Behind the Curtain at The Little Mermaid

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Behind the Curtain at The Little Mermaid

Will Ingman, Staff Writer

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On December 6th, 2018, Viking Theatre performed its most ambitious endeavour yet for the first time: a several-thousand dollar production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. This play would absolutely not have been possible without funds generated from crowdfunding and personal expenses on the part of both directors. Reviews from students say the money was well-spent, but what do the people behind the curtain think?

 

The long road to opening night began on August 18th, two days before the 2018-2019 school year began, when the Theatre department hosted a lock-in and announced the success of two DonorsChoose.org projects, securing finances for new power tools, an air compressor and corresponding equipment, and brand new audio equipment. Theatre participants, including several graduated students, attended that night, and work on larger-scale props began.

Three weeks after the first day of the school year, Tech and Performance Theatre held meetings announcing casting and technical positions opening. By the end of the month, we had our cast.

The centerpiece of the technical efforts, which are within my realm of jurisdiction as a technical officer, was a wooden wheel built in the middle of the stage with the help of Mike Massey, a director and classically trained thespian from St. Edward’s University. He generously loaned us a specially designed wheel, which was attached to the floor and set on castors, allowing it to spin with a little bit of force. While this happened, our actors began their journey with a table reading of the script and choral rehearsals, aided by Viking Theatre’s resident choir teacher and assistant director, Timothy Wallner.

The next major step in The Little Mermaid’s production came with securing the rights. Since the property is owned by Disney, purchasing the script and music cost us well over the district-allotted budget of around $2,000, and the rehearsal track given to us featured a rather annoying audio watermark. Still, we powered through and moved on to finishing the center-stage wheel, with a bit of outside help.

William Pucci, Lanier’s Construction Tech teacher and local “nicest human on Earth” candidate, volunteered his help with constructing the wheel’s walls, pieces that he designed himself and built with his class. Pieces of masonite (a wood-plaster substance sold in sheets) were cut and affixed to the dimensions of the circle. Next, the sides of the walls were cut out and separated with half-inch-thick boards, to give it dimension. These pieces, which were up to seven feet tall and eight feet long, were attached to the wheel in a long and arduous process, making sure not to damage the wood frame underneath —— since, you know, it’s not ours. After a month of work, the massive centerpiece of our production was complete.

Formal rehearsals began long before the wheel finished its construction, as many of the props we needed were already assembled when we received them (or simply took less time to build). An expertly constructed undersea throne and shelves were donated by LBJ/LASA, and a boat prop used in the district production of Shakespeare in Love (which featured two actors in our production) was borrowed from the organizers of that play. Further props were designed by Osvaldo Sanchez, Kala Moore, and our director, Kathleen Cobb. The actual assembly of props was handled mostly by their designers, however the large-scale tasks fell to yours truly.

For some context, I am one of three so-called “Technical Officers,” the other two being Elena Segura and the aforementioned Kala Moore . Kala handles the art, Elena bridges the gaps between tech and performance, and I run the shop.

Our biggest and (in my humble, unbiased opinion) most impressive prop, a sailing ship for Prince Eric, was the task at the forefront of my mind for much of the pre-production cycle. For that, we brought in another outside source, a technical designer and alumni for LASA named Jeremy Polk, whose expert direction combined with our work ethic resulted in a stable, sturdy, and extremely presentable prop.

Other aspects of tech were spearheaded by Trainer Patrick Blair, a recognizable face at Lanier and virtuoso of lighting design, and Assistant Director Wallner, who worked diligently to coordinate our microphones.

But all of this technical buildup means nothing without actors to perform. For this, increasingly lengthy afterschool rehearsals and entire class periods of line-studying seemed mandatory, although a few questionable rehearsal cancellations did occur. This high standard and rigorous practice, aided by the expert direction of Ms. Cobb and Mr. Wallner, culminated in a performance I believe to be not just Viking Theatre’s most ambitious, but also its most magnificent.

While the production was indubitably splendid, its ambitious nature inspired a sense of panic across the department. Inescapable technical issues (broken mics, missing equipment, breakneck-pace costume changes), a rush to complete props, and overall environmental stress contributed to an acutely stressful environment.

Still, against time and circumstance, Viking Theatre performed an impressive four-night run of The Little Mermaid, drawing more than a thousand attendees and proving to the rest of campus and the rest of the district that a group of semi-trained kids on a shoestring budget can still put on a hell of a show.

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