The process and development of UD’s “Our Town” Mainstage

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An actor’s inside view

For Spring 2024, the University of Dallas has decided to tackle “the great American play,” “Our Town.” This is a momentous task; “Our Town” has a reputation for capturing the essence of American culture and presenting life in a way that is profoundly deep but also comforting and familiar. To achieve this, the UD Drama Department has put in a substantial amount of work.

The time commitment involved for any Mainstage is quite staggering. We spend roughly three hours a night in rehearsals on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and another three midday Sunday throughout the semester.

First, the actors used part of the first week of rehearsals to research their respective characters. This work is not only for the benefit of the actor in particular, but also for the company as a whole. The little city of “Our Town,” Grover’s Corner, is close-knit and intimate; all of the characters have deep relationships with everyone and all of the actors must know the history and hidden drives of the people they interact with.

Next, the actors begin memorizing their lines, with every actor using different tips and tricks for memorization. Some like to repeat their lines again and again, while others study their character’s speaking style to help the words flow off the tongue better. My personal favorite is writing out the first letter of the words and working off of those.

The lines of the character “Stage Manager”, played by junior drama major, Sienna Abbott, make up roughly 50% of the entire play. In order to memorize all those lines, Abbott is constantly reciting her lines before, during, and after rehearsal.

The author, Thornton Wilder, created the Stage Manager as a link or bridge between the audience and the world of the play. During the research stage, we came to the conclusion that Stage Manager serves as a Virgil-like guide. Abbott has experimented with Stage Manager as a storyteller, historian, and even as an omniscient ‘god.’

When working with delivery, Stefan Novinski, chair of the Drama Department, has many techniques to help us out. When an actor is too quiet, Novinski makes them say the line in question three times, rising in volume each time until the actor is audible throughout the space.

Lastly, the behind-the-scenes, set and costume design and managerial work put into “Our Town” is incredible. “Our Town” is famous for its lack of set and scene design. The actors need to learn how to properly mime simple, everyday actions. Marcelle Van De Voorde, a senior drama major, and Alice Forget, a junior drama major, learned how to cook New England breakfast; Ben Thomas, a junior drama major, perfected the art of pushing a lawn mower; Maggie Sonne, a freshman English major, became an expert at newspaper throwing.

The lighting, sound and costume teams have all been hard at work this semester. But the glue holding all this together is our amazing production stage manager Chloe Shearer, a junior psychology major, and her assistant managers. They run the entire scheduling, planning, and organization necessary to make sure a Mainstage goes smoothly.

Every UD Mainstage is a huge commitment for everyone involved, but in the end, our struggles are not in vain. The beauty of life that “Our Town” highlights is mirrored in the rehearsal space with everyone from the director to the lead actors to the crew members working to create a piece of art.

For more information on “Our Town,” look out for the Onstage magazine, published usually a week before Mainstage opens. “Our Town” opens April 4th-13th. Tickets are free for UD students and faculty and staff and we accept many walk-ins. More information will be given out by the Drama department in the next few weeks as we move into the final stages of rehearsal.

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