It’s a Friday afternoon, and MRT’s polished-yet-homey theatre looks a bit scrappier than usual. Electrical wires hang out, and snacks and soda bottles dot the auditorium. The staff go about their jobs, climbing ladders, wielding screw drivers, schlepping boxes, bantering. Scenic designer Judy Gailen’s set for Oceanside—a wide blue sky, patches of marsh grass, and fragments of a home—is in place, waiting on some last touches. And on a cast.
MRT’s productions go up in the beautiful Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, which shares a building with the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. But they don’t start there.
The early stages of production come together at Bagshaw Mills, across the Concord River. Inside the repurposed mill is MRT’s rehearsal hall, where an outline of the play’s set is drawn on the floor in adhesive tape, props and furniture (much of which will appear in the actual production) fill the space, and there’s just enough room to squeeze in a table for the director and stage manager to sit at.
It’s been a good home for Oceanside so far, but it’s time to cross the river. Earlier today, the entire creative team packed into the rehearsal hall for a designer run. For the first time, the show’s full roster of designers and technicians gathered in one place to see the play they’re all working on, on its feet, uninterrupted. There were no lighting effects to be seen, or sounds to be heard. But there was a palpable sense of how those components will fit in, to complete the image and fire up the drama.
Sound designer David Remedios has much to think about: Oceanside, not surprisingly, calls for ocean sounds. Not all ocean sounds, however, are created equal: the script indicates when the waves should sound close or farther away, when they should sound benign or ominous, when they morph into or out of other sound effects.
Lighting designer John Malinowski also looks forward to the coming days’ work: Oceanside’s design includes a prominent sky, and the unconventional shape of MRT’s stage could pose challenges. “I don’t know exactly what the sky’s going to look like,” he commented. “In two days, I’ll know a lot more, and the lighting will probably change over time as I learn how to light these nine walls, to make it look like something really wonderful and exciting.”
Wonderful and exciting is, of course, what everyone is going for. “World premieres are great to work with,” John added. “You know you’re asking questions for the first time. No one’s asked the question of how big the sky should be before… it’s all new territory. We’re exploring this play, and we’re making choices that we feel strongly about, and we’re going to see the results of that for the first time, in this production.”
Mere seconds after the designer run wrapped up, the assembled crowd dispersed, buzzing with conversation about the production, snapping to action, clearing the floor and carrying heavy furniture on their heads to the van that will put the show where it belongs: into a theatre.
On a Friday afternoon, much of the world is closing up offices and getting ready for a weekend. But Oceanside’s team knows their work is just getting started. Everyone, and everything, is all in.