Behind the curtain of “The Drowsy Chaperone”
Parkland Theatre’s latest production is a whimsical musical titled “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The musical is told from the perspective of “Man in Chair.” The fourth wall is broken repeatedly to create a sense of conversation between the audience and the narrator.
“Man in Chair” is encased in a pseudo-apartment setting to the left of the stage. Much of the musical is told through his narration as he simultaneously listens to it on a vinyl record.
This Parkland Theatre production does not utilize the new Second Stage. Instead, it highlights the benefits of the larger, proscenium style main theatre.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” is arguably one of Parkland Theatre’s bigger productions as of late. There is a small orchestra of around 10 people front stage complete with their very own music director.
Along with the music director there is Director J.W. Morrissette and Assistant Director Olivia Bagan. Morrissette has been involved with Parkland productions for 16 years and with theatre in general for even longer.
Morrissette was able to provide a brief synopsis of the production and some background information.
“’The Drowsy Chaperone’ is a loving homage to the musicals of the 1920s. This was an era of showgirls, jazz, and the transition for many from vaudeville. This show features a contemporary musical fan taking the audience through his favorite show- the imaginary drowsy chaperone. His serves as the conduit between the show and the audience,” Morrissette explained. “Within the drowsy chaperone itself we have a delightful tale of a star of the staging deciding to give up the greasepaint and settle down into what she believes will be her storybook ending of a marriage. Her producer doesn’t want her to give up the spot light and hilarity ensues as he tries to stop the wedding.”
While many productions may be captivating, audiences sometimes lose sight of the immense amount of work that goes on behind the scenes. Weeks of choreography, practice, costume, and set design all go into the performance. The director’s vision is ultimately what steers the production into a certain direction but that is not done alone.
“My job is really, at the most basic level, to help an audience understand and enjoy a great story,” Morrissette stated. “We have a team of designers each responsible for different elements. There is a lighting designer, a set designer, a sound designer, a props designer, a costume designer, a stage manager, a stage crew- all of whom are responsible for the technical elements of the show. Each of them is an artist in their own right but they combine forces to make the overall production.”
For the production of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Morrissette has his former student Olivia Bagan working alongside him as Assistant Director. Bagan is a Theatre Studies major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has written and directed several of her own productions.
Bagan has learned a lot while being a part of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and discussed some of the more difficult learning experiences of putting on a musical.
“When it comes to a musical there a lot more people to collaborate with when compared to a nonmusical production. Trust is a big thing and you have to count on stage managers, music directors, and choreographers,” Bagan stated. “The rehearsal process is structured differently as well. Music and choreography often take precedence over acting scenes.”
Bagan is in her senior year and has been working with Director J.W. Morrissette since her freshman year. He gave her a good deal of responsibility during the production process.
“I’ve tried to add helpful insights and help communication between J.W. and anyone else. At times I would pull actors aside to critique certain aspects of their performance. As J.W. always says, managing relations is a huge part of the overall process,” Bagan explained.
Productions done by the Parkland Theatre can be referred to as “Community Theatre.” That is wherein the production company pulls actors, crew, designers, etc. from around the community. Parkland Theatre strives to include as many Parkland students as possible.
One such student is general studies student Chandler Dalton. Her role is prop shifter in this production. Dalton has been a part of musicals and plays for four years.
Dalton described some of the more challenging aspects prop shifting and backstage production.
“Moving the bigger props backstage without being really loud is tough because there is usually a scene going,” she said. “Our work behind the scenes is just as difficult as the actors’ that are onstage. I really enjoy getting to work with so many talented people.”
As important as performances and musical numbers are, what the actors are actually wearing is very important as well. Costume design is a necessary component in making the actors appear believable to the audience. Since “The Drowsy Chaperone” is set in the 1920’s many of the costumes are representative of that era and evoke a sense of nostalgia for the past.
Malia Andrus is the Costume Designer for this play. Andrus is also a faculty member in the theatre department and manages the costume shop, a workshop students can use to learn sewing skills and help create the wardrobe for productions.
Her sewing experience goes back to when she was a child but the first show she designed entirely was in 2008. Andrus explained some of the main aspects that went into costume design for “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
“Costume design is a mashup of expressing character and theme through clothing, historical and regional accuracy, and technical garment construction skills. This show had a lot of all three! Period work for musicals is always a challenge, as you can’t just walk into the store and purchase a dress from the 1920s. In this show we also had a call for some special-effects costumes,” Andrus remarked.
Andrus has been a part of ten Parkland Theatre productions. She acted in three and costume designed in nine. Her love of the history of clothing and theatre is ultimately what drew her to costume design. She does all the costume designing but has some assistance with the stitching due to volunteers and theatre students.
“I do all the designing, strictly speaking: with the approval of the director, I decide what each character will wear and when. For costume builds and alterations, I luckily have some help because there is a lot of work that goes into costumes, especially for large shows,” Andrus said. “I have two wonderful local women who work for me as stitchers. But I also supervise theatre students in the practicum course, and they provide help in the shop and backstage, where they learn the basics of costume construction and running wardrobe. And finally, I couldn’t have survived many shows without community volunteers, who have pitched in a critical times.”
“The Drowsy Chaperone” has several shows still left. Friday, April 24, 2015 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, April 26 at 3 p.m., Thursday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. which is “Half-price Night,” Friday, May 1 at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday May 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Ticket prices are as follows: Adult- $16, Student and Senior- $14, Youth- $10, and Groups of 15 or more- $12. Reservations can be made beforehand at theatre.parkland.edu/drowsy.html.