Behind the Scenes in Theatre, Writing and Life

Last night, my husband and I went to see Jitters at the Belfry Theatre here in Victoria. We enjoyed several plays there last year, so I bought a subscription this year. Jitters is the story of a small theatre company trying to put on a new play by a young playwright while hoping that the play gets picked up by a New York producer and taken to Broadway. It was two hours with two intermissions, but it felt like the shortest play I’ve seen and we laughed through every act.

Jitters, a play at the Belfry Theatre

One thing that fascinates me about plays is the sets—how a small crew can turn a stage into a completely different place that fits the needs of every act in the play. For Jitters, the whole set turned completely around during the intermissions. For Act 1 and Act 3, we saw “front of house” as the actors rehearse their lines for the upcoming performances; for Act 2, we saw “back of house” as the actors prepare for the opening night of their play (amidst personal and professional turmoil).

That behind-the-scenes look applied to the play as well as the set.  I learned in my drama class last year that the playwright is often intimately involved in the production of his or her play, and that was demonstrated during this play.  I also found out more about what Stage Managers do by the at-first voice-only presence of Nick.  It was interesting to see the characters of the different actors on-stage and off, especially once we’d gotten to know them.

Towards the end of the play, the theatre company reads a critic’s review of their opening night. The critic slams the lead actress but gives high praise to an actor who constantly forgot his lines. Thinking about that, I realized that as the audience, we see only the finished product. We don’t know how the lines were supposed to sound, who came in too early or too late, or who stood in the wrong place. Oh, I noticed a couple places where actors stumbled on lines, but overall, it seemed smooth and flawless.

Similarly, in the writing business, we never see all the work—the rough drafts and rewrites and edits—that go into the short story in a magazine. We never see the translator struggling over a sentence, whether this word stays truer to the original language or whether that word sounds better in the new translation. We never see the author slashing scenes and adding other scenes and crying over their computer at night because the words won’t come together. That all happens behind the scenes, so that what we as readers hold in our hands seems like a perfectly effortless piece of work.

And that, I think, is what we want. We want the reader or the watcher to get so lost in the piece that they don’t think about what went into creating it. There were many jokes in Jitters about art and how art is appreciated in Canada (underpaid actors and underpaid writers!), and yet we still keep doing it. Writers keep writing. Actors keep acting. And translators keep working to ensure that works like the Bible are as relevant and easy to read today as they were to the first people who saw those words on a piece of parchment.

I left the play laughing and yet inspired. It’s a good thing to be able to poke fun at ourselves, to laugh at the things we work so hard at and to appreciate them at the same time.

Have you seen a play (or movie) that inspired your own creativity?

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