Summer and Smoke moved “on deck” in January and, similar to going off book, it made the rehearsals seem much more recognizable as a play. Going on deck means moving into the playing space at Walterdale Playhouse – before going on deck, all rehearsals were in a community hall, or at La Cite Francophone, or in the space above the stage at Walterdale.
I found it really interesting that, even though a lot of time had been spent on blocking (the actor’s physical movements) at previous rehearsals, much of the blocking had to be re-examined now that the actors were in the actual space. Time and time again, I hear the theatre community discussing how a lack of rehearsal space in the city affects them, and now, I finally understand why. While the rehearsal spaces Summer and Smoke used were good spaces, nothing can compare to actually being on stage, and in a space that matches the actual size of your set. All of the sudden, the four areas of the stage made much more sense to me visually, and I understood how they were all going to work together. The set of Summer and Smoke is really interesting – it has four different areas: the doctor’s office, the reverend’s house, the park, and the town fountain. I found it really neat how there were four different mini-sets on stage, and yet they all had a different aura. However, likely the biggest change for me was when the lights and sound were used during the cue-to-cue run this week. While the set made sense to me when the normal house lights were on, the divisions between the areas became much more obvious once the set lights were used. It was certainly interesting to see the evolution of the set, from the tape on the floor during early rehearsals to the near-complete set I saw this week.
Walterdale Playhouse uses a thrust stage, which means it opens like a fan, with the audience on three sides of the stage. This obviously affects the set design and furniture selection, but it also affects the audience’s sightlines. Once the Summer and Smoke team got into the playing space, the Director and Assistant Director watched the scenes being performed in opposite sides of the seating area, to ensure the audience could still see the action of the play. In Summer and Smoke in particular, I think because it is a character-driven play, it’s important to see the actor’s facial expressions to really get the full impact of the performance, so some of the blocking had to be changed to work with Walterdale’s seating arrangement.
Next up: Part one of my interview with Summer and Smoke’s Director, Mary-Ellen Perley.
Read more of the Behind Summer and Smoke series.
– Jenna Marynowski