Soaring Through Success
Performing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for Theater Fest for the first time in more than 10 years, the fall play production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” will be going to state Jan. 9, 10, and 11. Just as high school sports go to state, this opportunity allows the cast and crew to perform their show in front of hundreds to gain feedback and enormous recognition for their performance. Before going off to state, the cast will be performing the play for free, with no seating limit, on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m.
The behind-the-scenes preparation for this successful production was months in the making, and everyone involved was aiming for state recognition. To start, “we sit down and then we put all of our ideas together to come up with the set design,” auditorium technical director Peter McManus said. “The set was specifically made for the show in hopes of going to state. We didn’t know at the time that we would go down to state; we just built it to be portable and hoped.”
For the construction of the set and props, McManus had to first outline the idea in software Sketch-Up, which is a 3D modeling software. Taking the set to Urbana Champaign as is, there are still problems that the show runs into. “Sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board for certain props. A perfect example is a chest that we made. The director initially didn’t say that he wanted to have an actor standing on it, so when we started using them, actors stood on them, and it broke through,” McManus said. “We had to redesign the lids to make them stronger.”
Having performed the show several times in the comfort of our auditorium, McManus anticipates that certain items will break. “We have model ships in the show that have broken in between shows. We expect some things to break,” McManus said. “If it breaks in Champaign, we’re bringing down some basic tools- glues, hot glue, drills, and staplers- to make emergency repairs.”
Even with all of this preparation, the day of the Theater Fest performance is a crucial test of timing and skill. They have to unload the truck, assemble the entire set, fix all of the lighting and sound, and have everything ready in three hours. “No matter what happens. At the end of three hours, the audience comes in and we do the show,” McManus said. “When the show closes, we have one hour to get everything back into the truck. Cast and crew are going to have to band together to get the whole set out, and with luck, we hope that we can have the whole set up in the first hour and then actors can practice before the audience comes in. ”
One of the many difficulties in designing a play is the preparation that goes into the script layout of the performance. “We had to make all of the blocking decisions, which is where and how you move during the show, with the added challenge of knowing that we might have to literally take apart our set, put it on a van, and take it to a different location,” senior Maxwell Romza said.
To qualify for Theater Fest, the school must have a fall production and apply to have respondents, which are people from Theater Fest, come and view a night of the performance and offer feedback for the show. “It’s not necessarily only the best shows that go to Theater Fest, but [the respondents] try to have representation from across the state to have different levels of programs. This is so well-funded schools can go to Theater Fest, and schools that don’t have as much money can go as well,” drama director David Harmon said.
On the night that respondents came to view the show, the actors had to prepare themselves mentally. “If you allow yourself to think that the night respondents come is the only night that matters, then there isn’t gonna be that same magic for people who come to see the other nights,” Romza said. “We were anxious that night, and that’s partially due to the fact that our Thursday show was a little rough.”
Even though it was only their second time performing it in front of an audience, “I think that [the respondents] came the best night that they could’ve. The entire cast was so happy after the performance. After the play, I remember people saying they didn’t even care if we made it in or not–the run was really good. I don’t think that anyone was disappointed with their performance that night,” senior Maren Garnett said.