The show must go on, and with their upcoming play “What I Did Last Summer,” the McLean Community Players are making it happen despite some obstacles. The Alden Theatre at the McLean Community Center, the community theater company’s home theater, has been undergoing some renovations, but with the right play and some planning, the group is making sure local theater patrons can still see a McLean Players show this fall.
“What I Did Last Summer,” by A.R. Gurney, relies heavily on the emotional interactions between its characters. When staged with minimal props and some miming, the McLean Players were able to bring to the stage the World War II-era summer house on Lake Erie that becomes the backdrop of different responsibilities and lessons learned for one family.
“I like what he does with relationships,” Director Adriana Hardy said of Gurney, a favorite playwright of many involved in this production. “You can see the change in the relationships between the three children. You know that the next summer, things aren’t going to be the same. It will be a memorable summer for the children; things will never be the same.”
The play centers on Charlie, a 14-year-old boy played by Forrest Browne. In performing as Charlie, Browne must mime many different actions, like pretending to sculpt imaginary clay on stage for lessons by bohemian art teacher Anna Trumbull, who teaches Charlie more about life than how to actually sculpt. Jessie Roberts, who plays Anna Trumbull, has enjoyed taking on such an interesting character.
“She tries to show kids that are generally coming from conservative, well-to-do families that there is more to life than what they’re seeing in those families. That they can think for themselves, that they can experiment,” said Roberts. “She wants these kids to find themselves.”
Because of these miming scenes throughout, Hardy had Browne practice sculpting at home with real clay to make the scene look believable to the audience.
“It’s challenging for the actor to make the audience believe that it’s really there, and it’s a challenge for the audience to use their imagination,” said Roberts. “The props are secondary to the plot.”
Hardy herself is a voice teacher when she’s not acting or directing plays, and Roberts has taken many cues from her to learn more about her character Anna and how to be a teacher.
“I’ve watched her work with the kids and teach them stage craft, how to stand, how to move, how to find your character; she has done a marvelous job with these kids,” said Roberts. “Their performance is going to be great!”
Hardy decided to cast age-appropriate actors for the roles of the teenagers, and has been impressed with their skills. Hardy knew this was the only time of year she could use teenagers in the play since they were able to rehearse during the summer.
The actors and technical crew both have their hands full with this production. Stage manager Doug Yriart has been putting together the lighting and sound of the play with the help of Chris Hardy. The play was chosen for its minimal props, but the lighting is anything but. Hardy will employ more than 150 lights to set the scene. There are a variety of different filters and lights the crew has to understand to create the right lighting for the play, and the sound crew plays anything from a summer’s night to a radio station from 1945.
“Props are not the most important thing in the show. The way that Adriana has made the set is very simple. It’s very light, and consists mainly of the front of the shack and some furniture,” Yriart said. “But the magic of this show from the technical part is the continuous undertones of song and from the lighting.”
Few props means it’s the lighting and sound crew’s job to create the mood and time for the audience.
“We make the sun shine and the wind blow. Basically we control everything around the actors,” Yriart said. “The lighting will help show that there are trees nearby, and in other scenes the family is in the home. The lighting will set the mood and place without actually having a set.”
The McLean Community Players will also be hosting a Q & A at the final performance where the cast and crew will answer any questions the audience has about the play and the choices the McLean Players made in staging it. To the cast, this is a great time to talk to the community about theater, and possibly excite a new love of theater.
“One of the missions of McLean Community Players is to educate the community about theater,” Yriart said. “The best way to do that is to produce a play and allow the audience to ask ‘How did you work your magic?’ ‘What’s it like to be an actor?’ ‘Why did you want to be a technician?'”
“What I Did Last Summer” will be performed on Fridays and Saturdays from Oct. 26 – Nov. 4 at 8 p.m. at the Alden Theatre, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. Sunday matinee performances are scheduled for Oct. 28 and Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 – $16. For more information, visit mcleanplayers.org.