The Haunting of the Mill

Todd Granacki of California stopped by the Mill in spring 2011 to drop off this piece of memorabilia that he found in his house. It's a circa 1979 sign for the haunted house that Council Rock High School used to hold at the Mill as a fundraiser. Does anyone remember that? He said they used the upper floors as well as the main one, and the whole place was dark. Must have been pretty creepy. Thanks very much for remembering us, Todd, and schlepping this sign from CA to PA.

The Show Must Go On

by Liza Fisher Norman

In the overnight hours of August 27, 2011, our area was the victim of Hurricane Irene's wrath. Once again, the first floor of the Spring Garden Mill flooded. The last time was in September 1999 when Hurricane Floyd pushed 3 feet of water into the Mill, covering the velvet seats, rising to the stage, and cancelling the last show of the '99 season, appropriately named: Fit to Be Tied.

We got away slightly easier this time, with "only" one inch of slime and mud on every square inch of the first floor. But the effect was the same. Rabbit Hole was in the middle of its run. The players were performing to about 30 patrons who were loyal and true enough to brave the impending storm to come out for the production. All was well until intermission when the electricity went out. As patrons stood in the lobby by the emergency lights, director Rob Norman told them the rest of the show would have to be cancelled, but that they could get their money back or see another show instead. Patrons present said, "Why can't they do the second act right here in the lobby under the emergency lights? We want to know what happens." We love our patrons.

After a grueling week for all, especially President Charles Gorman, Mill Steward/Treasurer Rob Norman, and Shop Steward Ken Junkins, among others, the Mill was made "ready enough" for three more performances of Rabbit Hole to go up before the cast became unavailable due to commitments at other theaters.

It took 165 volunteer man hours (27 volunteers) and 30 professional cleaning hours to get to that point.

But there was much more that needed to be done, especially to the exterior that had the handicap ramp ripped from its anchors, the top parking lot eroded, and the lower lot rendered useless due to debris and rivers of stone. This work needed to be completed before the end of the week so that the resheduled productions of Rabbit Hole could take place. And the benefit, Showin' Off, the first fundraiser in years, was scheduled for 20 days from now.

"We make plans, and God laughs."

The grit and determination of this little theater company to rise from the ashes (or is that mud?) is laudable. And it's done with humor and camaraderie.

This must be why Langhorne Players has been around since 1947.

Striking the Set

by Leslie Jacobsen Meister

(reprinted from Swimming in the Shallows program, July 11-26, 2008)

After the applause for the closing night performance has ended, and the last audience member is wending their way home, the cast and crew grab their belongings and high-tail it to the nearest cast party, right? Not so. Langhorne Players has a long tradition of beginning the strike (the ‘undoing’ of the set) immediately after the final performance. This ensures that all cast and crew members are onsite to help, and also that the stage and backstage are cleared out and cleaned up so that construction and preparation for the next show can begin. The head of the Technical Crew, and several other members will usually volunteer to show up and help, especially if the cast is small, or the set is elaborate.

Once the audience has cleared the theatre on closing night, the cast and crew begin to pull all of the props, furniture and set dressings from the stage. They are sorted for storage on the second floor of the Mill, or set aside to be returned, if they were borrowed or rented. The next time you’re in the lobby, waiting for a show to begin, look at the ceiling above the water cooler. There is a large trapdoor that opens to the second floor; so that large furniture pieces can be hoisted through (since the stairs to the second floor are quite narrow).

Cordless drills are used to begin taking the actual set apart. The deconstruction must be done carefully, so that flats don’t come crashing down. Almost every part of the set is held in place with multiple screws, so it can be quite noisy as the drills do their work. If any flats or set pieces will be used to construct the set for the next show, they are stored temporarily in the audience. All other flats and set pieces are stored in the back workshop until they are needed again.

While the deconstruction is happening onstage, another crew is hard at work backstage. All costume pieces and hand props must be sorted and/or put away. Any dishes used in the show are washed before they are put away, and all food props are discarded. The green room (or dressing room) is cleared of all personal belongings, and cleaned from top to bottom, so that it is ready for the next cast to use.

There are several strike night traditions that take place as the evening draws to a close. The first is that the newest member of the cast or crew must write a poem to the cast and crew of the next show. The poem is written on the mirror in the green room, and usually references the show that just closed, and welcomes the show that will open next. The second is that the cast will often present a small gift and their thanks to the director and crew.

Once the work is done, and the dust has settled, cast, crew and volunteers can head home, satisfied with a job well done, and hopefully catch up on some much-needed sleep the next day! 

Hell Week

by Leslie Jacobsen Meister

(reprinted from the Dinner with Friends program, August 22-September 13, 2008)

Although it may sound like the last week of final exams, Hell Week is actually an ‘affectionate’ term for the week before a show opens, and was likely given the name due to the fact that it can be a busy and stressful time for cast, crew and director.

Most directors will encourage actors to be off-book (to have memorized their lines) well before Hell Week. If the actors have not been studying hard, however, this is the week that push comes to shove. No more asking for lines when the memory fails. (This can lead to some rather entertaining unintended pauses and improvising.) And while some costume pieces and hand props may have been used here and there, or in some cases improvised until the actual prop can be located, Hell Week is when actors will begin to rehearse in costume, and to use all of the actual props and set pieces that will be used during performances. This may mean that actors are actually drinking or eating onstage for the first time, or suddenly find that the three-piece suit they must wear doesn’t give them the range of motion they thought they had.

While actors are busy adjusting onstage, the crew and director are facing their own challenges offstage. A full week before the production opens, the director, the technical director and the lighting designer participate in a ‘light hang and focus’. If they are fortunate, there will be one or two volunteers to assist. During the light hang, all of the lighting instruments that will be used during the show are put into position, and the colors that will be used are selected and installed. It is usually an evening-long process that involves lots of going up and down a ladder. (Look above your head to see all of the instruments, cables, etc. that are placed for each show.) All of the lighting cues and sound cues are set, including special effects (disco balls, strobe lights, gunshots, doorbells, etc.). Most shows average 30 – 50 individual cues, but some shows have had well over 100!

Traditionally, the Sunday before Opening Night (or Day 3 of Hell Week) is reserved for ‘cue-to-cue’. This is usually the first day that the light & sound booth operator will be ‘at the controls’. The first part of the day is spent running through the entire show with hardly any dialogue. The actors will walk through the show, and give cue lines for lighting or sound cues. Adjustments will be made to the lighting instruments to make sure that the actors are well lit. Each cue will be run until the actors and the booth operator have a good sense of how it will work in production. Sometimes cues will be run literally dozens of times. This process requires the actors and crew to stay focused, and to be very patient.

Once the cue-to-cue is completed, the cast and crew may take a dinner break, and then return to the theatre for the first dress rehearsal. This is also the last rehearsal where any ‘kinks’ can be worked out – any cues that need additional clean-up, props or costumes that need to be adjusted, etc. It is usually the first time that actors will practice their curtain calls, as well. The Monday and Tuesday before opening night will be full dress rehearsals as well. If the production is in good shape, the director will usually give everyone the night off on Wednesdays, to relax (and see their families).

The Thursday before opening night is reserved for a free preview. Friends, family and theatre members usually come out to lend their support. This is a good opportunity for the actors to get a sense of how the audience will react to the performance. I can be especially helpful for comedies, when the audience will (hopefully) be laughing, and the actors can fine-tune their timing.

So, although Hell Week can be a somewhat arduous time, both the audience and actors benefit from all of the attention and polish given to the show in the last week of rehearsals. By the time the lights come up on opening night, the cast and crew will be confident and comfortable, and able to give you their best!