The pressures of preparing for a production is no match for the California Baptist University’s theater program.
Students and faculty involved in putting on productions for the student body face many challenges while preparing for their shows. Directors and the cast and crew go through a week of rehearsals and time is spread thin, especially for the director.
“I think as a director, you get used to an expected level of stress as you near opening,” said Zachary Bortot, associate professor of theater and director of “Frankenstein.” “In theater, we refer to ‘tech week’ [the week of dress rehearsals prior to opening a show] as ‘hell week’ because the process can be slow, tedious, and keep us late into the evening. But I think if you plan and prepare, this process does not have to be chaotic or painful. I’ve been very blessed by the ‘Frankenstein’ cast, crew and designers who have made this process painless.”
Preparation for the show can look different for each role that goes into making a production run smoothly, from the director and actors to the tech team and costume and make-up team. The work that gets put in behind the scenes makes for a good show.
“Research for a theater practitioner can be very enjoyable,” Bortot said. “I started by reading the script but then dove into the history of Mary Shelley and all the works that were inspired by her novel. I read the novel and watched the classic horror movies, as well as more recent takes. I consumed music from the time period, as well as works of art that connected to the piece.”
For actors, the workload is different when preparing for a show.
“The audition consists of a monologue, usually around a minute to a minute and a half in length, and a song, I think it’s 16 bars of a song,” said Alec Abraham, senior theater major. “And for each season that we do it, there are different requirements. So, for instance, when we were doing ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ the required song had to be from a Disney movie or a Disney musical.”
Abraham explained the audition process and how the prep for it differs according to the play. Some shows would require an actor or actress to change their hair color or even the length of their hair.
“A lot of the time for shows, you have to change your appearance, whether that’s getting a haircut or growing out different facial hair than you usually have,” Abraham said.
Backstage actors and actresses practice for their scenes by getting into costume and preparing to bring their characters to life.
“It’s hard to do a show and make it entertaining if you are tired. So we do energy exercises together. Once I’m fully in costume and in character, waiting to go on, I just pray for everyone…I pray that we remember that we’re doing this for an audience of one, and that’s for God,” Abraham said.
CBU’s theater is transforming the landscape of both theater and community in the way it engages with an entire production team for a show. Not only do the students have the support of the faculty but they also have the support of each other.
Alec Abraham, senior theater major
I pray that we remember that we’re doing this for an audience of one, and that’s for God.
“One thing that is really, really nice about CBU theater, specifically, that I haven’t experienced in all other theater companies and schools and stuff that I have performed in is CBU theater does something called community time every Tuesday before rehearsals,” Abraham said. “Even the people that aren’t in a show, we all still get to know each other. There’s maybe like 30 to 40 theater majors at CBU.”
Students are not limited to being actors and actresses in a CBU production. They can be a part of the backstage crew and work in places such as tech and costuming.
Aside from his performing roles, Nicholas Hernandez, senior theater major, has participated in many other roles across several productions and experienced different aspects of a show’s overall production, including lighting for “Cinderella” and “The Wizard of Oz,” as well as costuming for “Godspell.”
Some stressful aspects of production, he said, are the moments between scenes when the setting shifts.
“I would probably say the one that was most stressful for me was costumes and the lighting board,” Hernandez said. “So costumes is [stressful] because when you have to deal with quick changes. It’s scary because you need to hurry up and get them into costume before they get on. [With the] lighting board, you have to click a button. It’s super easy, but if you click the wrong button and change the lights to something else, it could mess up the whole thing.”
When preparing for roles, Hernandez said he had a different approach to getting into character, with the help of the director.
“When I was performing, I would try and read whatever play I was doing, and then find an actual performance, whether it was like a movie or a performance on YouTube or a professional performance,”Hernandez said. “And then, normally, the director will give out a sheet that you could fill out that will get you to answer questions about your character.”
One of the unique things about preparing for a show at CBU is that they take the time to pray with one another before heading on stage.
“Zach [Bortot] is the director and he’s also a professor. He prays for us while we’re all in a circle holding hands,” Hernandez said. “And then, while he’s doing that, we also do a breath prayer. We inhale and we say ‘God,’ and then we exhale.”
Behind the scenes at CBU, there is a community working hard to put on a successful show for the audience, all while glorifying God and being in fellowship with one another. The next production, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” will premiere in April.