Players Pen – July 31, 2014

The Players is bustling with activity. The final performances of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” were performed to near capacity houses.  The pre-show seminar hosted by Christopher Chan was well attended, and each department has prepared for change-over.

Scenic artist April Beiswenger created cartouches for the Egyptian tomb and painted the scenery of the English manor home. The prop shop has sculpted a fake bear head from foam for the bear skin rug, and the costume shop feverishly styled many wigs and rigged costumes for the many, many quick changes by actors Sean Grennan and Sean Fortunato.

To take a break from the tasks at hand, company members celebrated Christmas in July including the tradition of playing Secret Santa. For two days Santa left little gifts and on Sunday night we decorated the tree and had a company party.

It was a lovely few days and a nice respite from lines being learned, scenery being built, props being gathered and costumes being sewn.

Secret Santa and Christmas in July has been a long standing tradition among company members. If any alumni out there know how or when it started please let me know.

Tonight is opening night of Charles Ludlam’s fast-paced and frighteningly funny farce “The Mystery of Irma Vep – A Penny Dreadful.” Until the opening night curtain is raised the entire company is busy prepping for this and going through the change-over process.

Change-over begins after the closing curtain of the Sunday matinee. Company members start dismantling the set and re-setting the stage including lights, curtains, costumes and scenery for the next offering in our season. If a costume or prop comes off stage, never to come back on, it is struck from the stage.

Once the stage is swept clean the pipe holding black masking curtains is lowered and either moved to another pipe or removed and put in storage. If anything is suspended from the grid or from a pipe, such as a chandelier, it is removed and put in storage.   Any flying scenery, such as the scrims used in “The Tin Woman” are then lowered and removed.

When the new space was built in 2006 a fly-tower was installed. A common question patrons ask is why is it so tall?  The fly tower is visible from the outside as the tallest section of our stagehouse.

When scenery or curtains are flown up or down in the fly tower during a show they need to go up and out of the audience’s line of sight. No one wants to see the edge of the front curtain from any seat in the audience.

The fly tower has 25 line sets, or pipes with ropes, on a counter weight system. The counter weight allows one person to run a line set.  In the old space, curtains were suspended and couldn’t be moved up and down.  It took up to seven people to pull things up and down to hang them.  With the counter weights, it only takes one person today.

Before a pipe can be used again it needs to be re-weighted. One crew member climbs the stairs to the loading gallery of the theater’s rigging system and stays there to remove or add stage weights to the arbor of each pipe as directed by the technical director.  The arbor holds the brick shaped steel weights.

This season, production assistant Nick Mompier has had a bird’s eye view of the stage. For example, if the pipe is being stripped of all curtains and lights it needs to be re-weighted to equal the weight of the bare pipe.  So after a pipe is lowered to the stage and locked-off, Nick is instructed to either bring it to pipe weight or to add weight.  If the crew adds items to the pipe, such as a curtain or lighting instruments, then the same amount of weight needs to be added to the arbor.

Some of the line sets are dedicated to electrics, where the stage lights are hung to light the actors and scenery for the play. We have two dedicated pipes for electrics and several portable circuit boxes.  We can move the circuit boxes from pipe to pipe to create different lighting positions.  Thus we can meet the requirements of the action of the play from show to show.

Each play is different and requires a different footprint. At each change over, scenery, lights, curtains, costumes, props and line sets are all re-set.  The comraderie and advance planning needed to accomplish this always makes me proud of our crew and their amazing accomplishments.

Sunday afternoon the isolated estate of Soldier Island stood on stage and by dress rehearsal Monday night the pyramids and tombs of Egypt as well as the English Manor home of Mandacrest were on stage.

The next time you are at the Players and have a moment to visit with our production staff helping to park your car, mix your cocktail, sell you a cookie or find your seat in the theater ask them about change-over or any other job they do during the day. They would love to share with you what they are working on for “Butler” or “Always…Patsy Cline.”

If you don’t want to miss the flying wigs, skirts and wink-wink, nudge-nudge spoofy humor of Charles Ludlum’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep” gather up your monster movie watching friends and join us by the bay! “The Mystery of Irma Vep” is on stage through August 17 and for those interested in a witty drama, “Butler” begins its two week run Aug. 20.   For more information visit or phone 920-868-3287.

Audra Baakari Boyle is the Peninsula Players Business Manager, celebrating her 20th season in 2014.