"Clue: The Play", Colonel Mustard - Ric Swann, community theatre, community theatre companies, Matt Ford, Miss Scarlet - Diana DeSerano, Mr. Boddy - Duane Larson, Mr. Green - Bryant Duffy, Mrs. Ho- the Cook - Zhen E. Rammelsberg, Mrs. Peacock - B.J. Moeller, Mrs. White - Kim Benser, Professor Plum - Keith A. Kenel, RHCR Theatre, Scottish Rite, The Adaptor/Writer- Gregga J. Johnn, The Chief - Troy Powell, The Cop - Brandon McDaniel, The Motorist - James Campen, The Singing Telegram - Madisyn Ford, Wadsworth- the Butler - Elijah Jones, Yvette- the Maid - Alison McDermott
Involvement in community theatre means a lot to me. It is an avenue of expression, an opportunity to go outside my humdrum world, a social scene where the focal point of the group is creative endeavor, a way to mentor, to learn and to just have fun with some of the craziest people I know.
RHCR Theatre is a theatre company started by my friend, Matt Ford. With “CLUE: The Play” Matt thought big and worked hard to create a live theatre adaptation of one of his favorite movies. (The man has the six weapons, candlestick, noose, lead pipe, noose, wrench and revolver tattooed on his body for goodness sake!) As with most community theatre companies RHCR is about creation, not a building. This is a concept that alludes the occasional theatre goer but it is a situation that is far more common than that of larger, older, more established companies who have performance, rehearsal, construction and storage space. Playing with smaller companies such as RHCR has benefits and obstacles that are inherent with less affluent companies, especially when the goal is to make something memorable for the audience.
I think the expression, “Many hands make light work” is axiomatic. The more folks we have involved in a project the less a single individual has to do. When a company is up and coming a lot of the work that is done by staff and an army of regular volunteers still has to get done, which means that more jobs fall to cast and crew. Extra work can be exhausting but extra input, extra sweat equity, makes ownership of the production more tangible and gives it a more pungent flavor and so it was with Clue. Following Matt’s vision the movie was adapted by Gregga J. Johnn as a way to bring a live version of the film to life. Rehearsal was held in one part of town, the set created in another, the costume “department” was a one woman affair and the extensive set was built at an additional location under the auspices of Keith Deffendorfer who then supervised and led its reduction to manageable parts that the cast trucked to the performance space where Keith rebuilt the set in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Scottish Rite Temple performance space. Whew! And that’s not the half of it, as the set was furnished and decorated by borrowing from people’s homes, consignment shops, other theaters and on and on. This show really put the community in community theatre.
All of the extra work made our labor pains more intense and of course as things don’t fall into place it is too easy to allow our less presentable faces to surface and there was more snarling than I usually encounter in a show. (But that’s what families do, right? They bicker and quarrel but then kiss and make up and put the good of the family above bruised egos and pinched feelings.)
The biggest problem CLUE: The Play faced was our incredible performance space. The Scottish Rite Masonic Temple where CLUE played is a beautiful marble building dating from the early 1900’s. At the very onset of our preparations we were able to do two early rehearsals before the set had been created but could not get back into the space until Sunday, November 9th for a show that had a live audience preview on Wednesday, the twelfth. Sunday was a long day of trucking the ranch house that we had built from a location eight miles away and reconstructing it in the Temple. Because the play incorporates a cellar, a first, and second floor as well as an attic in the action Matt made the insightful decision to incorporate a few prerecorded scenes into the on stage action. We filmed perhaps twelve minute of video that were tossed in when action took place in any but the eight rooms of the main floor. This worked great but our short time in the space did not lend itself to thorough technical rehearsals and the video feed and sound system did not “go well.” (To those of us on stage the glitches were a nightmare but preview audience members eagerly awaited the cast after the show’s last dress-rehearsal/ first run to tell us what great fun they had. I guess we in the show were looking for perfection while they just wanted a rousing good time which we gave them in spades.)
Even with the appreciative audience feedback Wednesday night’s preview was a letdown for many of us in the show and the atmosphere in the dressing room prior to Thursday’s opening night was glum and pessimistic. Howling feedback from speakers that are meters away from one’s head do not make for a pleasant nor nuanced performance! Feeling glum and rebellious the cast wanted to mutiny and demand the removal of our microphones, knowing that most of us could easily project well enough that we could be heard in the 400 seat theater. Matt arrived with the news that Scottish Rite’s own sound-man would be at the soundboard’s helm and that all would be well. Disconcerted and with great trepidations we entered the set far down stage and away from the Brobdingnagian speakers and their high pitched monstrous squeals.
Fortunately for all the Scottish Rite sound-man was far more deft with his temperamental instrument than had been his stand in for Tuesday and Wednesday’s rehearsal. We had a few squeals that put shivers down my spine but the sound system, while primitive and cranky, did not turn against us and mutiny as we had been so eager to do to it. We finished Thursday’s show pleased that nothing had gone wrong rather than being happy that things went right but other than an incident where we had an eight pound chandelier fall on Yvette the maids head things got better with each successive show until we were truly happy with Saturday night’s performance and cruised through our Sunday matinee basking in afterglow of contentment.
So why should anyone care and why did I write this? I wrote this because theatre is my family and my hall of worship. It is where I feel most at home, least distracted, most alive and most contented. I am an evangelist of the arts because I know they can enhance lives and believe that each of us has something to offer the world that can make it and ourselves better. For me it’s a stage, what’s out there for you?