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Bit by bit,
Putting it together.
Piece by piece,
Working out the vision night and day.
All it takes is time and perseverance,
With a little luck along the way…

There’s no substitute for talent. We held auditions during the first week of classes and saw over 100 students for the 18 roles in the play. We also engaged John Ramsey, perhaps best known for his recurring role on TV’s “Law and Order” but who has had a distinguished career in the theatre, to play the pivotal role of the Narrator. After an excruciating callback audition where Brian and I could have cast some roles three times over, we posted our cast list. We were now ready to begin rehearsals.

The Baker (Phil Haas ’05) and his Wife (Melissa Egan ’04), with a chest of drawers that serves as their baking oven and display case.

I held a week of intense musical rehearsals before Brian began blocking the show, the process of working out where each actor is on the stage at any moment in the play. Blocking is both a technical exercise in people-moving and an art form unto itself: Simply placing actors on stage in “pretty pictures” is not enough to make an effective production. Emotional relationships, dramatic tension between characters, power relationships and much more are communicated to the audience in subtle and unsubtle ways through the blocking of a scene. Blocking takes longer than any other process in the theatre and is the most changeable – sometimes a scene may be blocked two or three times before a director feels that it is “right,” and can then begin to work on other aspects of the scene. This is also a pivotal time for the actors, as they use the blocking process to discover who their characters are through the movement, the text and the music. Integrating the music into the scene also takes time, and sometimes the director and musical director both have to compromise their original ideas about how a scene should work because of the musical demands placed on the actors.

As September became October the show took shape, as did the set and the light hang and focus. Students stayed over the College’s fall break to make sure the set would be completed in time for the first on-stage rehearsal October 17 and I even went down and helped hang doors to make sure we would be ready. I also had a first rehearsal with my orchestra; “Into the Woods” has over 70 musical numbers, as most songs are very short – few last longer than three minutes. We worked as swiftly as we could, but did not finish our work-through of the score in the time allotted to us. I would have to ask Brian for some time in the first rehearsal with the cast.

The art of making art
Is putting it together.

Our first and second technical rehearsals went smoothly. We made our way through the first act, with lighting designer Jen Corman ’03 setting cues as the scenes progressed. Technical rehearsals can be frustrating for actors, as they may wait 20 minutes to speak two or three lines, then wait another 10 before going on with the scene while a light cue is set or a backstage problem is resolved.

On the Saturday before the show opened, we had what’s called a “ten-of-twelve”: rehearsal from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. with two hours off for dinner. It is grueling for everyone involved; actors bring school work to fill time not spent on stage; I always bring a book to read, as well, since the day is devoted solely to finishing lighting cues, working out backstage set and properties movements, and training the backstage crew. At 11:00 p.m. the lighting cues had not been completed; the show would eventually have well over 200 cues and Jen was not yet finished with her work. We were not discouraged, however, as we had two rehearsals on Sunday and one on Monday before the orchestra arrived on Tuesday. Costumes were added Sunday evening and new problems were discovered; one of John Ramsey’s costumes would have to be modified, as you could not see his face when he wore a bushy false beard and moustache.

Jack (Zachary Einstein ’03) talks to his pet cow while his Mother (Marie Ingrisano ’03) listens to an enchanted harp play itself. The cow was made to look like a child’s pull toy that might be found, packed away, in an attic. The harp sounds were supplied by a synthesizer in the orchestra.

As I had told Brian, I needed time with the orchestra on Tuesday before I could work with the actors. The designer continued to refine her cues while I finished my work in the pit; then the actors came to the stage in costume, wearing their microphones for the first time. The first orchestra rehearsal with the cast is critical; for nearly eight weeks they have worked with only the rehearsal pianist and hearing the orchestra can be disconcerting, as piano sounds with which they have become familiar are replaced with the completely different sound of an orchestra. We went through a few songs again and again until the actors were comfortable and levels for the microphones were established by sound designer Paul Theisen. We managed to work our way more than halfway through the show on Tuesday evening and finished it on Wednesday evening. Thursday would be our first full run-through of the show in more than a week, and the first ever with sets, costumes, lights, sound and orchestra!

Before we began the run-though on Thursday night, Tim Averill revealed one last magical effect that had not yet been finished; then we plunged into the show. At 10:45 p.m. the orchestra played the exit music and, after seven months of planning and eight weeks of rehearsal, we were finally ready to open.

On October 25, 2002, the lights went down in the auditorium, the curtain rose, and John Ramsey stepped forward and said, “Once upon a time!” The audience’s journey “Into the Woods” had begun.


Ken Butler is executive assistant to President Helm. He served for 10 years as administrative coordinator for the department of theatre & dance before joining the president’s office staff in August.


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