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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

The Wizard of Oz: Shaping the Production

Like knights at King Authur's Round Table, the director and cast members of Barter Theatre's <em>Wizard of Oz</em> gather to read through the script and discuss ideas.
Like knights at King Authur's Round Table, the director and cast members of Barter Theatre's Wizard of Oz gather to read through the script and discuss ideas.
Additional photos below »

A Team Effort Brings Show to Audience


A Team Effort: How do directors, choreographers, designers, etc. synthesize and share information?

Totally. We share our research, our discoveries, our creative ideas and all of our thoughts in a process that can take months — with conversations weekly and daily, and with discoveries and changes continuing through the eight-week-long rehearsal process. Everyone's input will ultimately help shape the final outcome of the production. The director, in the end, will take all of this input and these creative and wonderful ideas and shape them into a unified production where everyone shares the same vision and the same ideas of this particular production.

How are decisions made about set design, costuming, choreography, etc.?

This is a very broad question in the world of professional theatre. The short answer is that we all discuss, brainstorm, have creative conversations and, generally, advance all of our ideas, which are then given direction and vision and shape by the director of the show. Everyone in the production then unites behind the director's vision. As professionals, they know how to take their own creativity and talents and mold their designs and choreography to fit the single vision advanced by the director. And, all along the way, all of the creative team members are in constant conversation and communication to make sure that the show comes together with the same vision and intention. Ultimately, the director is the visionary and the clearinghouse of this process.

How quickly (or slowly) will some aspects of the production take place (sets, costumes, etc.)?

Each area of the production is unique in its process. If we all click and are on the same page, things can go very quickly. If we are in disagreement about the vision or direction, things can be difficult and very slow.

Practical considerations might weigh decisions down for a long period of time. For instance, the set designer has to take into consideration all of the special effects and the flying effects and the lighting for such a large show. He has to coordinate his designs with a lot of other creative personnel and other designers and with all of the effects designers. This can take a great deal of time.

The costume designer and the set designer may or may not have the same ideas about a particular scene. Or the choreographer may have a desire for a prop or a piece of scenery that the set designer or the props master may or may not be able to deliver. Or the set designer might want a piece of scenery that the director or the technical director may or may not be able to get onto the stage in any kind of reasonable manner.

The list of items needing to be coordinated is almost endless. For example, the costume designer might see a scene in one color, the set designer the same scene in a different color, and the light designer may say that he/she would be unable to light that scene for either of those colors.

And, of course, budgets play an important part of this decision-making. So, effects, sets, props, lights, costumes, etc. might be designed only to find out that, when analyzing how we might execute these designs, that we cannot afford to move forward, and they have to be re-designed.

Practice Makes Perfect: How do cast members learn their lines, the music, lyrics and choreography?

Rehearsal. The French use "repetition" when referring to rehearsal. Everything is learned and decided in the rehearsal process. The professional theatre rehearsal process is one of the most efficient processes in any business.

When and how rehearsals take place?

Our rehearsal hours are set by the union rules of our professional actors, established by the Actors' Equity Association. As we are all professionals — like doctors, lawyers, and factory workers — we have set hours and set days of the weeks that we work: six days a week and around 48 hours per week for rehearsals and performances.

Barter has three rehearsal spaces completely equipped for our professional rehearsal needs — and really needs two more to properly do our jobs. Any given actor at Barter Theatre is performing two shows and rehearsing two other shows simultaneously. We might be rehearsing music in one hall, dancing in another and staging in another — all at the same time and all with different personnel involved in the production.

In conjunction with the director, the choreographer creates and teaches the dances; the music director makes decisions about and teaches the music; a fight and/or stunt master designs and teaches those elements.

The director is responsible for putting all of these elements together to make one show, staging the production and making all decisions about the acting, interpretation and coaching all of the areas into one united show.

When are "cues" incorporated for sound, lighting, special effects, flying effects, actors' entrances, etc.?

The week prior to the first performance, there are technical rehearsals where, for three full, long and grueling days, everyone in the production is focused on the technical elements of the show. Many, if not all, of the "cues" which a stage manager calls — in order to get everything in the production to happen at his/her command in a coordinated and controlled manner — are set during these technical rehearsals.

To the untrained observer, technical rehearsals can look like utter chaos as many things — instructions by various personnel in charge of the various aspects of the production — all happen at the same time. This all comes together in the final dress rehearsal prior to an audience viewing the show.

Then, changes occur through the first several performances to adjust the show, as we learn from the audience what may or may not be working or what can or cannot be done to improve the story or to help the audience enjoy the production even more.

When will the aerials (flying) be added? rehearsed?

Some of this will be done weeks in advance in our rehearsal halls or in the scene shop. The bulk of this will be done as a part of the technical rehearsals in the theatre space. All of this will be planned, choreographed and rehearsed as a part of the normal rehearsal process.

Tell us about the process of exploring the material and recreating famous characters.

I would not call it a "recreation." We definitely don't want our actors imitating those who played the original roles. I've seen major professional productions of The Wizard of Oz where, for instance, the lead actress performing Dorothy tried to imitate, in voice and manner, Judy Garland from the movie. It's always a disaster. You don't want imitation. You may want to bow to the archetype created by the original actor, so that the audience is not getting something that is totally out of line with their expectations. But you also want actors who are unique in their talents and what they bring to their roles to find their own version of these characters. All of this is done and formed in the rehearsal process.

When performances continue for a couple of months, how does everyone "keep it fresh"?

Short answer: that's our job. Longer answer: that's why professional actors study acting. Like learning any profession, actors learn the tools and the techniques of their trade.

The same is true of all of the professional talent in the theatre. We all keep our jobs fresh by challenging ourselves, growing our skills, and learning with each and every day. Every audience is unique, and actors adjust to the challenges that each new audience brings into the theatre.

The hallmark of professional actors is to be able to repeat a performance night after night, performance after performance, and never let any single member of the audience be aware that they are doing anything but performing this in the moment and for the very first time.

This is clearly a classic piece. Will Barter Theatre be doing something a little different with it?

Yes and no. It is a classic MOVIE. And because it is a movie, audience members will have certain expectations. Our goal is to make sure that we meet those expectations so that the audience does not leave the theatre disappointed with Barter's production. I think I can guarantee that we will not only meet but will exceed the expectations of our audience for this show.

Barter is an immensely creative group of talented artists, and we always make our shows unique to Barter. That's why audiences continue to come back to Barter again and again. I can certainly say that we will do that with this show as well. Audience members will love the iconic moments that comprise the movie of The Wizard of Oz, but they will also marvel in the uniqueness and fun of Barter's production.

Tricks of the Trade
Back to the main story: Behind the Scenes at Barter Theatre's 'Wizard of Oz'

The cast begins working with the music from the very first day of rehearsal. From left, front row, are Ezra Colon, Ryan Henderson and Ben Mackel. Standing at right is Gwen Edwards who will play Dorothy.