Photo: Ottavio Ciccioni

Theatre students lost in Mad Forest

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By Gabe Kastner

“If there are people who need help, give them help.”

Such words, glowing with indiscriminate kindness, could be the rallying cry of a revolution, spouted passionately from the mouth of an anti-establishment radical. In this case they are the words of a somewhat lesser revolutionary — Andrea Salin, production manager for Ryerson Theatre School’s production of Mad Forest, premiering tonight at the Ryerson Theatre School’s Abrams Studio Theatre (44 Gerrard St. E).

The stories in Mad Forest are drawn from conversations with people who lived through the 1989 Romanian revolution, which overthrew a totalitarian Communist regime. Playwright Caryl Churchill worked in collaboration with British and Romanian acting students to compose the play, which was first produced in June 1990, six months after the revolution took place.

The making of the play itself has been a mini-revolution for the theatre tech students responsible for the lighting, sound, wardrobe, sets and props for the show.

“We’re doing more shows than we have in past years, so the crew is being spread out a little thinner,” explains fourth-year student Matt Swan, sole member of the show’s sound department.

“There’s only 20 people on the crew,” says Salin without a hint of resentment. “If someone needs to hang a light and there’s no one else around, I hang a light. If I need to put nails into a curtain, I put nails into a curtain. That’s the stuff that doesn’t go into my job description. I’ve sewn buttons on costumes, I’ve made set pieces, I’ve learned how to run the lighting board.”

Where was the lighting crew when the production manager had to take over, you ask? Fixing the set of course. Or maybe putting the final touches on some pants for wardrobe. “There’s kind of a labour pool of crew members that we can draw on,” says lighting designer Gabriel Cropley, a third-year student.

“It’s good that a lot of people are helping in different departments,” says Salin. “The other day our carpenter went into wardrobe and gave them a hand. Whether you’re a carpenter, or you’re a lighting person you should feel that we’re all working towards the same thing.”

When the climax of the Romanian revolution occurred over two weeks in late December ’89, the uprising had been in the planning stages since the ‘70s. The students involved in Mad Forest, however, had just six weeks to get the show up and running.

“The first day I was at school I was editing audio for the show,” says Swan. “I’ll spend many days awake all night, changing lighting cues for the next day.”

“Trying to get the show going in four weeks has been difficult,” Salin admits. “It was very stressful for a while, but I had a kind of hopping-up-and-down moment last week because everything’s being pulled together now.”

To an outsider, the ‘pulling together’ of the show looks like a flurry of frantic crew members, rushing in and out of the cramped studio space, hauling massive set pieces. “We’re going cue-to-cue, which is a kind of rehearsal where the lighting cues, the sound cues, the prop movements, and all the costumes come together,” explains Cropley, gripping a cup of coffee, “The cue-to-cue takes about three days to go through the whole show once. When the director sees all the technical aspects come together, things change.”

After six weeks of intense labour, the crew of Mad Forest is prepared for an ending happier than that of the Romanian revolution, which resulted in the televised execution of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena on Christmas Day.

The show’s 10-night run is the easy part for this crew of devoted technicians and artists. It will be a hopping-up-and-down moment for everyone involved when the show premieres tonight at 8 p.m.

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