Our Dear Friends in Little Theatre

By Janelle Harb
Features Layout Editor

 

Little Theater's cast during rehearsal of Dear Friends.

Little Theater’s cast during rehearsal of Dear Friends.

The Canisius College Little Theatre will be performing their second play of the year, Dear Friends, written by Reginald Rose, and directed by Maria Ta, this weekend in the Marie Maday Theatre in Lyons Hall. The story centers on three couples who stage an intervention for an estranged pair of their friends and their crumbling marriage. The separated couple arrive independently to the gathering, unaware of the intentions of their friends to try and reunite them.  Once they discover the motivation for the party, the two attempt to leave, but stay only to discover the true nature and hidden secrets within the other couples’ relationships through a series of flashbacks.

“At first I thought it was going to be easy [to pick a show],” said Ta. “I could just pick something I liked right? Wrong! I had to figure out what I could narrow it down to, so I proceeded to spend the entire summer scouring the Internet for contemporary plays that were dramatic and had a sizable number of women in the cast. After having a list of over 20 plays, I narrowed it down to plays that really spoke to me in terms of the inner lessons that came with them. All this work led me to Dear Friends, a story that captured my heart in a multitude of scary ways.
“I chose Dear Friends because the story rang most true in my heart,” Ta continued, “seeing as how it’s my senior year, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my life experiences thus far and especially on the relationships lost and found. Dear Friends is a story that any one of us can connect to even though it’s about middle-aged married couples and I find so much beauty in that.”

“Directing is such a weird experience for me personally,” Ta explained. “I have never been good at making final decisions because I am always looking for contributions from other people. Being a director has forced me to come up with my own vision and it’s taught me that I can actually have things my way in a non-selfish way. People literally ask me questions only I have the answers to and I still catch myself asking someone else what they think. Old habits die hard.”
“The thrill that comes from directing is different from the thrill from acting,” Ta went on to explain. “Directing allows you to see something you make up in your mind literally take shape before your eyes. I remember crying when the set was put up and I couldn’t really tell you why because you would have to feel it to understand. I guess it’s similar to going to Disney and seeing your favorite character in person.”

As per usual, Little Theatre works hard to produce every show they take on in the highest quality possible. Once the cast has been decided, read-throughs and rehearsals start immediately.  “Rehearsals have been going great. In my four years at LT, this is probably the smoothest a show can go,” Nicolette Navarro, who plays Vivian Spears, a wife in one of the seemingly “normal couples,” said. “We had the whole show blocked in two weeks, and we have been running it ever since! That does not happen! Normally we run the show maybe two to three nights before we open,” Navarro continued.
“The process is very different, because while we are acting, we are doing a lot of character development. We go into this semi-hypnotic state where we experience what our character feels, or lives, and see their memories. It’s so creepy when Conor [Shea], my husband in the show, and I have the same ideas or memories. It happens with all the couples,” Navarro explained.

“Rehearsals have been going really well,” Gianna Romanelli, who plays Sally Lambert, another half of a couple attempting to help her friends, agreed. “Everyone has been working so hard to memorize lines and their blocking. We’ve been having a blast these last four weeks. I, for one, love this show and the cast because were are so focused and passionate about the play, but we also still find time to bond and have fun.

Dear Friends runs Dec. 3rd, 4th and 5th.

Dear Friends runs Dec. 3rd, 4th and 5th.

“The rehearsal process itself runs in three stages,” Romanelli continued, “first we have the read through; second we block the stage movements; third we memorize lines and run the show over and over, making little changes along the way.”

“Maria Ta, our amazing director, is giving us a new method of character development,” Romanelli said, explaining the rehearsal process. “Normally I spend about 10 minutes staring into a mirror saying my lines and watching my facial expression naturally and kind of work of off that. Maria uses a kind of interpersonal-hypnosis method. She has us close our eyes and prompts us to release our idea of self and “step into the skin” of our character. From there she has us think about moments in our character’s life: their likes, dislikes, and more. What I love about this method is that it allows us to develop character beyond the play itself.”

In addition to being one of the leads in the show, Navarro is also one of the producers.

“Normally being a producer and actor is a lot, but with a great co-producer, Callie Keavey, and an amazing director, Maria Ta, it makes my job super easy,” Navarro stated. “I have to do my job onstage, but also make sure everyone on production staff is informed and know what they are doing. They are both extremely different jobs,” Navarro went on to explain.
“I have been an actor for a long time, so I guess that is my preference. I love working onstage and developing a character and a show from the ground up with my fellow cast members. Producing is great too because I get to work with all of the production staff and help them with whatever they need so the show goes smoothly.”

As a student directed and produced show, it is up to them to help each other become better actors and actresses. “I don’t think that acting is easy or hard,” Navarro stated. “It is a process. There are difficult parts, like memorizing lines and blocking, but in order to get to the great parts like working with a cast and developing a relationship with your character – that comes once the ‘hard’ part is done.”

“The easiest part [of directing] is that your job is over once the lights go up on opening night,” Ta stated. “My cast keeps asking me why I’m not freaking out with opening night being so close and it’s because at this point it’s out of my hands. Once opening night comes it’s all up to them and I can just sit back and enjoy the show for what it is.

“The hardest part [of directing] would be the amount of planning that is involved which sounds cliche but having to know every detail of the play is very taxing,” Ta continued. “Things like what kind of flower should Vivian have or how should Doug hold his wife in this scene are things you don’t really think about until it happens. You kind of have to trust in your own instincts and run with it.”

In keeping with the tradition of every Little Theatre show, the cast and crew pride themselves on building their own sets and props, with help from a few professionals. For this show, the set consists of an enormous window spanning most of the apartment-like setting.  “Techs are great, we built the set in two days,” Navarro said. “For this upcoming week we just have to paint, and finish everything else up. It is a very minimal set, but it looks amazing because of our wonderful tech directors: Rhys Watson, Nick Morelli, and Conor Shea.”

As a result of their long days and nights together rehearsing and building sets, it’s impossible for the cast and crew not to create extremely close bonds with one another.  “The cast is the best part of this show,” Navarro stated. “I have seen a lot of people grow and become great actors. This is a different show than LT is used to. We typically do comedies, this is a drama, it’s real life, and the cast has really stepped up and delivered.”

“I’ve been in LT for three years now, and it’s been the best three years of my life,” Romanelli added. “This club has allowed me to make so many new friendships and opened doors to so many new experiences. Theatre in general is a passion of mine and to share it with others who love it as much as I do is so rewarding. LT is a big happy family that’s constantly expanding and I’m truly blessed to have my LT family,” Romanelli affirmed.  

Dear Friends will be performed on Dec. 3rd and 4th at 8 p.m., and Dec. 5th at 2 p.m. in the Marie Maday Theatre in Lyons Hall. Admission is free, and to reserve tickets, call 716-888-7824 or email LTclub@canisius.edu.

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