Waiting for that moment

Chambersburg Community Theatre players rehearse for the real thing

Chambersburg Community Theatre players rehearse for the real thing

August 29, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

A steep, narrow flight of creaky hardwood stairs opens up into The Gallery, a cramped rehearsal space when compared to the spacious Capitol Theatre stage a floor below.

Inside, a handful of Chambersburg Community Theatre performers have gathered to prepare their latest production, a frothy comedy recounting the introduction of an actress to a Vermont hamlet inhabited by oddballs and misfits.

Raggedy red scripts in hand, the troupe studies lines and shoots the breeze in a side enclave before director Jeff Wine calls the evening to order.

White legal pad and pen in hand, he watches as his actors run a scene. Flubs fly freely between actresses Trish Keifman, Sally Herritt and Ann Davis, often punctuated by character-breaking giggles and a steady stream of line prompts from Wine and assistant stage manager Kenny Nunn.


On stage may very well be "A Bad Year for Tomatoes," but this late August rehearsal is proving to be a bad night for memorized lines.

"It's the first night without the book," shrugs actress Sally Herritt. "If you hadn't noticed."

Such are the growing pains associated with bringing any theater production to life. Gathering a few times each week since early July, the small group plugs away in preparation for a Sept. 12 premiere.

Earlier in the process Wine was more concerned with blocking, figuring out exactly where each actor should sit or stand within a scene. The challenge now is to refine their rhythm, timing and pacing, the nuances that will bring the show to life.

"I prefer not to bother actors until the scene is over because it ruins their concentration," the sometime-actor-turned-director says. "And if the scene is going real well and I can see the characters, I don't want to interrupt them."

Faced with a tight budget and a tiny stable of backstage help, Wine's directorial duties only scratch the surface of his involvement.

Also charged with costume and set design, he's spent many hours trolling for items to create the appropriate atmosphere for Beaver Haven, the setting of John Patrick's comedy.

Ideas rush at him at all hours. Lunch hours are spent searching thrift shops. A quest for a sheriff's costume also yielded extra pieces of jewelry and a colorful chair that caught his eye.

And he's far from the rule's exception. Keifman recruits her family to record a tape of each play she performs to help learn her lines. Whichever child happens to wind up in the passenger seat of the car will inevitably end up running lines with her.

Long speeches are tough - because of the volume of text requiring memorization - but in their own way so are simple one-liners.

"People think they're the easiest but they're really the hardest," she says. "You have to remember them because there's someone who's got to play off it."

In The Gallery, devoid of any real scenery, actors are making due with playing off makeshift set pieces, such as the piano bench standing in for a table. The room is home to a vase of Keifman's, plus a table that has for the time being gone missing. James Wright has supplied his own rocking chair.

Herritt, CCT executive director, will often wear her character's shoes during rehearsal; it helps her become comfortable assuming her stage persona. In "Tomatoes," she's also had to dust off a long-discarded hobby.

"This one, I had to relearn how to knit," she says while her character is off set. "Oh, it's been 25 years since I did and it came back pretty quickly. And it doesn't have to look that great. If I drop a stitch no one will know."

Learning new skills, recalling old ones and making due by any means necessary is a fact of life for this or any performance. A 20-year veteran of community theater, Herritt says she takes it for granted that the unexpected is expected.

Heck, she was surprised when Wine supplied her costume for the show.

"You just expect you're going to raid somebody's wardrobe," Herritt says. "A few props will come from my house, too, but because we don't have big budgets we have to beg, borrow and steal. Well, we don't steal. We do beg and borrow."

Despite the evening's snags, Wine says rehearsal is right on schedule, with everything on track to be prepared when the company moves downstairs to the Capitol Theatre stage four days before the curtain rises.

Of course, moving day will provide its own unique blend of challenges.

Thanks to a more expansive stage, marks will change; so will pacing. And while actors have been pretending to ascend/descend stairs and bust through doors in The Gallery, they will have a precious few days to master the real thing on stage.

"It's like starting all over again, so if we don't have it all down perfectly we have to work on it plus get used to the stage," Wine says. "It's a whole new world."

Already, the troupe looks forward to spreading out on the more expansive work space.

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