Oklahoma! takes on center stage

Kyle McDonald

Musical opens tonight

Tonight, the box office will open for Oklahoma!, the latest production sponsored by the Kent State School of Theater and Dance. But before the ticket stubs can be accepted and the seats filled, months of preparation by students and faculty were necessary to bring the production together.

From beginning to end, the production timeline is around seven to eight months said Eric van Baars, director of the show and assistant professor of acting and movement.

Casting calls and auditions began in November, soon followed by production meetings between designers and van Baars to brainstorm and collaborate on the overall look and feel of the show.

“When we all come together, it’s a very focused time,” van Baars said.

Lighting, blocking, choreography, props, costume, set design, sound and music are all equally important pieces of the puzzle. van Baars said no single aspect stands out as exclusively more important than the rest.

Over winter break, the actors had time to learn their lines while the designers and coordinators made their plans. Once the spring semester started up, it quickly changed to all systems go. Technical production crews and actors alike spent anywhere from 30 to 40 hours per week making sure everything runs smoothly.

Take a stroll through the theater workshop and into the E. Turner Stump Theatre and you’ll see everything from welding, hammering and painting to lighting crews experimenting with different color arrangements and sound technicians firing off gunshot sound effects.

“Really, it’s the designers and the actors who make the magic happen,” said Vanessa Gabriele, stage manager for Oklahoma!. “That’s what takes you to that time and place.”

Gabriele’s stage manager responsibilities involve a lot of coordinating with the directors, designers and actors, making sure every aspect goes according to plan.

“In my opinion, sound, spot lighting and management are the three most difficult things,” said Steve Meshenberg, standing over a soundboard covered in knobs and sliders. “They’re so manual. There’s no computer that can do this.”

Meshenberg, a lighting and sound technician for Oklahoma!, discussed many technical aspects from the approximately 250 lights that take more than a week to program, to the ins and outs of sound mixing for cohesiveness.

Designing the wardrobe is another detail that can’t go overlooked. Mandy Swing and Molly Walz collaborate as co-costume designers for the show, and created two or more costumes for the more than 30 characters in the show.

“I like the amount of teamwork involved combining history and psychology to create something that’s worn,” Swing said.

To create a genuine feel for the time period, the costume designers researched various photos and artwork from the western time period.

Any number of things can go wrong during a production, technical or not. Meshenberg recalled a past instance when two audience members fell down a flight of stairs minutes before a show started.

“With every show, there’s going to be technical difficulties,” Gabriele said. “You just have to be on your toes and be able to fix them.”

Altogether, there was a sense of confidence among the cast and crew during the final days of preparation.

“Tackling the show in the small amount of time we’ve had is huge especially since it’s a pretty big show,” said Carson Ross, the actor whom plays Curly, one of the main characters.

Ross has grown fond of the play through the many rehearsals.

“There’s this endearing thing about the innocence of everyone in this show,” Ross said. “Everyone is so innocently involved in their community. It’s a cute love story.”

Contact performing arts reporter Kyle McDonald at [email protected].