Three actors stride across the temporary stage. The first clad in high heels, the second in shiny dress shoes and then a third decked out in Spiderman socks each adjust their gait as the director calls out instructions. It is a Monday night in a Maloney Hall classroom on the campus of Central Connecticut State University. The cast of the school’s fall production of Lend Me a Tenor are rehearsing. This is a study of their characters, specifically their walk. The actors adjust their posture and pace throughout the exercise.
From her place at the front of the room, director Christie Maturo calls out instructions. She’s dressed casually in yoga pants and gym shoes with a colorful scarf that she occasionally pulls over her short dark hair. Despite her small stature, she’s a force, flanked by her two stage managers at the head table.
One person is notably absent from this lively crowd: the actor playing Max. The director explains that he will not be attending rehearsal today due to an emergency at his day job. This seems fitting, considering the show Lend Me a Tenor also begins with a missing actor which almost leads to a cancelled rehearsal. And since this is a production of a farce, maybe it just makes sense that nothing goes to plan.
Despite the silly nature of farce, Maturo assures that this is a type of play that develops certain skills in actors which will be beneficial for their futures, should they choose to continue acting. “[Farce] requires a good understanding of comedic timing and choreography,” she says. “Lots of theatres like to put a farce in their season because they are such crowd pleasers, so it is important for a professional actor to have some training and understanding of the genre.”
Central’s production is still in the rehearsal stages so while the missing actor certainly confuses things a little, it’s not an emergency. In the Maloney Hall rehearsal room, tape on the floor marks the places where walls will be, and black boxes outline future set pieces.
The show, originally produced in London’s West End before opening on Broadway in 1989, is a comic farce surrounding opera singer Tito Morelli and the antics that ensue when he nearly overdoses and is unable to perform the opera Pagliacci at the Cleveland Opera. Max, assistant to the opera’s manager, secretly takes over the title part, which leads to much comic confusion.
Two weeks before opening, Max has returned and the cast is still finding its way into the characters. The fiery Italian couple Tito and Maria sit on the blocks that represent their bed and run a scene. Maturo suggests edits, specifically that the actress playing strong willed Maria, played by Melanie Varricchione, make her husband fight for both her attention and her forgiveness more when he comes to apologize. They try
it, it feels awkward to the actress and the director tells her to follow the movement that works for her. One thing that becomes clear is how Maturo trusts the choices of her actors. Maturo is clear that the show is a collaborative process.
It’s clear that the collaboration involves more players than just the actors and their director. With the move from classroom to theater, many more people join the rehearsal from diverse departments such as lighting, set design, and costumes. The move from the classroom to the stage is a tricky transition. Movement takes longer on the stage, and without some set pieces in place, it’s confusing. However, the pale blue patterned wallpaper, vintage style phones, and luggage all now indicate to the audience that the play is set in the 1930s Midwest. Even the pens are changed from standard Bics to make the scene completely authentic.
And finally, a week before opening, casual college clothes are exchanged for the elegant garb of Cleveland’s elite. Though this brings its own set of challenges—apparently green socks are unacceptable with fancy dress—it also brings the show to life in a new way, and seems to bring renewed energy to the actors, who have been amazingly busy between their normal class load and strenuous hours of rehearsing. For some of them, theater isn’t even their field of study, though they don’t seem to define themselves by those distinctions. “To be honest, I never see my major as the end all be all,” says senior James Angelopoulos, who plays theater manager Henry Saunders. “I may be a History and Arabic Language major, but like I said to the high schoolers when they saw our performance for the matinee: ‘If you work hard, set your mind to something, and know what you are doing, you can do anything your heart desires.’”
None of the company could consider giving up theater, which seems to be largely attributed to the community. The actors insist that the building of a strong community is a practical necessity for the production. As actor Steve Kalpin, who plays Max, explains, “Our department is very small, and the type of work we do requires us to be closer knit than students in most other departments. We’re all ready sort of friends, and to get to work with someone you love or with someone you haven’t worked with so much are both great opportunities that only bring us closer together.”
But, as Melanie Varricchione tells it, it’s also the payoff in its own rite. “My parents met in a theater so I was raised in a theatrical environment. Many of the family friends I had growing up were people my parents were in plays with. I love the sense of close community that comes with creating a production, and I love the work. If acting professionally doesn’t work out, I know I’ll find other ways to use my degree because I’m passionate about the entirety of theatre.”
At the end of rehearsal, the whole group-cast and crew- gather on stage for one last photo under the bright stage lights. They grin and ham it up for the camera, joy in their faces, as the last click of the camera shutter sounds in the black box theater.
Siena Clymer is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine.
Header Image by Siena Clymer for Blue Muse Magazine