Home Uncategorized The men and women behind the curtain

The men and women behind the curtain

BYU-Idaho’s production of “Christmas at Pemberley” premiered Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theater at the Eliza R. Snow Center. The play takes well-known characters of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and shifts the focus from Elizabeth Bennet to Mary Bennet, the middle Bennet daughter.

Oftentimes when we see a theatrical performance, we focus on the performers and what we see on stage. Rarely do we think about the designers, technicians and stagehands who dedicate countless hours to make sure the show runs smoothly. Neither do we think about those who design posters and playbills to entice people to come to the show and make it a night to remember.

During a performance of the musical “Savior of the World,” Ethan Ison, a stage manager and senior majoring in theatre studies, saw technicians working backstage. Ison, performing the play while 12 years old, knew at that moment he wanted to be a theater technician. When he entered junior high and high school, he immersed himself in the world of technical theater. The second he started college at BYU-I, he enrolled in a theater/stage management course.

“The best part is getting to work with the people and getting to know all the little details of how everything actually works,” Ison said. “There’s so much that even the actors don’t even know that happens.”

Stage managers are the central hub of communication, organizing and coordinating everything that happens both during rehearsals and performances. Ison takes notes during design meetings with people such as the costume designer and property master. He runs auditions and rehearsals by recording notes the director gives actors.

“I’m over all of the technical aspects,” Ison said. “I’m not building it or making sure it’s being built. I’m given the props, and given the set and given the costumes, and I work with technicians to train them how to use it all. I make sure they’re doing their jobs right, and I help them by making sure everything runs smoothly, so the actors don’t have to worry about any of that. Then during a performance, I’m calling all the cues (and) telling the lights and the sound when to go. If there were set pieces being moved on and off, I call when those happen.”

The stage manager is involved with the show from when it is first conceptualized to when the curtain closes and the set is taken down.

“My favorite thing about technical theater is being involved but also watching a show progress and build,” Ison said. “You watch it from actors who are just in this small, little space using just wooden blocks to now these beautiful costumes, huge sets, great props and furniture pieces.”

Another important aspect of a night at the theater is the audience. Advertisement of a show is critical for filling seats. Eleanor Mecham, a sophomore studying art, is the designer of the poster and promotional art for “Christmas at Pemberley.” She is a teaching assistant for Kathie Schmid, the costume designer, and a family friend of Steven Schmid, the director of the shows. These close relationships gave her the opportunity to market the show through her art.

“Sister Schmid is really attentive to historical accuracy in her costume designs,” Mecham said. “She sent me all the drawings of the costume designs that she did and pictures of set pieces. I kind of tried to fit the vibe overall, kind of like an old-fashioned illustration with maybe a little bit of my own twist. For the figures themselves, I used the costumes and modified them a little bit so that when people saw the poster then went in and saw the people in the costumes, they would be recognizable.”

Many of those involved with “Christmas at Pemberley” have an interest and previous interaction with the works of Jane Austen.

“I’d say I’m a casual fan of Jane Austen,” Mecham said. “I love the movies. I love all the variations of the movies. I love me some ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ but I’ve never actually read any Jane Austen books. So, I don’t know if you’d call me a true fan.”

Ison feels similar to Mecham.

“I’ve seen the movies,” Ison said. “I’ve read the books, but I’m not like a huge Jane Austen fan. Doing this show has made me appreciate a lot more of the works, the stories and the characters. Before this, I wasn’t fangirling over Jane Austen.”

“Christmas at Pemberley” will resume running performances from Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.

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