Clear Space Theatre readies for 3 shows
Gray Hughes, email@example.com (delmarva.now)
The whole theater is in a whirl.
Actors are running their lines to one another in the lobby area. The choreographer is on stage making sure every movement is perfect. The people in the box office are busy working on Clear Space Theatre's summer 2016 repertory.
Throughout all this, the young actors, many of whom are still in college, find time to just be themselves, whether it be perfecting a flip or just having a conversation with a fellow actor.
It's just another day at Clear Space in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
The theater, which was established in 2004, has shown productions ranging from “Grease” to “Camelot.” This season, Clear Space Theatre is putting on three different productions: “Shrek,” “Chicago” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” Each is produced twice a week.
The productions have a mix of people, both young and old. Some of the actors have studied at Syracuse University, some are veterans of the stage and some are still in middle school. The actors hail from all over the nation, from California to the Delaware coastal area.
The company chose three very different musicals to put on this summer.
“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” is set with music from the 1980s and describes the journey of two men in drag and a transgender person as they journey across the Australian Outback on a bus named Priscilla.
“Chicago,” one of the most popular and successful Broadway shows in American history, is set with in the 1920s with jazz music and details a murder trial during the Roaring '20s in Chicago.
"Shrek" is based on the DreamWorks Pictures movie, detailing the life of an ogre who sets off on a journey to save his beloved swamp while finding love along the way.
The company rehearses all day to prepare for the upcoming season, beginning in the morning with “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” moving to “Chicago” in the afternoon and finishing up with “Shrek” at night.
It is hard work, and 20 of the 34 actors this summer are what theater owner Wesley Paulson call “the core cast,” which means these actors appear in all three plays for a total of six plays in a week.
As actors prep for the upcoming season, a two-man crew is hard at work preparing the scenery for the upcoming season. Pieces for the set includes a three piece bus for “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” which comes apart to give the audience a glimpse of what is happening on the bus. The two work in the hallways to ensure the performers are not disturbed.
The stage at Clear Space Theatre is unlike most stages. The stage is not set back from the audience; rather, it juts into the audience, giving those sitting along the side an unusual vantage point.
On a rainy June morning, the cast members are finishing up blocking (choreographing where they will be on stage) for “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” which is the first show to open up the season and begins performances on June 23.
The man behind it allWhile rehearsal is going on, Paulson sits in his office.
“Today was the first day that we get to work with the younger kids,” Paulson said.
Paulson then explained how Clear Space Theatre selected 15 of its cast members for the upcoming season.
“It’s what they call ‘straw hat’ auditions in New York,” Paulson said. “It is a single point open audition attended by theaters such as Clear Space. Every 90 seconds a new person comes across the stage. Some will get called back for dancing and singing auditions.”
Paulson said he is very excited for the upcoming season.
“In the summer," Paulson said, “we have more diverse casts so we can do more diverse shows.”
The process performers use to prepare for the productions is not easy. Some of the actors have parts in all three productions and must maintain a balance to ensure everything goes smoothly in each. Paulson said Christopher Peterson, the lead in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” also performs in a show at Clear Space Theatre called “Eyecons,” where Peterson does impersonations of some of Broadway’s most successful female performers.
The grizzled veteranAs some of the performers practice their parts for “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” Daniel Carney, who plays Bob in the production, explains what his production is about.
“It is about two drag queens and a transsexual who are in the Australian Outback,” Carney said. He explains how his character meets the three travelers in the wilderness.
Carney, who is just working on this one production, doesn’t struggle with memorizing lines and choreography, saying those things come naturally to him.
“To me, the hardest part is perfecting the Australian accent,” Carney said.
Carney is a veteran of Clear Space Theatre. He has appeared in “Seussical,” “Little Women: the Musical,” “The Full Monty,” “Oliver!” and many more. He has performed on stages from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, appearing in community and dinner theaters across the nation.
"It's refreshing to see a season with such different shows," Carney said, adding that, since he is only working one show, he is looking forward to being a spectator at more shows.
A woman of many rolesDevon Frieder is hard at work preparing for the upcoming season.
She appears in all three plays, as a Diva and Marion in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” Roxie Hart in “Chicago” and the Sugar Plum Fairy, Queen Lillian and part of the ensemble in “Shrek.
Frieder is also in charge of the choreography in “Chicago,” as well.
“The choreography is wonderful and I get to work with some wonderful actors and dancers that do (the choreography) justice,” Frieder said.
Frieder added it is hard to keep all three plays in her mind at once.
“It really pushes you to be on top of your game at all times,” she said.
Frieder, who holds a degree in musical theater from the Boston Conservatory, said she started choreographing the moves for “Chicago” two months ago, before she even started rehearsing for the plays.
“Now, the dances are set,” she said. “It’s a relief because I can now focus 100 percent on my roles.”
Frieder, despite her many roles and the fact she is in her second season with the Clear Space Theatre, said at the end of every day, she still has to clean like the rest of the cast.
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Queen of the musicAt the heart of every great musical there is a great musical score.
Normally, these scores incorporate a large orchestra, however, for Melanie Bradley, music director for “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Shrek," there is only herself.
“What is challenging,” Bradley said, “is bringing as much music to the score as possible. I have to make it sound like more is going on.”
Bradley plays piano for these productions and will be doing so four nights a week this summer.
“You have to make sure each show has the style it’s supposed to have,” Bradley added.
Bradley performs up in the loft of the Clear Space Theatre, giving her a good vantage point to see what is unfolding below her.
“I love seeing it all come together,” she said. “It’s really fascinating to see it all come together from above.”
More than a costume designerMary O’Neill, more than anyone else, is a woman who wears many hats.
O’Neill plays the role of Matron Mama Morton in “Chicago.” She also designed all the costumes for “Chicago” and “Shrek” and is the box office manager, doing promotional work.
“I work a lot of hours each week,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said she has never been classically trained in sewing or costume design.
“I just pull it off,” she said. “‘Chicago is much easier. I can go online and pick and choose things to use. But ‘Shrek’ is hard since it is set in a fairy tale. ‘Chicago’ is real life. But for ‘Shrek,’ I have to design and create many of the costumes from scratch.”
However, O’Neill said the kids she works with makes it all worth it.
“They’re unbelievably talented,” O’Neill said. “They are absolutely fantastic and amazing singers, dancers and actors.”