Behind the velvet curtain

The Falconer takes a look at the TP Players’ production process for their new show, “Return to the Forbidden Planet.”

Okay, cutie patooties,” Marinee Payne, the head of the TPHS theater department, says, commencing the TPPlayers’ rehearsal.

In the mostly empty Performing Arts Center, the Players stand on the stage, performing a bare-bones Act 1 of their new play, sometimes glancing down to the red script books they hold to recite lines like “Two beeps or not two beeps? That is the question.”

Shakespearean dialogue meets ‘50s and ‘60s rock meets “Star Trek” in the TPPlayers’ current production, “Return to the Forbidden Planet.” The musical is based on Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” and the “cheesy” (as Payne calls it) 1956 science fiction movie “Forbidden Planet.”

“This production is definitely a lot quirkier than others we’ve done … but it’s a good quirky,” Libby Bezdek (12), who plays the robot Ariel, said. 

For the past two months, the TPPlayers have rehearsed every day from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Auditions were held before winter break. 

“What I look for is the essence of the character in the person,” Payne, who casts the show, said. “I have this series of exercises that I do where I go, ‘Oh, that person has a quality of this character’ or, ‘That person doesn’t have the quality of any of the characters.’”

Still, the actors must make an effort to understand their characters fully. Trevin Henry (11), who plays a lead, Captain Tempest, said that when rehearsals started, the actors created fictional backstories for their characters to help embody their personalities better.

Bezdek also has a variety of methods to get in touch with her character. 

“I read my script a lot. I like to get to know my scene partners, so I’ll usually hang out with them outside of rehearsal,” she said. “But a lot of it is just doing character work on your own, like putting your character in everyday scenarios and wondering, ‘How would they react to this?’”

The actors receive guidance from Samira Sattarova (12), the acting director, who is in charge of telling the actors “how to act this, how to bring that to life,” according to her.

“Our actors are very dedicated,” Sattarova said. “We give them some advice, and they take it to heart, and at the next rehearsal, they do better.”

While acting is a vital part of the show, so is the music. In music teacher Amy Gelb’s room, with a sticker that says “Music is what feelings sound like” pasted on the wall, the Players sing songs like “Teenager in Love” and “Good Vibrations” as the pit band, made up of members of the jazz band, plays the instrumentals. 

“Sing out of your head. Sing out of your eyeball,” Payne cries out to the singers in between the swinging electric guitar strums and thrum of the drums.

“Just commit to it,” Jason Nguyen (12), the music director, says. 

Nguyen leads the pit, both conducting and playing the guitar. 

“The pit already knows how to play music, so it’s just about getting them comfortable with theater, and then also getting the theater kids comfortable with music,” Nguyen said. 

One of the major parts of the show’s music is the ensemble, which harmonizes with the characters for songs and “brings life to the main characters as they interact with us,” according to Brooklyn Hampel (12), a member of the ensemble.

Along with that, the ensemble performs choreography — something specific to musicals — on top of blocking, which is the exact staging of characters in the play.

During rehearsal, the ensemble practices choreography in the PAC’s black box as Bezdek, one of the choreographers, teaches a “Barden Bellas” hip bounce.

Meanwhile, some of the other actors rehearse their songs on stage as the backdrop’s lights switch from a bluish-green to hot pink.

Lighting, along with other technical aspects, is essential to the production.

“Marinee says if you’re a good lighting designer, then the audience shouldn’t be able to recognize the lighting,” Nolan Greer (10), the head lighting designer, said. “When we practice, we just have the regular house lights on, so you only see the actors, but in lighting, you really get to create that world.”

The musical’s world is also created by the Drama Production classes, which construct the sets for each show. 

Nor would the play be complete without costumes, many of which for “Return to the Forbidden Planet” are “really unlike what you would expect in a normal show” because of the “absurdity of the setting and story,” according to Gwynnie Kermorris (11), one of the costume designers and the actor playing Miranda.

Clothed in their bright blue and mustard yellow costumes, the actors have one last dress rehearsal the day before opening night. 

Helping behind the scenes are the stage managers, Zoe Huang (10) and Jake Fargo (12), assisting with quick changes, opening the curtain and making sure the actors are in the right places, among other duties. The hair and makeup team are also at work in the dressing of rooms of the PAC.

In the chime of the actors’ impassioned voices, in the perfectly timed sound effects of alarms, explosions and Ariel the robot’s mechanical whirring, in the vibrant dance of the piano keys over the rolling drums, one thing stands out very clearly: the hard work, effort and passion of the TPPlayers has certainly, and once again, paid off. 

Read on Issuu.

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