ACT actors rehearse off stage, onlineMay 11, 2020
By ALLEN LAMAN
Rehearsed and ready, members of Actors Community Theatre in Jasper were two weeks away from debuting their production of “Escanaba in da Moonlight” when COVID-19 put the weekend of raucous, 90-minute dinner comedies on hold.
A deadly pandemic began to sweep across the country two months ago. So, the local organization postponed its performances, which were originally slated to take the Jasper Arts Center stage from March 26 to 28. Rescheduled dates have not been set.
But the show will go on.
Cast members and directors of the five-actor production are assembling online through video conferences to keep their lines fresh in mind and their spirits high. While the remote gatherings do come with unavoidable challenges, they also allow the group’s closeness to persist from afar.
“It’s a really fun process,” Chris Dixon, one of the play’s actors, said of the team’s burgeoning camaraderie, coalescence and sense of direction over the past four months. “And we all love being a part of it. And that’s why we are so focused on keeping it alive, so we can share it with the community. Because I think after all the hardships that everyone is going through right now, some levity and humor will be just what the doctor ordered, whenever things hopefully calm down. And this show is perfect for that.”
He did admit, however, that the virtual practices present “a much more difficult process to rehearse the show.” Touch is impossible, and simulated interactions and movements just aren’t the same. Connectivity issues and internet lags can disrupt the script’s flow and pace. A couple of weeks of in-person practice prior to the debut will be necessary to tap back into what is being missed right now.
“The show itself, there’s a lot of physicality to a lot of the scenes,” explained Heath Kluemper, who also has a role in the production and also sits on the ACT’s volunteer board. “Especially in that it’s a bit of a farce; it’s a very heavy comedy. And there’s a lot physicality that you just can’t do when you’re by yourself talking to these guys through a computer scene.”
But it isn’t as though the cast was starting from scratch. Members had rehearsed in person for two months before social distancing precautions disrupted and delayed “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” so the weekly run-throughs are primarily aimed at promoting prolonged script familiarity and memory maintenance, while also encouraging the actors to focus on delivering their words with intent.
The production’s set is built. It sits on the arts center stage — costumes resting as well — waiting to be used. At his home in Jasper, Zach Reuber has been using his own props to prepare for his first-ever ACT production.
The 23-year-old man does not drink alcohol, but in one scene, his character helps another shotgun a (non-alcoholic) beer. Reuber wasn’t familiar with the ritual before practices began earlier this year. So, he’s been practicing in his backyard by slicing holes in Dr. Pepper cans and popping the tabs to send the sugary liquid spraying into his mouth.
While it might seem silly, this method acting exemplifies that even though his first ACT part isn’t going how he envisioned, he’s still taking the steps necessary to bring his character to life.
Years removed from his high school performing days, Reuber remembered being nervous when he joined the crew. That feeling dissipated quickly after the cast and leaders met and began to jive.
“Everyone was extremely welcoming with everything,” he said. “They made me feel right at home very, very quickly on. And it’s just a blast. It was a blast rehearsing, it was a blast whenever I found out what part I got and I was able to focus in on that.”
He continued: “It’s all just been very, very fun, along with how serious we’re taking it. It just feels like one big family now.”
This sense of community has persisted, even in the group’s online meetings. Jade Marinin, who co-directs the play with Jasmine Bosler, said that despite the obstacles, the mood at the virtual gatherings is positive.
It brings a bit of comic relief to the ongoing drama playing out in the real world. And Marinin echoed Reuber by saying that the organization’s members make up a sort of second family.
“I think that everyone seems to be pretty elated and happy to see one another,” she said. “It’s fun. There’s always a lot of laughs. This show is hysterical.”
Leadership is waiting to determine when “Escanaba in da Moonlight” will run at the local venue, but Kluemper noted the hope is that it will come to the stage by the end of the summer. Roald Dahl’s “Matilda the Musical” was slated to debut at the Jasper Arts Center in late July, but that production has been delayed to summer 2021.
According to its website, for 70 years, ACT has provided a nurturing environment for area talent, produced quality productions at reasonable prices and instilled in area youth skills that have real-world applications.
The group aims to provide the community with cultural and educational entertainment in all branches of dramatic arts. ACT’s goal is to promote theater as a necessity of community culture through productions, workshops, masterclasses and other theatrical opportunities.
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