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Student actor gives behind-the-scenes perspective

By Victoria Reim

Cast and crew gather before a performance of "Mean Girls." Photo by Christina Chu
Cast and crew gather before a performance of “Mean Girls.”
Photo by Christina Chu

Shows always seem so glamorous from the audience, but a lot of work goes into that perceived glamour. I believe the theater originally created the expression ¨beauty is pain,¨ but to give credit where credit is due, I wouldn´t be the same person without theater. And the pain pays off big in the end.

For anyone who had the chance to see “Mean Girls” the play last month, I thought I would give some background, or backstage, information about what really goes into putting on a show like that. Itś a lot of late nights, a lot of bruising, and a lot of makeup.

It all starts with auditions where people spend days, weeks, or more preparing for three  minutes on stage. You have to think about the character that you want and how to best portray him or her. You have to think about what kind of role you are ¨type-cast¨ into. Essentially that means what stereotype do you fit into? For instance if you are automatically put into a comedic character type, but you want to be considered for a more serious role, then you have to find a way to quiet the comedic side of you.

Personally, I’ve been told that I cannot play mean on stage because I come off too nice, or that I do not seem like I am an authority on stage because of my size. So for auditions I made sure to pick a monologue that would play to my strengths as well as strengthen my weaknesses.

Your audition goes by in a blink of an eye and afterward you either can’t remember what happened or you remember it so vividly that you keep playing it over and over in your head and pick at everything you think you did wrong. But if you do well, then you get a callback.

Directors choose people that they are considering for one of the lead roles. The callback list does not mean those are the people who are definitely in the play. All it means is that the directors want to see more of certain people. Callbacks last hours and the way they work at this school is that everyone who was called gets to be in theater at the same time watching the process.

Actors get called to the stage in groups and everyone who is being considered for the same part does the same scene from the show. For “Mean Girls”, a lot of the scenes that we had to do were ones that were included in the original script, but not in the movie. So we had never seen them before. They were true cold reads.

The cast list goes up next. About 40 people made up the “Mean Girls” cast, which is a lot of people for the fall play, but there were still another 40 or so actors who didn’t make it. Casting is a pretty brutal process as any actor would tell you. It’s completely normal to go home and cry after a cast list goes up. It’s actually a healthy process and it can be compared to a lot in life.

You don’t always get what you want or even what you think you deserve, but the only thing you can do is go home, cry, accept it, and then come back the next day and start over.

I’ll be honest, I was not immune to the post-cast-list blues, but I called my best friend and we made brownies, watched “Harry Potter” and got over it. On Monday I came back excited to get into the part that I did get.

The first step of the rehearsal process is becoming your character. That means characterization. Even if you are not a lead, you still have a role. Every role is essential, no matter how insignificant one might seem at first. Characterization essentially means that you give your character life beyond what you read in the script.You think about who you are and why you are the way that you are.

This part of rehearsals is actually more fun if you have a smaller role because you can basically do whatever you want with your role. So, my advice to anyone who gets cast as a small role in a show is to just go crazy with your backstory. Have a secret about your character that no one else knows.

After characterization, rehearsals consist of running through the show as many times as possible each night. The director blocks, or lays out everything that will happen, in the scene and then you do it. And you keep doing it so you don’t forget. You take notes about all your actions and go over them many times.

One of the things that bonds casts together is something the theater community has lovingly labeled as ‘Dead Week.’ The phrase mostly speaks for itself. Dead Week takes place the week before opening and consists of the most rehearsal time. The cast and crew essentially become a club of people who don’t sleep.

But, it really is the best time because you spend so much time together and really grow into one unit. For “Mean Girls” the last couple days before the show was when we shaved a full hour off of our run time. Everything gets fine-tuned and faster. The show gets run over and over so that all the kinks are worked out. By opening night it’s likely that everyone working on the show can recite it word for word.

In my opinion, no matter how many shows you do, opening night is always the best. Yes, mistakes always happen, but they don’t really matter because everyone is just having the time of their lives. If you saw “Mean Girls” you might remember the music that our amazing crew played during scene changes. If you went backstage during those moments, you would have found most of the cast dancing crazily along to the music.

If Dead Week connects us, then the shows solidify us. Putting on a show is one of the highest levels of teamwork. Whether it’s helping each other put on makeup, or helping each other remember when they should be on stage, we help. Each person is an integral part of the production, that’s what makes theater a family. Yes, it’s a cutthroat family at times, but at the end of everything it’s one of the closest families I’ve been a part of.

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The Oak Leaf, a product of the journalism class, is a vehicle of student expression and a public forum for the Alameda High School community.