Backstage art

We’re in the thick of performances with this show. Perhaps more than the thick, in fact, since we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In some ways it feels like that light is the last day of school and we’re all to be released for the summer. In other ways, it’s the clear ending to a memorable experience.

Today is a beautiful day in Minneapolis, and after the sweltering heat and humidity, and driving storms, that we’ve been experiencing, it’s almost a little disappointing that I’ll spend the entire afternoon inside at a matinee followed by another hour or more of production photos.

But every performance I’m thankful for having an opportunity to do what I love. So I will not complain.

And I do love this show, and this cast. I’m a bit disappointed in myself that I haven’t written more about this experience.

This show is almost a stereotype of “life in the theatre” with its independent theatre company hunger, large cast where most have worked together before, and its high energy and laughter before and after (and during) each performance.

The space itself is, frankly, kind of a dump. The owner of the building isn’t known for his reliability for upkeep. From the patron’s p.o.v. it’s a slightly rundown, but intimate space. From the actor’s and crew’s p.o.v. it’s cluttered, damp, dusty and nearly health-threatening environment. I can only imagine that from a producer’s p.o.v. it’s a nightmare of electrical and plumbing dangers and fears of something truly horrible happening to shut down the whole show. The basement leaks, the AC rattles and stairs creak.

But more than the physical environment it’s the people that make this beautiful and unique stereotype. (I know – oxymoronic descriptor.) This a large cast show (23 actors, 3 children and a dog) with 65 characters (if you count the off-stage voices) which means backstage and downstairs in the green room and dressing rooms is often buzzing with activity. Plus this show has a lot of sound in it— there’s almost always background, city-scape sound playing. (Which means the constant footsteps behind the set probably blend in, right?) And quite a bit of that sound is done live…..things like snoring and banging and gun shots. On stage this is juxtaposed by moments of tableaus, stillness that comes to life or action that reverses and goes to a freeze.

One of my favorite points in the show is during the music-like sounds of the opening of the second act, which take place while the city comes to life. From silence and stillness different things start up at different times on stage, sounds start to sprinkle in and backstage there’s a melange of characters in various dress, milling about, moving quickly or trying to stay out of the way, some making noise while others try to not make noise, surrounded by ladders and platforms and speakers and cables as if in the midst of some fantastical second hand store with things piled on top of each other, and it’s all dimly lit by the back-stage blue lights and spills from the lobby door or from the stage. Each night after I make my exit, after coming to life on stage, I meander through those dozen or more people crammed back there and wonder at the magic of the play-making. This group of actors all working in concert, ready to make an entrance or being the offstage sound, ready to play their part in the creation of this world and doing so in tangent with their cast-mates.

It’s that ensemble, that collaboration, that trust between each person knowing that together we can create this unique and lovely world – that is the thing I will miss most once we exit this tunnel.

Street Scene, by Elmer Rice, produced by Girl Friday Productions plays at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage through July 30.

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