Monday, November 30, 2009

Part II in Pictures

Part II of Nicholas Nickleby had its first post-Opening performance yesterday afternoon, so it seems now would be a great time to post pictures from that half of the show.

Before we get into Part II, however, director Tom Quaintance sent me this first photo. He received it on Opening Night from Chinatown screenwriter, Robert Towne. It's nice to have so many people rooting for the success of this show!

Onto the production photos (all taken by Jon Gardiner).

Jeffrey Blair Cornell & Scott Ripley as The Cheerybles

The Crummles Company

Dede Corvinus & David Adamson

Lenore Field & David McClutchey in front, surrounded by cast,
all part of  The Crummles Company

Jimmy Kieffer as Hawk and Marianne Miller as Kate Nickleby

David McClutchey & company

Dede Corvinus as Mrs. Crummles

Kahlil Gonzalez-Garcia, Julie Fishell and Derrick Ledbetter

Jeffrey Blair Cornell, Justin Adams and Scott Ripley
Nicholas meets The Cherrybles

Jason Powers as Smike and Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby

Scott Ripley as Squeers and The Crummles Company

Justin Adams and Derrick Ledbetter

Ray Dooley, Weston Blakesley & Scott Ripley

Composer and Sound Designer Sarah Pickett provides all the show's sound effects & music from her nest above the stage. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sleepless Nights, Endless Day & No Place I'd Rather Be!

For the first time since I started working on this blog, this post is totally from my point of view as a member of the administrative staff. It had always been my opinion that the more interesting stuff goes on in the shops, the rehearsal hall and on the stage, but after this week's Opening Day, it dawned on me that a very important aspect of this entire process has been absent from this blog – the extraordinary team of 13 that make up the PlayMakers Administrative staff: from box office, to house management, to company management to marketing & development, every single person rolled up their sleeves this weekend to pull off the biggest day in PlayMakers history.

While you know that we ran both parts of the play on Saturday, what you may not know is that we turned our lobby into a bistro, complete with tables chairs, candles and the whole nine yards, so that patrons who chose to do so, could enjoy a boxed dinner without ever leaving the building. For those who wanted something more substantial than a sandwich, we turned our rehearsal hall into a beautiful dining room, complete with chandeliers, red silk table cloths and gold-rimmed china, and offered a catered holiday dinner. The set-up for these dinners was handled by the PRC admin staff, led by Assistant Development Director Shane Hudson and Company Manager Jeff Stanley, Production Manager Michael Rolleri, technical graduate students, and work study students. Shane and Jeff actually coordinated all the day's events, and not to be outdone by the costume designers, created their own giant chart! It was up to them to coordinate not only these dinners but all the behind-the-scenes events.

Our lobby turned bistro.

Our rehearsal hall turned restaurant.

The patrons weren't the only ones in need of a meal on Saturday. The cast, crew and staff didn't have time to leave the building either. Shane & Jeff arranged for two rooms to be set-up – one for a cast and crew dinner and one for staff hospitality. These two rooms were run by Information Systems Specialist Carli Webb and myself. Carli, along with cast member (and Director of Education & Outreach) Jeff Meanza, spent Friday morning stuffing 35 chicken breasts for the cast dinner. She and I spent most of the day Saturday running between the kitchen (cooking the rest of the cast dinner) and the class rooms where these events were taking place. All around us were students and admin staffers setting-up tables, moving chairs, arranging flowers, helping caterers, plating food trays – absolutely constant activity. 

Carli Webb & the cast dinner.

The cast refueling between shows.

Did I mention that in addition to all of this, there were our standard donor receptions in the Paul Green Gallery for not one, but all three intermissions? And as always the evening was topped off with our traditional Gala in the lobby. So not only did all these dinners have to be set-up, most of  them had to be broken down during Act I (approx. 1 hour) of Part II, so the Gala could be set-up during Acts II & III. All in all it was roughly a fourteen hour day for the administrative staff – nothing to new to folks actually working on the show, of course. As the Gala got underway and we could all breathe a sigh of relief, (before washing more dishes) all were still smiling through the exhaustion. That was the moment when I realized "This is Why I Work Here." When Carli actually said it out loud, there was resounding agreement. We know it on  the days when total cooperation by all is a must; when it's do-or-die; when everything is at stake; when our minds are as tired as our feet; we know that this really is a once in a lifetime experience and we're all extremely lucky to be part of it. It's a feeling of wow – look what we did in one day. What a truly gratifying experience!

Our Box Office staff managed to stay chipper all night! Assistant Manager Scott Cowart, Rob Fox and work study student D.J. Rogers.

Shane Hudson takes one last turn with a mop before calling it a night!

If you've got what it takes to Spend a Day at the Theatre, you've got one more opportunity. Saturday, December 19 both parts I & II will be performed back-to-back and we'll be transforming our lobby into a bistro again! I highly recommend it. It's quite a sense of accomplishment to make it to the finish line and the show, by all accounts is fantastic!

—Andrea Akin, Editor 
Nicholas Nickleby Page to Stage

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Countdown to Opening Begins with Previews

Tonight is our first preview for Part II and it would probably be helpful for those not familiar, to explain exactly what a preview is. How is it different from Opening?  How is it different from other performances? Previews are a time-honored tradition, practiced in most professional theatres from Broadway to Pittsburgh to Chapel Hill.   Preview performances are works in progress, the final stage of the rehearsal process. They give a company the opportunity to “test-drive” a production in front of a live audience, while still being able to rehearse the production during the day. Directors, designers and actors are honing the performance to a fine point during the day, and “trying it out” it on the evening audiences. Broadway productions can have anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks of previews before the official Opening.  PlayMakers traditionally runs 3 preview performances and then the big Opening Night. Nicholas Nickleby, like all of our rep shows to date, has a slightly altered preview schedule to allow for two shows opening on the same day. Part I had its technical rehearsals(“tech”) two weekends ago, then previewed Wednesday-Friday. There were no performances this past Saturday and Sunday, to allow time in the theatre for Part II to tech. Today Part II will get its first run in front of a live audience!
Unlike previews, Opening Night is the “finished product”. The rehearsal process can run almost up until curtain time on Opening Night, but once it’s open – it’s done! Once a show is officially opened, the directors and designers move on and leave the show in the capable hands of the actors and stage managers. No more changes are made. The lights are set. The staging is complete. No more costume additions. No more new direction of any kind. The hardest part of the process – rehearsal – is over and the production is, at last, ready for its run. As actors get more and more comfortable in their roles and live with them longer, the show’s energy might change a bit and every performance is slightly different based on the audience, how the actors respond to them, etc. – which is what makes live theatre so extraordinary.

Most theatres take Opening Night as an opportunity to celebrate the company’s achievements. A PlayMakers Opening Night is always a festive event filled with subscribers, single ticket buyers and invited guests. This is our opportunity to thank our generous supporters and invite our peers to share in our excitement. The performance is followed by a Gala reception with great food and wine provided by a variety of local businesses.  For Nicholas Nickleby, the food will be provided by Durham Catering Company and the wine by La Residence.  Both Preview performances and Opening Nights are open to the public. If you would like to join us for any of these performances, check out our website for more information. Tickets are still available for all remaining performances, but our Opening Day double header is selling quickly, and typically sells out, so Hurry!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The world is our closet! Er, sort of.

Much has been made of the sheer scale of costuming a production this size--if you've been following the blog you know that not only are we making many costumes in-house, but have also pulled a lot from our own stock, borrowed them from partner theatres and drama departments in the state university system, and rented them from theatres and rental houses all over the country, from New York to Milwaukee to Seattle.

For the costumes we're making, our designers have the most aesthetic control over how they will ultimately appear onstage--they have chosen the fabric and trims, indicated where they want seams to fall or how big sleeves will be, sometimes even picked a color for them to be dyed. These costumes are custom made to fit the performers' exact measurements by our highly-skilled drapers and tailors using couture techniques. We are all absolutely certain that they will be exactly what the designers and directors want them to be!

When we pull costumes from our own stock, we still have a fair amount of control over what they will look like. PlayMakers owns them, so if our designers want them dyed a new color, or beat up to look raggedy for a poor character, or the sleeves removed and remade in a different fabric, fine! We can do all of that (and, have). The alterations we make on our own pre-existing costumes can happen without a thought to how the costume might be irrevocably changing.

For the costumes we have borrowed or rented, though, that's a whole different animal. We don't own them, and what we can and cannot do to them is limited by the rental agreements we have with the companies who do. We cannot dye them or paint on them or age them to look more worn or ragged. Anything we remove from them (like trims or ruffles that our designers don't care for) must be reapplied before we return them. Even alterations to fit our performers are a dicey prospect; generally, if you let a costume out to be larger, that's ok, but if you take it in to be smaller, you need to restore it to its original size before returning it! That's more difficult than you might think, since that means no bulk in a taken-in seam can be cut away, and if you raise a hem by several inches to fit a shorter-statured actor, you have to hide all that extra fabric inside. In our Costume Production MFA program, we teach our students that the general rule-of-thumb with rental costumes is, you send it back the same or better than you received it. It's not just professional courtesy; it's also just good business--if you don't restore your rentals, your company is fined a restoration fee, or even asked to pay for its replacement if the costume is severely damaged while in your possession.

For me, as the show's milliner, this has meant i need to keep careful records tracking how all the hats we have borrowed might be changing for the production. Many of them are definitely going to go back in better condition than we received them. Hats are often stored in boxes and baskets by rental companies and women's hats in particular often arrive dented or a bit "squished." My assistant, Candy McClernan, and I have been steaming and resizing them to freshen them up and make them more crisp and new-looking, and putting in pretty linings and interior grosgrain ribbons. Most hats for stage don't get lined, usually due to a combination of not having enough time to do so, and because no audience member will see the inside--if you have to make a sacrifice when pressed for time, leaving a hat unlined is a common choice for theatrical milliners. For this show though, since everyone changes characters multiple times--sometimes in a matter of seconds, potentially in full view of the audience--I am assuming that every hat needs to be able to go on and off onstage, and thus needs a lining. We started lining borrowed and pulled hats back in August!

Often our costume designers will request that hats be retrimmed to match dresses--Candy and i remove extant ribbons and flowers, bag them with a rental number tag so we can put them back on the proper hat when the show's over, and store them in a drawer set aside for the purpose. For the new trims we are adding, we use a method that allows our designers and directors the most freedom in terms of potential aesthetic decisions, while at the same time making sure the borrowed and rented hats are treated with utmost care. Ladies hats in this time have TONS of trim--flowers, feathers, ribbons, bows, even little stuffed birds!--so rather than sewing all our new trims directly to the rented hats themselves, we make what's called a garniture base, a small covered piece of buckram material that blends with the fabric of the hat. The trimmings get sewn to the garniture base, which then gets tacked onto the hat--in this way, we minimize the amount of wear-and-tear that the rented hats take (since they only take a couple of tacks holding on the base, rather than bunches of sturdy stitches securing lots individual pieces of trim) and we make it easy to reverse our work at the end. Once the shows close,we just have to clip the small tacks, remove the garniture base, and then put the original trims back on. Then our designers and managers can return them back to their original homes in costume storage facilities across the state and the nation, having had their moment in the footlights as part of this historic production, ready to serve future designers and performers for theatre yet to be made!

Silk foliage pinned on the garniture base for Madeline Bray's bonnet (borrowed from NC School of the Arts)

Can you spot the garniture base on this bonnet (borrowed from UNC-Greensboro) for a Street Person?

Assistant Milliner Candy McClernan works on a brand-new ragged headwrap for Jackson

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nicholas Nickleby Begins!

Previews for Part I began last night and continue through tomorrow. Part II previews next week and then Opening on the 21st!

You can join us and spend a day at the theatre on November 21st. We're even serving dinner, if you make your reservations by Friday, November 13. See both parts of the show, eat dinner in between and join us for our Gala reception afterwards!

For now, check out these great production photos by Jon Gardiner. These are from dress rehearsal for Part I. We'll have pics from Part II next week. And check back tomorrow for another post from blog favorite, Rachel Pollock!

The Company

Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby

Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby; Julie Fishell as Mrs. Nickleby; 
Marianne Miller as Kate Nickleby

Weston Blakesley as Newman Noggs; Ray Dooley as Ralph Nickleby; 
Jeffrey Meanza as Mantalini

Joy Jones as Mrs. Mantalini; Jeffrey Meanza as Mantalini

Derrick Ledbetter, Kahlil Gonzalez-Garcia, John Brummer & Flor De Liz Perez as Milliners; Lenore Field as Miss Knagg (center)

Dede Corvinus as Mrs. Squeers; Matthew Murphy as Snawley; 
Jeffrey Meanza as Young Wackford

Scott Ripley as Squeers

Jason Powers as Smike; Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby

Marianne Miller as Kate Nickleby; Lenore Field as Miss Knagg

Allison Altman as Fanny Squeers; Alice Whitley as Tilda; Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby

L to R: Matthew Miller, Flor De Liz Perez; Sarah Berk; James E. Brinkley, Derrick Ledbetter, David McClutchey,  Kahlil Gonzalez-Garcia & Prince T. Bowie (in back) as the Dotheboys

Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Crummles; Alice Whitley as Percy Crummles; Jason Powers as  Smike; Matthew Murphy as Master Crummles & Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby

Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby

Allison Altman as Fanny Squeers; Scott Ripley as Squeers; Jeffrey Meanza as Young Wackford

The cast of Nicholas Nickleby as the Crummles Company

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's Tech - Part 2

Tonight I got see the dress rehearsal for Part I! Of course I'm supposed to be biased, but honestly - it was still the most fun I have had at the theatre in a long time. Previews for Part I start tonight. Production photos will be right here tomorrow, so be sure to come back and check them out. Today, however, we've got even more Tech! Because Tech is such a long journey, there are lots of photos, so here we go!

Dede Corvinus takes a turn as Mrs. Crummles.

While Tom and stage manager Chuck Bayang discuss logistics with Weston Blakesly, Matt Murphy and Alice Whitley practice a few steps.

How will Allison Altman descend from this high platform? David Adamson and Jimmy Kieffer to the rescue!

Joy Jones, Marianne Miller and Alice Whitley wait to resume rehearsal after a cue break. 

Justin Adams as Nicholas Nickleby

The grand entrance of the Infant Phenomenon

Wardrobe Supervisor Amy Fortenberry discusses quick changes with several actors backstage, during a break. Where they have to go to change; what they're changing into. If you've seen the chart, you know this is a complicated process.

The Crummles Company

This is the "tech" table. Stage Manager Sarah Smiley, along with designers run the show from here during rehearsals. 

Tom has a note for Joy Jones as Miss Snevellicci