This past weekend, M-A Drama opened their fall play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The show follows 15-year-old Christopher Boone, played by sophomore Kealy Bryman, as he tries to find out who killed his neighbor’s dog. With a sold-out opening night and two other packed shows, hundreds of community members have already seen the show. However, not many of them know what happens behind the curtain on performance day.
As the stage manager of the show, I’m in charge of keeping things running smoothly, calling technical cues, and managing the Tech Crew. I’ve been in the Tech Club for all four years of high school, running the lighting board for my previous shows with M-A Drama. This is the first show where I’ve taken on stage managing, and while it’s a big commitment, it’s a worthwhile one.
Some cast and crew arrive at call-time–an hour and a half before the show–but some come extra early. Crew can be spotted mopping the stage, turning on lights and projectors, double-checking props and costumes, and setting up the lobby. Personally, I get headsets and the sound system set up, and make sure everything is working and everyone is there.
Backstage, the cast is just as busy. You can find some running around to check props, practice lines, or filming TikToks, but most will be in their dressing room putting on costumes or doing makeup. “I usually take some deep breaths and take care of those around me, then try to get into the headspace of the character,” said junior Ryan Dyer, who plays Cristopher’s father, Ed.
If not onstage or in the dressing rooms, cast and crew can be found in the green room, a small backstage area where the company can eat, drink, and relax for a moment amidst the chaos of the show.
In addition to getting things ready for the show, rituals are an important aspect of preparing for each performance. Both the boys’ and girls’ dressing rooms have highly-secretive rituals that have been M-A Drama traditions for many years, as well as a company ritual that everybody gathers onstage to do. “Before the show, everyone in the boys’ dressing room holds hands in a circle, and every night, one of the older cast members gives a speech,” said senior Jace Furman, who plays Roger.
“My favorite ritual is the chant,” said Barker, describing the company-wide ritual where the cast and crew come together in a circle and repeat a chant, bringing the energy higher and the circle tighter to the point of screaming the chant in each other’s faces. “It just feels so unifying and gets everyone excited to do the show.” For me and the three others at the tech table, our pre-show ritual just consists of playing solitaire as the audience files in.
Once the pre-show tasks and rituals finish up, the crew opens the house. Audience members walk past the tech table and are greeted by calm music, soft lighting, and a projection of an outline of a dog, one of the most important images in the show. Behind the stage, actors and crew hurry to get last-minute adjustments to hair and makeup done, recite lines, or relax. Then the show starts.
Being a black box theater–meaning that the audience is in chairs on the stage, surrounding three out of four sides of the performance space–The Curious Incident offers some unique challenges. Junior Bennett Zadig, who is the show’s lighting tech said, “The main challenge of having the play in a black box theater is definitely organizing movement, both for cast and crew. Moving around before, during, and after the show without the audience noticing requires us to be as silent as possible, even in the back hallways.”
The black box setting provides even more obstacles from an actor’s perspective. “One of the biggest challenges about doing it in this style is figuring out how to position yourself. You want as many people as possible to be able to see your face when onstage, but it’s almost impossible to make sure all of them can,” said Furman. “Plus, you have to think about how to make a good-looking stage that is different from a normal theater.” For me, the biggest challenge is not being able to run tech from the proper booth and instead working at a table in close proximity to the audience.
“It can be fun to have the extra challenge. It opens the door for a lot more freedom and creativity in how you choose to move or stage the scene because now you have three different sides you can try to play to,” Furman continued. Barker added, “It is super cool that the audience can actually see the emotions, lights, sounds, and props up close.”
The Curious Incident is a unique and complex show from the outside, and is even more so behind the scenes. “I think something that the audience often under appreciates is how much work goes into building the set. Our set for this show is fairly simple, but it still required a lot of careful thought and hard work from M-A’s set builder Aaron Grinstead and the tech crew,” said Furman. “Something I think goes under-appreciated is that students did a lot to help with blocking [how the actors are positioned on stage], costumes, prop organization, and set building,” added sophomore Natalie Andeen, who plays the Duty Sergeant along as the London police officer.
The Curious Incident has three performances left, all of which are sold out. For a deeper look behind the scenes of M-A Drama, make sure to follow @bearstagedrama on TikTok and Instagram where a different company member takes over the account for each performance day to show what their routine and backstage traditions are.