Working in the Shadows

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By Samantha Saunders

Being invisible is just part of the job for the students backstage at the Ryerson Theatre School’s Caucasian Chalk Circle.

The production’s assistant stage manager, Natalie Moore, clad in black from head to toe, speaks calmly even as lighting, sound and scene cues are being called on her headset. She is “the eyes” backstage, making sure the actors and the props are ready for each scene – but no one can see her.

Her eyes dart back and forth as she watches the chaos unfold in front of her.

A soldier does push-ups in preparation for his scene while a kitchen-maid struggles with her baby’s blanket. An actress rips off her beige vest and climbs into a blue dress.

With so many actors shuffling and props flying, it’s easy to see how last minute issues (a missing dummy, for instance) can arise.

“Someone has to stay cool backstage,” says Moore as yet another person interrupts her, asking about which props go into which bin. Moore deals with each situation as it arises, “as quickly and carefully and orderly as possible.”

The play resonates with people from all walks of life because it focuses on the notion that love is more powerful than money, Moore says.

This season, the Ryerson Theatre School is celebrating its 35th anniversary with the play’s launch.

Written in 1944 by Bertolt Brecht, a German playwright, the play is a parable that retells the story of King Solomon and a child who is being claimed by two mothers. In order to determine who the rightful mother is, a judge orders a “chalk circle” drawn around the child to see which woman can pull the child out first. The woman who can do this successfully may keep him.

“(The hero) ends up doing it better than the richest family in the city,” explains Moore. “You don’t have to be rich to love and care about someone.”

Intermission is over and the actors are getting ready to go back onstage. Some do yoga, some sing scales, some eat Our Compliments brownies off a silver platter, which later serve as “funeral cakes” in one scene.

As the second half of the show commences, the students start running around once again, setting up the prop table ensuring that “drafting tubes” and “liquor bottles” are in the correct place.

Like Moore, all of the students working backstage are adorned in black, their bodies fully covered, exposing no more than their heads and hands, as to blend in with the backgrounds between scene changes, when the set is completely darkened.

The audience is supposed to think the actors and props appear onstage magically without any help, says Paul Luciani, a third-year theatre student in the technical production stream.

The technicians wear black just in case they are spotted, explains Luciani.

“But we shouldn’t be spotted if everything is done well,” he adds.

“To (the audience), props just come on or the actor appears,” Moore says. “Backstage, there may have been a little crisis getting that prop to the stage or getting the actor there. This is where the magic happens.”

Caucasian Chalk Circle will be running Oct. 3 through Oct. 14 in the Abrams Studio at the Ryerson Theatre School.

Visit Ryersontheatre.ca for times and ticket prices.

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