Welcome to a new semester of blog posts! We are so excited to share the show process with you. This week, we held our first rehearsals and now have a set design plan. Elizabeth Pattyn and Rahul Kulka have done an amazing job with their design, and I’m so very excited to see it get built and painted.
I would also love to share with you our poster for this year:
We look forward to seeing you at our shows! Click below to see the cast and staff list!
Apologies for lacks of posts lately! Everyone was in the midst of finals, and then my immune system broke down as soon as I got home, but here we are with a post from graduating senior Christopher Y.M. Marks ’15. The board of directors wishes to bid a fond farewell to Angela S. Berkowitz, C. E. Chiemeka Ezie, Christopher Y.M. Marks, and Rebecca C. Rosen. Congrats also to graduating Iolanthe cast and staff Kait Boudah, Charlie Caplan, Molly Finlayson, and Kim Onah. I would also like to add a special goodbye to Chrissy Rodriguez and Evan Schueckler, who have been such a central part of the technical team, and have been such wonderful mentors to younger technicians. Congratulations to everyone, and best of luck to everyone in their future pursuits! See you at Vic Ball!
This is the last post until the fall! I hope everyone enjoys their summers!
– Kat C. Zhou ’17
Written by Christopher Marks
When you look at it objectively, the Ag is a strange theatrical space. Sight-lines and acoustics are wonky as all get out, the geometry of the stage is bizarre, schlepping large and heavy set pieces (that more often than not I made heavy through over-building them…sorry…) up two flights of stairs is never fun…the list could go on and on. In short, it’s not an ideal theater in almost any sense. And yet, to many productions and many generations of students the Ag has become a safe space where art can be made and friendships formed, its quirks and drawbacks more than outweighed by the sense that Agassiz House has become a home away from home to so many of us.
And so it is, I think, with Gilbert & Sullivan. What we do is rather strange, if you take a second to think about it; we dedicate ourselves to putting up the works of two not very well known British playwrights from the late 19th century, with references and plots that make little sense in today’s cultural context, at a school where up until now there has been no theater program. There is no pressing need for any of us to do theater or to ensure that Gilbert & Sullivan to be performed. And yet, we keep coming back, every semester, to the strange space that is the Ag to put up the strange works that are Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, and I don’t think any of us would have it any other way. And through this strange activity we meet amazing people, form wonderful friendships, and find a safe space in the wild ride that is college.
This is why, I think, we do Gilbert & Sullivan: to be a part of this community. And it is this community that I am going to miss most. It’s been an honor and a privilege working on these shows with you all, and I wish every single one of you all the best.
Working on any theatrical production is an incredibly demanding endeavor. The end of a run, though sad, brings a little bit of relief. It is a return to normalcy and catching up on schoolwork and sleep. However, it is around this time of the year that I miss working on a show. Fortunately, Arts First was here to bring back light opera to my life.
HRG&SP was delighted to have the opportunity to play in the Science Center Plaza yesterday afternoon. We performed pieces from earlier year, such as “From the sunny spanish shore” from The Gondoliers (performed by Camille Crossot ’16, Rahul Kulka G1, Asia Stewart ’17, and Jack Weyen ’16). Of course, we could not fail to include songs from our most recent production of Iolanthe, including our beautiful fairies’ rendition of “Tripping hither, tripping thither” and the much beloved Lord Chancellor’s (Aaron Slipper ’18) “Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest.” It is even rumored that John Lithgow ’67 attended the performance due to his appreciation of the role of Lord Chancellor.
Finally, we finished with songs from our upcoming season. Our president Laura A. Peterson ’16 sang H.M.S. Pinafore‘s “Sorry her lot who loves too well,” and we closed with a rapid patter “My eyes are fully open” from Ruddigore. It was all in all a wonderful show, and one that made me quite excited for our next two shows. We hope you had a chance to catch the performance yesterday! If not, see you in the fall for Ruddigore!
I’m pleased to introduce this week’s blog author, C. E. Chiemeka Ezie ’15, who was the director of this spring’s production of Iolanthe.
Written by Chiemeka Ezie
As the school year draws closer to a close, I wanted to take some time to reflect upon the experience of working on Iolanthe over the past few months. This has been my fourth semester of involvement with the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert & Sullivan Players, and I was very happy to be spending my last semester as an undergraduate in the organization helping to put up my favorite show in Gilbert and Sullivan’s canon. But, rather than subject readers to my further musings and pontifications on the merits of the show – there was plenty of that in the Iolanthe program – I just wanted to share some reflections on the experience of this show.
Iolanthe was not the first time I have had the opportunity to stage direct a production for Gilbert and Sullivan. My first directing effort was Spring 2013’s lofty Utopia, Limited. Since that show, I have gained additional experiences as a performer and a director that (I hope) have somewhat improved my effectiveness in the role of a director. Still, as this semester began and casting week approached, I found experiencing familiar anxieties. It’s not uncommon for actors who audition for plenty of shows on campus in the fall semester to decide to take a break from theatre in the spring to focus on other pursuits. Furthermore, as much as I love Iolanthe, there is no denying that among today’s audiences and performers it doesn’t seem to have as much fame and recognition as the likes of The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, or HMS Pinafore, that triumvirate of well-known Gilbert and Sullivan operettas we sometimes refer to as “The Big Three.” So, what if not enough people auditioned for our production? What if we simply didn’t have enough performers to be able to do the show? This probably crosses the mind of many a director of shows on campus at some point or another, and in most shows things turn out just fine. And yet, every semester this fear seems all too real.
Happily, by the end of the casting period my worries were totally assuaged. We managed to assemble a remarkably talented group of musicians and actors in the process of mounting this production. Their energy, creativity, and dedication to the show made my job as director unceasingly pleasant, and they duly received hearty applause at the conclusion of each performance. However, the incredible staff that worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the show on track also deserve recognition. We had a small volunteer army of designers and technicians with us this semester, and I can’t thank them enough for their efforts. I’d particularly like to mention Sam Wu, the music director, who diligently and fastidiously helped the cast and orchestra, all while balancing his work on the show with his responsibilities to the various other musical ensembles on campus. I don’t know how he does it, but he does, and I learned quite a lot from watching him work.
Something else that I found particularly gratifying about this show was seeing the number of first-time cast members, staff members, and musicians who ended up becoming involved. Being a part of the Gilbert & Sullivan community on this campus has been a consistent highlight of my undergraduate experience, so I am always very happy to see that community expanding and gaining new members. It is my hope that some of them can find a home-away-from-home in HRG&SP, as I and many others have.
This week’s blog post (on schedule!) is brought to you by costumer and sass-master Anne A. Power ’16. You may have seen her womanning the box office at shows. She writes about mayhems and mishaps encountered through the process.
Again, it has been so lovely to see all of you at the show. We hope to see you today at Victorian Ball!
Written by Anne Power
HRG&SP’s spring production of Iolanthe has been the third HRG&SP show that Cassie Lowell and I have costumed together. One might think that at this point we might have worked a system that would make the process smoother, less stressful, and less daunting. One would be right, but also so very wrong.
From a more general aspect, the costuming process for HRG&SP always remains the same. At the beginning of the semester there is a trip to our Narnia-like storage container, where we get to muck about in hoop skirts, dress up in princess dresses, and, of course, pull useful items for the show. Then there are periodic meetings with the directors and producers, who let us know their plans and visions. To accomplish this vision, we combine the items from our storage run with those pulled from the ART’s extensive stock, supplemented by items ordered especially for the show.
While this schedule is more or less idiot-proof (believe me, we’ve tried), it is not fate-proof. Every production has its big and little (but actually big) challenges that must be addressed. For instance, one of the primary struggles in costuming Iolanthe was the size of the choruses. In addition, because of the nature of the show, each chorus had to have its own uniform, meaning that Cassie and I had to scramble to fabricate eight matching lord’s costumes and seven fairy costumes that fit and flattered. What’s more, all of these costumes had to hold up to eight shows of sweating actors with fiddly hands and propensity to eat in costume.
By spending the better part of a week in the Ag and blowing through our budget, Cassie and I managed to rig together costumes that put the fun in functional. We are especially proud of the lords’ capes, which came to us as gross Amazon purchases and left, with the help of faux fur and black sharpie, as ermine fit for a king. For the fairies, we took white leotards and skirts and paired them with bluish-grey sashes, shoulder draping, and a small bustle for a look that was ethereal but still a touch Victorian.
Now in their second weekend of use, the costumes have yet to disintegrate and we can breathe a sigh of relief. That sigh of relief can’t be too long, however, because we have to get back to the Ag so that we can help fairies tie sashes, lords find their crowns, and make sure the Lord Chancellor’s wig isn’t completely blocking his face.
Friends, we have just opened the show this past weekend. It’s been a whirlwind process, and it was so lovely to see so many of you there. We hope to see more of you this coming weekend, especially at Victorian Ball!
I’m excited to introduce this week’s blog poster, Brad A. Latilla-Campbell ’16, who has been one of my dedicated co-producers (shoutout to the other, Emma R. Adler ’16). Apologies for the late post; things were rather chaotic through opening weekend.
Written by Brad Latilla-Campbell
There is nothing quite like Opening Night – the moment when months of hard work, hours of building, rehearsing, painting and singing are finally put on show to friends, family and the public. The nervous energy that crackles like electricity in your stomach and the slightly cold sweat that always makes you worry about your freshly applied make-up cannot be found anywhere else.
I am most used to being on the other side of the curtain, on the stage itself, as the visible face of a team effort. This time, however, I sat in anticipation with the rest of the opening night audience, wondering what spectacle would be presented to us when the curtains finally did open and the lights came up. This experience was totally different: a kind of nervousness that could not be calmed until the curtain came down at the end of the show. The idea of the experience not being in my hands at all was at once both terrifying and the week’s greatest relief.
Of course, one standard curtain speech and a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen later, we were underway – and what a show it was! The capes flashed, the wings flapped and the wands waved; the orchestra was in full force and the crowd was laughing uproariously. The lights and set transported us to a magical forest, and then into the gardens of Westminster; the songs filled the theater with the light-hearted whimsy of the Gilbert & Sullivan spirit, while the music kept us enthralled throughout the night. And as the curtain closed, and I turned my attention to the cheese awaiting me at the reception, I realized happily, as I always do, that this seemingly once in a lifetime feeling will be coming back next semester.
This week’s post comes from Christopher Y.M. Marks ’15, who has been a tech powerhouse in the HRG&SP community, as well as the larger theater community at Harvard.
Written by Chris Marks
As spring break comes to a close and opening night draws near, the final touches are being put onto all of the tech elements for Iolanthe. Construction is nearly finished, the final set pieces are being painted, the last light cues are being programmed, and final alterations and repairs are being made to the costumes. The final product will be the culmination of the work of over thirty undergraduate designers and technicians who have been working for the past several months to bring everything to life.
The tech process starts during the break between semesters, when the stage director begins working with designers to translate the director’s overall vision for the show into practical ideas and concepts. All of the designers need to balance several things when coming up with their plans; the director’s vision for the show, the budget, the features and quirks (oh so many quirks) of Agassiz theater, and more. By a couple of weeks into the semester, the designers create detailed plans that get presented to the entire staff and are approved by the producers, directors, and OFA staff.
Then, it is time to turn those plans into reality. This is my favorite part of the process; all of the planning and organization begins to pay off, and we have the chance to do what we do best: create things. Carpenters and painters begin to spend long nights in the Ag woodshop and the Horner Room constructing and painting set pieces (while eating cookies and jamming out to eclectic build and paint playlists). Costumers begin to inhabit the costume shop, sewing and fitting everything from dresses and suits to fairy wings while singing along to Disney soundtracks. Props mistresses start hunting down some props online (leading to some really strange Amazon.com recommendations in the aftermath of the show) and creating others from scratch. Lighting designers hang, cable, and gel light fixtures while spending a lot of quality time on the rolling scaffolding. All of these activities pick up steam in the days after Load In, the day we get to begin putting things on the stage in earnest. This is the time when the broad strokes of the tech elements rapidly take shape and assume substance.
Now, we are at the stage of adding finishing touches to everything. While all of the big things are done, there is a seemingly never-ending list of small finishing touches (or, as I like to call them, fiddly-bits) to accomplish: masking sight lines, paint touch ups, costume fixes, and more. The list always frustrates me; no matter how many items you can check off, there’s always more to do, and it doesn’t seem like any progress is being made… until you reach the moment when you look up and realize, “Oh my goodness, it actually looks FINISHED!” If this moment comes before the day of opening, then that is a bonus.
There is a certain joy to seeing a project come together, watching as piles of lumber, cans of paint, rolls of fabric, and sheets of lighting gel become the fairies’ forest and the streets of London. I’ve been involved with many productions over the years, and no matter the show, the people I’m working with, or the challenges the crew faces, this sense of accomplishment always makes it worthwhile. It always takes a lot of effort, many late nights in the theater, and a truly ridiculous number of emails to make it happen, but at the end of the day we will have transformed the stage into a different universe. And that is ultimately what technical theater is all about: creating a new world on the stage for the cast to inhabit, and giving context to the story that the performers will tell.
My apologies for the missing blog posts of the past two weeks! Things have gotten so busy in preparation for our opening, which is just under two weeks away. We are now officially loaded into the Agassiz theater, and are putting the last touches to the set during spring break.
This week’s blog post is written by Allegra C. Caldera, ’17 (director of The Gondoliers and cast member of Patience and Pirates) about being in the orchestra. This semester, we have a lot of board members playing in the orchestra. Matthew J. O’Connor, ’17 will be returning as a bassoonist, and I myself have picked up the oboe. It’s been so exciting to explore different aspects of the show, and I think we’ve put together an amazingly talented group of people for the show.
We hope to see all of you at some point during the run of Iolanthe! If you are just as excited as we are, listen to “The Law is the True Embodiment,” a song from the show that features the cello brilliantly.
Kat C. Zhou, ’17
Written by Allegra Caldera
I didn’t bring my cello up to Harvard freshman year, thinking I would focus on theatre and my classes. But I missed having the ability to play. So this year I made the eight-hour drive up to school with my cello in the back seat. And instead of directing or performing in this spring’s production of Iolanthe, I’ve decided to take on a new role – orchestra member.
Under the gifted direction of Sam Wu (‘17), our orchestra has spent the last month preparing for this spring’s eight performance of Iolanthe. Though our first rehearsals were stalled by snow-day closures (thanks, blizzards Juno and Neptune!) we’ve managed to catch up without much trouble. Sitzprobe was great, because we got to learn how the cast’s voices complement and fill out the instrumental accompaniment on our first or second time playing through each song. (Although I learned that, sadly, as an orchestra member, you miss most of the sung jokes.)
Re-remembering what it’s like to cart around a cello hasn’t been without its misadventures. Last week, I got to our final Sunday rehearsal a few minutes late (I’d been printing show posters). I pulled out my cello quietly – only to realize that the changing weather had gotten to it. All my strings were wildly out of tune. After over 15 minutes of tuning, I’d almost gotten all four strings… when my A string suddenly snapped. Then I realized I didn’t have a spare. Oh well – I’m home for spring break now, and can hop over to Potter’s Violins for a new A. In fact, I’m going to grab an extra full set of strings, just in case!
We are so excited that the Iolanthe process is underway and that rehearsals are in full swing. I have already met so many new people in just a few short weeks, and it warms my heart to see our community growing. HRG&SP has provided a home for me throughout my entire time at Harvard, and I look forward to sharing my love and joy for Gilbert & Sullivan with the new members of our community.
This semester I am thrilled to be playing the Queen of the Fairies in Iolanthe. The Queen of the Fairies is a great role because I get to interact with so many other characters throughout the course of the show and thus build relationships on and off the stage. Under the direction of our directors Chiemeka Ezie and Sam Wu, the show will be amazing and not one to miss!
Last weekend was our first sing through of the show. The whole cast and board gathered as Sam accompanied us through all of the musical parts of the operetta. Because we were sight-reading, there were lots of missed cues and lots of laughter, and an all-around good time was had.