch boy in the Appalachian mountain region in the late 1920s to become human to gain the love of a simple, if slatternly young woman, whose “pleasuring” with many men in the community has drawn the approbation of all, including her parents. His request to remain a human teeters atop a wager that this young woman, Barbara Allen can remain faithful to him throughout the course of one year.
My husband told me that “Dark of the Moon” was the first play produced by The Circle In The Square, back in 1951 in Greenwich Village. His life and body of work in the theatre echoes all the time, an intimate circling -back that happens so often in the theatre; we are all related by our own passages through these timeless works. Directed by Jose Quintero, little evidence of this production remains, an unlinked reference in the Wikipedia entry about Jose Quintero, the fiery Panamanian director with whom my husband worked so many times.
“Jimmy Ray (James Ray) played the Witch Boy in the Circle production,” Jimmie told me the other day, another precious and ephemeral fragment of theatre history that he carries in his heart and shares with others who ask.
But I digress. The USC School of Dramatic Arts production is, I can safely say after watching the first dress last night, going to be gorgeous. All the student designers, save the scenic designer, who is a young professional about nine years out of school, have worked exhaustively over the past week to cue and refine the looks of the play, which is majestic in its imagery.
The other member of the team who has shaped this production with her strength and leadership is the stage manager, Alice Pollitt, a senior in the BFA Stage Management program, well on her way to becoming a professional in the field. Her calm demeanor, strong leadership and wry sense of humor have characterized the entire tech process, which was smooth and stress-free. Though much time was taken in the building of lights and sound – there are a hell of a lot of thunder and lightening cues in this show – the pace was measured and the timing of the cueing was extremely professionally executed. Last night, Alice moved from the front of house tech table to the Stage Management podium off stage right, where she used a combination of the rather poor camera from front of house and a live view from the wings to call the complex cues. Nary a cue missed that I could see. Her book is in impeccable order for a first dress.
The director, John DeMita, has shaped this play with a strong visual sense of purpose and the multi-leveled set by Coulourides aids in the separation of man from witch. Fuller’s choreography of both the witch girls and the dances done by the townspeople further demarcate the boundaries between these two warring populations of Buck Creek.
Allen’s strong and vivid lighting as well as the subtle and effective use of projections make the stage pictures striking (literally) and memorable. Kisner’s soundscape evokes the power of the natural and unnatural forces of this town and Smith’s costumes greatly enhance the spookier moments in the play.
But to circle back, a comment from Assistant Director in the dark of the tech filled my heart with the pride of seeing students seeking excellence in their craft. Jay Lee turned to me and with his usual impishly curious expression, said, “How do all your tech Padawans manage to do so well?” He was so pleased with the metaphor he had used, and I was so hopelessly clueless that I had to look it up. Geez. But he’s right – these theatre artists are on their way to being Jedi Designers and Stage Managers. With “Dark of the Moon” behind them, I’d safely say, they are well on their way.