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Mayhem turned into perfection… behind the curtain at The Mousetrap – Part I

July 11, 2012

Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrapwas originally written as a short radio play titled Three Blind Mice to celebrate Queen Mary’s 80th birthday. Who are the mice? And who is the murderer among the mice? In the snow-bound English countryside, two innkeepers try to cope with five house guests and a young Sergeant who comes to the old manor house to ferret out the villain. Agatha Christie keeps you guessing with plot twists and turns in Peninsula Production’s presentation in White Rock.

Opening night is this Friday the 13th and excitement is building.For someone new to the internal workings of theatre, the process of mounting a play has been a fascinating and illuminating experience. It wasn’t until I was invited to a production meeting for The Mousetrap that I began to realize the full extent of the work and talent required. I thought that there are probably many more like me who would like to know what exactly goes on back there and so here you go – a short expose of ‘mayhem turned into perfection’ that is the hallmark of all good theatre.

July 6, 2012. One week to go to opening night of The Mousetrap, we get access to the theatre for the first time. At 8:30 in the morning, the crew starts loading the set, in pieces, onto a flat deck truck for transport to the theatre. It is a big job as the set includes high walls, moldings, one wall with a fireplace, stair parts, and doors. Luckily the crew comes with muscle.

When I arrive at the theatre, the heavy lifting has already been done – timed perfectly, need I say – and a group is already busy assembling the pieces, measuring, adjusting, drilling and hammering. At one point, the whole set has to be shifted as it is not quite centered and everyone gathers up. Two by fours are positioned under key points and we push. People are painting and furniture and props are slowly being added to centre stage, out of harm’s way. I hear someone say “don’t stand under the ladder, dear” which is difficult as there are ladders everywhere. Because I am not qualified to do anything important, I spend my time taking pictures and asking questions.

Andrea and Pat

Timing is tight. Electrical work will commence this evening which means the set has to be in place and wall sconces and light fixtures arranged. Saturday is dedicated primarily to the tech people, which means no other work can be going on at that time. They hang the big lights and spot the lights based on the script, place ‘gels’ over the lights so as to give the right cast to the light on the stage, and program them into the computer, adjusting for intensity and sequence.

Sunday will be for finalizing (although nothing is ever really final until the curtains go up on opening night) the set, arranging furniture and props, and painting. Sunday is also “cue to cue”, a painstaking, minute by minute run-through of the play with the actors to make sure all the sounds (telephone, doorbell, wind etc) and lights are all cued with the script and everyone knows which button to push when.

Geoff Giffin and Pat McClean ham it up

Monday is the dress rehearsal where any major kinks will be addressed. Sometime during or after all of this Andrea Olund and her crew will touch-up the paint and paint the floors. Another job for the moving crew as all the furniture and props will have to be moved off the stage.

We had our director and producer already on board. Wendy Bollard is the highly talented director who mounted the successful Waiting for the Parade in 2011. Geoff Giffin is the producer and get-the-job-done guy.

The other big pieces: find the right script – this was easy as this is the 60th anniversary of The Mousetrap, obviously a huge crowd-pleaser and perfect summer theatre; audition the actors; find and engage all of the creative people that make up the crew; find the money – most important – and a perennial challenge for all non-profits; prepare the budget, find advertising and sponsors, line up the theatre time, get the word out so we get bums in seats, and so on.

In no particular order, helping The Mousetrap come to life are:

Shelagh Shermann, our talented stage manager, has her finger on everything;

Andy Sorenson has built the set – come and see the manor house, it is amazing;

Andrea Olund has done the fabulous set design; Pat McClean is our accomplished costumer and hoarder of “tchotchke”, furniture, paintings, books, fabric, lamps and other paraphernalia that transport us back to the 1950s;

Jacqollyne Keath, sound designer, finds, and where necessary creates, the sounds that thrill and chill us;

Rosemary loves it

Bev Siver is our technical director who oversees all technical work; Matt Vondette works magic with his light design; Russ Johnson our electrician, hooks up the special lights in the set so that they turn on and off when they are supposed to; and Ryan Elliott, Nick Zwager and Eli Sorenson run the booth, making sure that the cues for lights and sound are executed precisely on the stage manager’s command;

Janet Mackay is the wig mistress which is a wonderful title to have; Rosemary Schuster and Naomi Mitchell, the dynamic “Properties” duo, searched out the tchotchke that wasn’t already in Pat McClean’s basement and Leigh Burton worked with Rosemary on set decoration; Patte Rust, painter extraordinaire, created the snowy wonderland we see through the Manor windows;

Martin Perrin and Lou Tardif add muscle when we need it; and

rounding out the package, Jo-Ann Merkel is running our front of house, Max Hirtz and Lilian DeVreeze are the photographers and Phil Dave is general dogsbody, the guy we count on to do whatever else is needed.

Our back stage group includes Chris Cooper, a fellow who stopped to chat to us on the beach in White Rock only to find himself hammer and drill in hand on the stage less than a week later. With his professional film background he is a wonderful addition to the crew. Our other, innumerable and enthusiastic volunteers have stood at the beach and at the Farmer’s Market and strolled the streets of South Surrey/White Rock to spread the word and put up our posters. Then there are our wonderful supporters and advertisers who have contributed supplies, time and money. It is truly a community effort.

Next post will feature some of these “behind-the-scene actors” and lots of photos. If you would like more information about The Mousetrap or Peninsula Productions, click here, or information about tickets, please click here.

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