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Creating a Haunting - Blog 3: The Haunting: Behind the Scenes!

There is a common misconception that working behind the scenes is less significant than being in the spotlight. However, ensuring a polished experience for the audience from backstage is crucial. Performers can gain valuable skills by understanding the efforts required to stage a show, which not only deepens their appreciation but also equips them for a sustained career in the arts.


At the time of writing this blog post, our final tech rehearsal has been completed, and the roles of the last four main characters in the production - Backstage, Lighting, Sound, and the essential Set - have been finalized just before the upcoming opening/preview night this Thursday.


Similar to the set completion in the production of "Corpse!" by Gerald Moon, which I directed at Gold Coast Little in 2013, our set was also finished before opening night, not due to time constraints.


In our case, my set builder, who also acts as a co-designer, refining the initial set design and making adjustments (occasionally grumbling during bump out), and I had to manage our new roles and sometimes navigate challenges with our local council. Given that this is community theatre, any support we receive is voluntary and must fit into our busy schedules.


I have a keen attention to detail, particularly in set design and decor, as the set plays a character in the show. However, for set construction, I consistently rely on my collaborator and friend, Darren Campbell. Here are two designs that Darren and I worked on together for specific shows, and one I designed myself.



Keep in mind that we created these within a set budget of $800 and also contributed some of our own funds when the company had financial constraints, which is common in community theater.


We kicked off our set build day by meandering through Tugun Theatre's cozy shed, rummaging for doors and flats required based on Darren's calculations and tweaks to my initial concept. We dived into painting, making the most of the day's warmth. Once Darren joined after his workday, our initial construction stretched into a 14-hour session, much to the dismay of the council for staying past hours, despite paying for the premises.



Typically, we only have two days at the Tugun community hall for set building, with the chance of extra days if the Theatre can accommodate it and if the council hasn't booked it. With our new job schedules, Darren and I raced against time to complete the set, along with Anita Nieuwland who did the set decor, within four weeks, with crew members and enthusiastic volunteers pitching in where possible.

 

When I initially read this script, I realized that everything had to be done live, including the music. However, I was unsure how to find a musician willing to perform for free. Imagine my surprise when Vid Z. Roman, an old friend helping with the show, sat down at an old, untuned piano at the back of the theatre and started playing.


Initially, Vid was composing music for the speakers, but when he spontaneously played the untuned piano, the eerie music filled the space, adding a haunting ambiance to the set and the show. Who wouldn't be spooked by the sound of an old piano in a rundown Haunted House!


VID Z. ROMAN is a Music Composer who has been actively engaged with various amateur rock/metal bands and theatre productions since high school. Notable theatre roles include: Oberon in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Reverend John Hale in "The Crucible", Conrad Birdie in "Bye Bye Birdie", and Athos in "The Three Musketeers”.


Here is a preview of something that he did up for the show:



While still on the subject of sound, I've never been skilled at playing or composing music. However, in the last five years, I discovered my passion for crafting and orchestrating sound effects. It's akin to feeling like Mickey Mouse in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"!


When I invited others to join me in learning and creating live sound effects (I prefer not to use the term Foley as it's more theatrical than cinematic), only 4 people were keen to learn (so they also became part of the important backstage crew).

Together, in a short period of time, we mastered creating the eerie creaking sounds of a haunted house, which turned out to be more atmospheric compared to other options we considered.


To achieve this, my dad fashioned traditional creaker boxes used in old-time radio shows. A creaker box is essentially a wooden frame, with a wooden dowel in the middle, wrapped with rope and turned by a handle. As the wooden dowel turned, the rope would rub against the frame, producing a distinctive creaking noise.

A creaker box

It was fascinating to see and hear how a simple yet skillfully crafted device could enhance the overall experience for the listeners during our tech/preview. While some effects are delivered through speakers for a surround experience, allowing the audience to not only hear the live creaking from the stage but to also feel immersed in the setting, like sitting in a library as the old house makes its eerie sounds.


I won't reveal the methods used for other effects, but at the tech rehearsal, the approach worked effectively, giving the show a unique ambiance by avoiding constant use of prerecorded sounds.

 

In the production of The Haunting, our stage manager possesses the multitasking abilities of an octopus and the focused precision of a tightrope walker in a storm.


Managing a show like this behind the scenes is a challenging task. My longtime friend and stage manager, Cecile Campbell, who has extensive experience (especially from working with me for years), efficiently oversees the production with a firm hand, supported by Marina Cerra, Anita Nieuwland, and Caleb Caldwell. When the show begins, the stage manager takes the lead and though it's a small team, their contribution is indispensable for the show to progress smoothly.


Now, onto the lighting aspect, Jasper Lee did an exceptional job in setting the right ambiance and expanding upon my initial concept. Working with the available lights in the hall, he showcased creativity, utilizing what was at his disposal.


Despite being a second-year university student, he skillfully created the illusion of lamplight moving around the stage as actors walked with lanterns, incorporating flashes of light and crafting a dark, moody set with shadows.


It was a pleasure collaborating with Jasper, who answered my call for assistance while directing Spooky Dog at Tugun Theatre last year. Special thanks to Tweed Theatre Company, Jasper's home theater, for allowing me to borrow his talent.


Here is a glimpse of a scene and some of Jasper's lighting from the show.



Tickets for The Haunting are currently on sale and selling quickly. To secure your tickets, click here. The preview night is Thursday (9th May) offers tickets at $10 per person. The season will take place from May 9th to 25th, 2024, at Tugun Theatre, known for its BYO policy, so don't forget to bring your beverages and snacks. Each table can seat up to 10 individuals.


SIDE NOTE:

I came across a quote that resonated with me: "An actor is someone on a dark stage trying to emote. A techie has marketable skills." From my own journey as a performer and producer, I find this quote to be quite accurate. Therefore, if you're an actor who is not currently part of a production, consider utilizing your on-stage abilities to contribute behind the scenes, refine your skills, and continue creating for your community.



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