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A look behind the scenes of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

The performers may get all the glory, but it’s the backstage folks who make it happen!

(See photos in Digital Edition)

By Rachel Morin

TCT Columnist

Lewiston/Auburn Community Little Theatre presents the final weekend of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the powerful Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, adapted for the stage by Christopher Sergel.

Directed by Linda Britt, the timeless story of “Mockingbird,” as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago, is especially meaningful to her, having grown up in the South and seeing and hearing the language of the times—not so long ago. Britt is recognized for directing plays that have a message.

A dramatic play she directed at CLT a few years ago about a young gay man brutally murdered received excellent reviews. Two dramatic plays Britt directed for Out of the Box Theater achieved the coveted Moss Hart Award in 2009 and 2010.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” tells about life in depression times in a racially divided small town in rural southern Alabama, how a widowed, middle-aged father struggles to do what his conscience tells him is the right thing to do and trying to protect his children from bigotry and preserve their innocence. It is a part of our American history before the Civil Rights Movement. And as such, the subject and language may be offensive to some.

While press releases and photos about the cast appear regularly in the newspapers, the public rarely sees pictures of backstage workers and what they do.

It’s a whole different world backstage, as much activity goes on behind the scenes for weeks and weeks beforehand. I thought I would take you backstage to see how it all comes together before Opening Night. The process started a year ago, when CLT directors selected “Mockingbird” for the proposed 71st season and asked Linda Britt to direct it. She has become a name in the L-A community as a director who excels in directing plays with a message.

Britt immediately engaged Ellen Peters as her assistant, as they have worked together on many plays. I call them “The Dynamic Duo.”

“The director is in some ways like a juggler, having to keep all the balls in the air at the same time,” Britt said. “Like Ellen, my favorite part of directing is having those ‘Ah ha!’ moments with the actors when they figure out line delivery for their characters. And it is especially rewarding to stand at the back of the theater during the show and hear the audience’s reactions.

“I’m in constant communication with members of the production staff—the publicist, the set designer, the costumer, the producer, the light designer, the prop master, the sound designer, all of whom need my support and my input on what the show needs,” said Britt. “The director’s job includes scheduling auditions, to casting the show, scheduling (and re-scheduling) rehearsals, running rehearsals, teaching blocking basics to inexperienced actors, encouraging actors who are insecure, helping with set construction. Thank goodness I have Ellen to keep me sane and ease the workload.”

And Peters says she is there to support the director: she is with Britt, working jointly with her, every step of the way and is invaluable in what she does.

The entire production crew begins working individually by reading the script, researching the play online and using other sources for the authenticity needed for their part in the production. Most have seen the Academy Award-winning movie.

Vicki Machado, the stage manager, has an important job. She sees that all props and furniture are in the right position and that the play flows smoothly and flawlessly. While the director has the last word during rehearsals, once the curtain is raised for showtime, the stage manager takes control. Machado runs the show and has direct communication with the sound and lights via her headphones and mike.

Patricia Phillips wears many hats in this show as producer (anything that goes wrong, she fixes!); prop mistress (this is fun and like a scavenger hunt!); light board operator (be sure the light is on the right character at the right time during the show); and is responsible for providing lunch for the construction crew on weekends, as well as the cast and crew party after the show. Phillips also collects the cast’s bios and prepares the insert for the playbill. She has her work cut out for her, but insists she is having fun.

Perhaps Bill Hamilton, set designer, needed the most time for “Mockingbird.” He is often asked to consider the set up to a year before a show. “The show I worry about most is the one that a director says has a very simple set,” Hamilton says with a smile.

He started months ago, first building the set on his computer in 3 D, then making a model, one inch to the foot. He finds this scale practical because it is a good size to work with and almost all doll furniture is this scale. Drawings are produced for his construction crew to build from.

There is even a model of CLT’s stage in his home carpentry shop, which is mounted at head level so it can be viewed from the audience’s vantage point. When the set design is built, the production staff comes for its first review.

Hamilton is actively involved in the set construction onstage that covers six weekends prior to Opening Night. He recruits carpenters and painters from the community and many from the cast itself. His work is meticulous, and he offers on-the-job training for novices. “Good humor helps,” he said. Hamilton is famous for a final tweaking just before the curtain rises on Opening Night.

Richard Martin, the light designer, attends rehearsals, making preliminary notes and determining whether the theater has the required lighting equipment; if necessary, he rents from a local production company. Once the equipment is mounted, focused and programmed, Martin and the light board operator attend the cue to cue rehearsal to fine tune the programming for the show.

Pat Spilecki has a fun job, taking measurements and gathering the costumes. She compares it to being “a kid in a candy store” as she rummages through the theater’s neatly organized treasure trove of costumes and accessories. Next, the actors try on the clothes for fit and comfort. This show needed lots of hats, gloves and purses for the 1935 rural South setting. Sometimes Goodwill and Salvation Army stores are a boon for the costumer. Paige Berube saw to hair and make-up needs.

Jeff Soifer designed the posters, which are distributed to stores and businesses to provide the public with information on dates, times and tickets and reservations. Soifer also does the cast photos for the lobby.

The rehearsal prompter is an important cog in the wheel. Melody Driscoll is highly sought after by the directors, as she is the best. Driscoll goes the extra mile and coaches actors with their lines if they request it. Directors have found her expertise helpful and often invite her to give notes to actors along with theirs, following rehearsals.

Let’s not forget publicity: without it, patrons will not know about the show, no tickets will be purchased and no seats will be filled. The box office sees that everyone who calls has tickets and is seated. Overseeing everything and ensuring that things are going as they should is Stan Spilecki, the technical director.

Then it is showtime: the curtain rises, the lights sparkle, the set shines, the costumed actors stride on stage and, wow, we aren’t in L-A, but in 1935 Maycomb, Alabama!

Leading roles in the play are Stan Spilecki as Attorney Atticus Finch; Julia St. Laurent as Scout and Drew Masse as Jeremy, the Finch children; and Dante Baskett as Dill, the children’s friend.

Deadre Opfermann is the Finch housekeeper. The neighbor women are Michelle Jacobus, Andrea Quaid and Rachel Morin as Miss Maudie, Miss Stephanie and Mrs. Dubose. Jacobus is also the narrator for the play. Luka Baskett is understudy for Scout and the off-stage voice for Walter Cunningham Jr.

Completing the cast are Harley Marshall as the prosecuting attorney, Horace Gilmer; Bob Greeley as Judge Taylor; Boyd Scott as Tom Robinson, the falsely accused; Danielle Sicotte as Mayella Ewell, the alleged victim; Roger Philippon as Bob Ewell, the enraged father; Mark Hazard as Sheriff Heck Tate; Glenn Atkins as the Rev. Sikes; Ron Charest as Walter Cunningham Sr.; Phil Vampatella, the clerk of court and Nathan Radley; Travis Mayo as Boo Radley and the off-stage voice of Mr. Link Deas. Nakesha Myrick and Paige Berube play the townspeople.

The production crew includes Ellen Peters, assistant director; Patricia Phillips, producer, props and light board operator; Vicki Machado, stage manager; Bill Hamilton, set designer; Richard Martin, light designer; Pat Spilecki, costumer; Steve Mortimer, sound designer; Paige Berube, hair/makeup; Melody Driscoll, prompter; and Rachel Morin, publicity.

All performances are at Great Falls East, 30 Academy Street, Auburn. Advance tickets are $16 and may be reserved at 783-0958 or www.laclt.com. Tonight’s performance is at 7:30 p.m. with a special price of $13. Curtain on Friday and Saturday is at 8 p.m. Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m.

Come see the show!

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