Despite a rollercoaster of sickness and cast rearrangement, the Hillsdale Theatre Department was able to produce and perform its first play of the fall season on time.
With a symphony of crashing vases and glasses, “Blithe Spirit,” a 1941 play by Noel Coward, comedically depicted a man’s deceased wife coming back from the dead and interacting with his second wife.
The production ran from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 3 at 2 p.m. in the Markel Auditorium. It was directed by Michael Beyer, lighting designer and production manager for the Fine Arts Building.
Beyer said that shortly after casting, multiple members of the play got sick.
“We had three out of seven of our cast members and one of my stage managers get COVID,” Beyer said.
The start of the school year limited the amount of time to work on the play, Beyer said, and the cast had only about a month of rehearsal time.
With almost half of the cast sick, the group had to resort to Zoom meetings for a short time, he said.
After some of the cast returned to health, he incorporated a hybrid system of healthy people on the stage, and sick people present through a Zoom meeting online. The cast was not together again until September 16, just a week and a half before the play opened, he said.
“We had to set up a camera on stage to make sure everyone could rehearse,” he said. “They had to interact with someone who was not on stage.”
They also had extra players who helped fill in on stage when cast members were out sick, according to junior Maureen Martin, who stared as Ruth, Charles’s second wife.
“We had some really excellent ensemble players that were able to fill in,” she said.
Martin said the hardest part of her role was having to ignore the presence of fellow actress junior Olivia Kroh, who played Evira, who acted as a ghost.
“It was really interesting having three-sided conversations with Evira on stage,” Martin said. “It’s hard to act opposite someone who you are not supposed to know is on stage.”
The backdrop of the play displayed an air of luxury: a blend of red, pink, and lavender hues accented the stage’s high-class setting. A baby grand piano and a working phonograph rounded off the set.
Junior Dan Brand, the props manager for the play, said he was particularly happy with the showy background set.
“I really liked how the colors came out,” he said.
The theatre department hired two outside contractors to come in and help build for three nights, Beyer said. In addition, Beyer took on a lot of the extra work.
While the backdrop was not finalized until just a day before opening, Beyer said the builders did a great job building the set.
“The scene shop staff stepped up to the plate in a big way,” he said.
Beyer also said a large group of students from Simpson came and volunteered 90 man-hours to help build the set when multiple scene shop crew members were sick. Brant said Simpson residence helped with much of the scenery, which sped up the building process.
“Every hour they volunteered was time I could use to mix paint and work on props,” Brant said.
At the close of the show week, Beyer said he thought the play accomplished its mission.
“Our purpose is to entertain the audience and I think by and large we did that,” he said.
Christopher Matsos, assistant professor of theatre, said he enjoyed the performances of both veterans and newcomers to the Tower Players.
“There was a profound sense of ownership and responsibility among students working on Blithe Spirit,” he said.
Beyer said it was the cast’s initiative and extra work that kept the production on its feet.
“They kept their heart and soul in it,” he said. “I am endlessly proud of the work they put into it.”
Martin echoed Beyer by saying the extra time the production crew devoted to the play paid off in the end.
“Everyone put in so much more work than they needed to,” she said. “It was a much better and more polished production because the cast put the time into perfecting the play.”
Now it’s time to look toward the next production, Beyer said.
“The scenery is gone,” he said. “We are moving on to the next one.”