Behind the Black Curtain (by Devin McKinley)

Behind The Black Curtain

By Devin McKinley

A diverse sea of eager onlookers stares intently out onto the stage, as they await what soon will meet their eyes when the lights return. Underneath this veiled curtain of black before them is the culmination of months of planning and tireless hours of practice and foresight.

All those behind the encompassing darkness are ready to put on a show that will surely be remembered for years to come. This show and these feelings are no stranger to Mrs. Dawn Raleigh, the head director behind all of the theater’s inner workings and processes. Having been someone who was involved in athletic and fine arts organizations in the past, she understands how important it is for students to have a sense of belonging and support, both of which are prominent in the theater.

The Play Process

Behind every play, there are many crucial pieces that make it a success, all having their own various roles to fulfill. Each show has students in costuming, set design/art, construction, light, sound, makeup, hair, public relations, research, stage management, cafe, ushers, and the list goes on. “There are no small parts in the theatre,” Raleigh stated.

On average, it takes about two months to prepare for an upcoming play, which includes auditions, rehearsals, set design and building. After casting has been announced, students rehearse Mondays through Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. every week prior to the show. During this time, alterations are made to the script if necessary, students are fitted for their costumes, and different hairstyles and makeup are tested.

Another big part of show preparations is set design and construction. The time it takes to build sets is determined by what is required for each play. Such was the case for Twelve Angry Jurors, which required a simpler set design than that of the following play Clue On Stage. This allowed for less time to be spent on that particular design. Additional help is provided by the manufacturing/construction students, who assist in building the sets and mounting doors onto their frames.

Set design
The complex set design for Clue On Stage involved two levels and several doors and passage ways.

The Audition Process

Before any rehearsals can take place, the first thing that must be taken care of is the auditions. At this point, announcements are made regarding signing up for times to audition, and then each student is expected to work or read with their assigned scene partners for one of the two nights. “Nothing has to be memorized, but familiarity with the script is advised. For musicals I have asked that each person come in with a song of some sort, and even singing Mary Had a Little Lamb can work in a pinch.” Raleigh said.

In addition to being present herself throughout the auditions, she also tries to involve outside objective eyes and ears with her so that she is not the only one to make the decision on casting. Raleigh also does not cast depending on a student’s grade, and has even chosen freshmen over seniors in the past. “I cast the person who is best for the role. If I have two individuals who are equally talented, (grade) may be a deciding factor,” she said. “I definitely want diversity and like to see new faces.”

Students’ Parts To Play

The students’ roles before plays are huge contributing factors to the success of the shows. Each student devotes countless hours toward preparing for the next performance, whether that be on stage or behind it. “For my first major part, it took me maybe a week or two to get my lines down. For Clue, I’d say about a month, and that affects my schedule greatly, as I need to devote every free moment I have to memorizing them or it takes me longer,” said theater student Tyler Morgan. “Behind the scenes is a lot of work, too. Things always need done, and that means a lot of long nights spent working and doing anything you are needed to do.”

Clue scene
Students perform a scene during Clue on Stage in early March 2020.

Working behind the scenes might not have as much of the glitz and glamour as being out front, and while your performance might not get to be seen as much by the audience, according to fellow actor Abbie Harris, it has its own unique perks. “Getting to operate behind the scenes is honestly just as fun as acting is, but for different reasons,” Harris said. “Being a part of the stage crew my sophomore year really enlightened me to the other parts of theater that I thought I knew. The people in it are always so funny and kind. It's great to take a break from being on the stage and help put on a show without having to worry about the way you look in costume or if you know your cues. A lot of people don't realize there's more than one avenue to join theater.”

The Lasting Effects

Being a part of the theater and getting to experience the unique atmosphere that accompanies it, especially in high school, can have lasting effects on those who choose to call the theater their home away from home. “It’s a family,” as Morgan puts it. “Theater is the one place I can be whoever or whatever I want to be. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”

Cast on stage

The production of a play involves many roles, both on stage and behind the scenes.

For Harris, who plans on pursuing a college career in performing arts, she’s looking forward to the new challenges that await her. She plans to get her degree in Animation and join Ball State University’s improv group.

“If you've thought about joining theater, stop hesitating. Do it. It will show you so many opportunities and you'll meet people who'll end up being your best friends.

Peace out, Troupers. It's been great!"

  • Abbie Harris