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Backstage of the fall play "The Marriage" Drama students share what the Drama Department does to prepare for “The Marriage” All photos by Sarah Young.

In the spotlight

The battered pink couch creaked and groaned as senior Shaurya Arora sank into it, twisting around, splaying his arms across and even kicking his feet up to find the right sitting position to emulate his character. While erratic, each movement was planned and coordinated to accurately portray the character’s anxiety. Arora played as the temperamental and lazy bachelor Ivan Kuzmich Podkolyosin, the titular character for the Drama department’s fall play “The Marriage.” “The Marriage” is centered around Podkolyosin and his friend and matchmaker’s attempts to get him wed to Agafya Tikhonovna.

Arora views himself as a method actor, an actor who incorporates aspects of their character into their daily life. Arora practiced his role by conducting similar character mannerisms both inside and outside class in order to embody the character.

“While everybody's eating, I'd usually just lay down on the couch, get really messy, start scratching myself in the back, stretch out my legs, yawn a lot, mess around with the set [and] play around with people,” Arora said. “[I'd] also talk as if I am Podkolyosin [himself] and I'm not myself anymore — I'm Podkolyosin now. I made a joke that a friend who was acting with me, his name is Kevin Ma, he acts as Stephan in one of the Act One scenes. I just called him Stephan for like three weeks just to make sure that I get myself in character when I'm talking to him.”

For Arora, this role was a change of pace, with the character being more “dynamic” and displaying more than one core emotion. Arora usually plays roles that are of a mostly angry or lazy disposition, so playing a character that shifts as frequently as Podkolyosin proved to be fun yet challenging for Arora.

“[I liked] the emotions because it allowed me to further expand by way of shifting between different emotions when I'm performing in front of people,” Arora said. “It also made me practice my method acting. I like to get into character by doing various things similar to the character. So by doing this play, it made me realize 'Oh, [this is] another way [to express myself]' and how to get into this more of a lazy [and] nervous but angry type of guy.”

Senior Naomi Hahn co-starred as the indecisive and naive heroine Agafya Tikhanovna. While Arora uses method acting to understand his character’s complexities, Naomi believes that forming a connection between herself and her character is essential to understanding the character.

“I just take the time to go through my script and see what are my motivations for all these parts because that helps me understand the person that I'm playing,” Naomi said. “And I kind of outline everything that's happening in the show and how I react to it, versus how she would react to it — just kind of understanding your motivation.”

One of the struggles in connecting with the character Agafya was the age gap, with Agafya being 10 years older than Naomi and the time period being 19th century Russia. For Naomi, a particularly difficult part was making Agafya’s monologue about the problems of marriage sound genuine to the audience.

In order to get a sense of Agafya’s inner struggle on marriage, Naomi tried relating to Agafya with her own stressors and responsibilities in life. Additionally for Naomi, donning the costumes flips a sort of switch for her, which propels her into action.

“I never have a ritual or anything I do before — the costume kind of helps, [it’s] like, ‘Oh, you're someone else,’” Naomi said. “And just knowing that I have to go on in two seconds, so I better change now.”

Advising Agafya as her steadfast aunt was the character Arina, played by junior Dyuthy Ramachandran during the preview showing. Ramachandran had auditioned for both Arina and Fyokla; while not getting either, Ramachandran was able to become the understudy for both. Therefore, Ramachandran, while not being the person who consistently plays a character, was able to fill in for either character. This, however, also amped up the acting difficulty for Ramachandran, with her needing to know the lines of two characters rather than one.

In addition to being an understudy for two characters, Ramachandran also helped out with costuming by doing the majority of the costume repairs. In between scenes when her one of her characters weren’t on stage, Ramachandran helped fix the backings of dresses and mended jackets. Maintaining this balance between acting and costuming was stressful for Ramachandran. In order to understand her characters, Ramachandran tried to create a headspace for them to understand their motives in a similar fashion to Naomi.

“I try to read into the characters motives, what they really want out of this whole play, what they need to do [and] what they want to do,” Ramachandran said. “And then I'm just trying to find memes online that remind me of them and I'm like, ‘Let's see, what does this meme mean?’ but it's just little things [and] figuring out how they relate to other characters.”

Ramachandran’s favorite character was the snappy matchmaker Fyokla who reminded her of a stereotypical aunt who constantly gets drunk during and even off holidays. While Ramachandran found Fyokla enjoyable to play, the amount of lines to memorize and the additional lines of Arina was not easy. To keep up with the two characters, Ramachandran memorized her lines prior to rehearsals and practiced with the other actors.

In addition to line memorization, costuming also helped Ramachandran with characterizing and understanding certain characters personalities, with the clothing acting as a sort of extension for the character’s personality. Of the many clothing pieces used in the play was Ramachandran’s most difficult piece — a rose corset. Her favorite piece was Agafya’s wedding dress.

“It was one of our fastest finds from the loft and me and junior Sachi Roy, who's the costuming lead, had this kind of plan that we'd go to Joanne's and get some gold lace to put on [the dress] but by then it was too late,” Ramachandran said. “But it was really nice to find a really huge skirt and mess around with it a bit.”

After the fall play, the set is taken apart and costumes are retired to possibly be reused for the next. Arora hopes that the fall play was just as enjoyable for those who participated in it as he believes it was for the audience.

“[The] play overall was a great experience for me — I enjoyed working with several other actors,” Arora said. “Not only do I want to make a good impression on them, I want them to create meaningful bonds and relationships with me. I hope that other people for future and upcoming shows also audition so they can get a piece of the happiness or enjoyment or fulfillment that I got from doing this play.”

The art of stagecraft

As actors brush make up on their faces, polish their acts and drill lines into their memories, backstage set team members brush off sawdust from wooden panels, polish wallpaper and drill screws into anchors. Set team lead and senior Jackie Yeung helmed the construction of the set and helped draft the overall layout. Yeung has been the set lead for the past three years, having worked on the set for “Into the Woods” and “Mafia” among many others.

For this set, Yeung drew inspiration from 19th century Russia, aligning the warm brown colors and structure of the set with the time period. Much of the set had an antique look, with fine beige colored detailing on the chair rails, and wooden panelling on the walls, alongside elaborate wall paper to give a sense of elegance.

A challenge with the set this time was the black box, with it being more confined and needing to be both accessible for actors and viewable for the audience. The seating was arranged where the audience was almost on the set, with some chairs even being beneath the window Podkolyosin was to jump through. Adding onto that was maintaining a high quality of detail while still remaining within budget.

“I think the hardest part was for this show, we were introduced to a lot of new decoration methods, because before we were used to doing very large things, but if they're larger [then] they don't have to be as detailed,” Yeung said. “But then for this one, it was smaller and it had to be really detailed. So we had to make sure that everything small had to be good because the audience can see it because [they’re] so close to it.”

One of the new methods the set had to use for the first time was using wallpaper backdrop. To apply the wallpaper, set members painted on a yeast-based glue onto the panels and aligned the thin sheaths of wall paper in order to cover the panels seamlessly. Other detailings included adding on and painting base and chair railings to the floor and ceiling. In keeping with the Russian theme, the colors also needed to be coordinated to match the mood.

“The director wanted, his [Podkolyosin’s] side a certain color, her [Agafya’s] side a certain color, and then we tried to reuse a lot of the colors,” Yeung said. “For example, the floor has a base color and then it also has splotches of the color that we use for his side and her side so that they all kind of go together.”

Sophomore Keenan Peris took charge of set when Yeung was out. Peris helped with assembling the walls and painting the muslin sheets that went up behind the windows. During the construction of the set there were a few issues, a prominent one being the wood order. Peris had a few issues with the order with one incident in particular with a Home Depot truck blocking the office and causing a commotion. Other slight bumps in the construction was warped wood, wood filled with staples and scaling down the set to fit in the black box.

In order to depict the different personalities of the two main characters, the set crew had to try and differentiate the two sides of the room while keeping up with continuity. To establish this, the floor and core color tones of the set were painted similar shades of brown. Peris and other set members spent time matching the wallpaper with the floor and wall colors and accents.

“We had two big themes — there was a dark brown and the light brown and that could represent both sides like his side [because] Podkolyosin’s the guy basically, [is] the one who doesn't want to get married and his house is kind of shabby,” Peris said. “His side was more dark, with the floor we painted all the same, but with the bottom part of the wall, the chair rail we painted that part on a dark brown with light brown like stripes as the rail. Then for the other side, it was inverted so it's just a light brown background dark stripe.”

Sophomore Kira Hahn led the lighting of the play, using light to further establish the difference between the two characters' rooms as well as highlight key moment. Kira helped set up the original lighting arrangement with the help of an MVHS alumni Stephen Migdal, making a few adjustments for this year’s fall play. Kira was in charge of rearranging the positioning of the light, setting up the lighting cues, as well as picking the right tone of light for the mood.

“The hardest part was definitely in the beginning when [Migdal] left because I wasn't used to being on my own, but it took me about a week to adjust and then I realized that I needed to put a little bit more confidence in myself, that I was just as capable as [Migdal] would ever be as well,” Kira said. “Because he's an amazing teacher, I learned a lot from him. It was definitely this confidence struggle in the beginning of not having any of them there, but eventually it just got really easy and it was really thought there was like a lot of different lighting.”

Kira not only helped with setting the mood, but also helped provide visual cues for the audience to look at. Of the many lighting cues was a yellow light near the front to represent a mirror; another was a rosy pink light in the shape of a flower that shone upon Agafya. To get these colors and shapes, Kira used light gels and gobos, stencils placed over spotlights to create a particular image.

“My favorite light cue is when [Arora] or the main suitor, AKA Podkolyosin is trying to find a way to escape from getting married because he realizes that he's not up for it and he's freaking out and it's almost as if a light bulb switches on in his brain,” Kira said. “I do the light cue while he's thinking and it puts a spotlight on the window that he jumps out of and then he sees it. He sees the light focusing on the window and he's like, ‘Oh, like, there's my escape plan.’ And it's really funny — it's really well put together and I always love hearing the audience's reaction when they would see the light flick on and then they'd see him turn to it.”

A warm yellow tinted light was selected for the main spotlights to create a more humorous mood. Kira prior to that lighting initially used a more blue light, but decided to change it due to it making the play seems more tragic rather than humorous. While the lighting remained consistent for most of the plays, there was a slight mishap with the lighting during the fifth showing.

“Our stage right general lightings just turned off, like the quarter just something happened with our twofer, which is a cord that extends it's two separate routes,” Kira said. “ It wasn't that bad since the stage wasn't that dark, but it was definitely noticeable to people who knew how it was supposed to look. So the audience didn't notice it. But my teacher did and I did obviously and so in between. I couldn't change it for that show clearly because everyone was there, but right after the show ended I just swapped the chords out and it worked perfectly fine.”

While Kira was initially uneasy about being in charge of the lights, but having assistants to help out has been a huge confidence boost to Kira. For Kira, lighting is like electrical watercolor and is a means of expressing her creativity on the stage. Kira believes that lighting serves to highlight and convey the emotions of characters, not only by physically shining a spotlight but also by subtly amplifying a specific feeling.

“I have two assistants ... and they were really helpful, when they came around they did stuff and you don't usually find that in a lot of assistants,” Kira said. “Sometimes they don't know what to do and they just stand around and it's a little bit frustrating but they listened to what I said and it was really fun and we got a lot of work done and we were able to joke around so it was really enjoyable to have someone else there to share your kind of love for lights and It was really fun. I really enjoyed working with those two and I'm excited to hopefully work with them for ‘Mamma Mia,’ which is our next musical.”

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Photo by Sarah Young