Photos by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that things can change on a day’s notice. One day you were expecting a packed theater, and the next you’re performing remotely from your living room.
Adapting to what’s thrown at him is something Javier Hurtado, affiliated faculty member and director of Emerson Stage’s The Late Wedding, has been instilling into the production.
“We blocked the entire show and cast members had been rehearsing start to finish with that blocking,” said Hurtado. “Then we were notified that due to COVID restrictions, the seating capacity was reduced to 84 in order to allow for a 5-foot barrier between unmasked actors and a masked audience.”
Blocking is where actors are positioned, including entering and exiting. Hurtado tossed out everything they had rehearsed, and re-blocked the entire show with the cast.
“That’s not a reflection of poor planning on anybody’s part. It’s a reflection of the moment,” said Hurtado. “I went into this process understanding whatever happens might change and it might change drastically, and that drastic change might come immediately, and that’s the moment we’re making theater in.”
The Late Wedding opened September 23 for five shows, and runs through September 26. This is Emerson Stage’s first production with a live audience since the pandemic began.
The show is a group of “disjointed vignettes of marriage and workworn love” by Christopher Chen, with two vignettes directed by students.
Artist-in-Residence and Emerson Stage Artistic Director Annie Levy said the slate of fall season shows were picked with COVID in mind. The shows were chosen in January and February of this year, while vaccinations were slowly rolling out.
“I reached out to four playwrights for our four fall shows and discussed with them, reminded them, that the intention is that we’re going to produce these shows live in a theater,” said Levy. “But if something were to happen, we want to be legally O.K. if we had to switch back to performing online.”
Levy added that they looked for language-dominant plays that emphasized storytelling, and not as much physicality on the stage as perhaps pre-COVID performances.
One thing that remains is the mentoring role Hurtado, Levy, and other professionals bring with them. For Hurtado, the students see how he interacts with stage designers, the stage management team, and actors. Sometimes he interjects during rehearsals with the student directors to discuss things like making sure the stage is balanced, how the scene fits into the larger conversation of the play, and more.
“There are a lot of funny moments in the play and instead of always reaching for the punchline, it’s about how can we add nuance to the work,” said Hurtado. “The student directors are great. They’re constantly refining these scenes. Their scenes get stronger and stronger because they get time to work with the actors and build relationships to solidify their own visions for the scenes.”
Hurtado said the playwright created the play with random things he had written down, and may not have thought that they could be a play alone by themselves.
“What Chen does in this piece, is take these desperate narratives and weave them together with a throughline that constantly asks what does it mean to connect?” said Hurtado. “What does it mean to detach? What does it mean to bond? How big can we define intimacy and connection?”
For the actors, just being back on stage is wonderful, said Jack Miller ’22, who plays a narrator in the show.
“Being back in the rehearsal studio feels very special,” said Miller before the show opened. “The energy is mounting as we’re working toward moving into the theatre and having a live audience, something most of us haven’t experienced for quite a while.”
Hurtado said he has enjoyed being nimble, and the excellent student-led stage management team has answered the call led by stage manager Carter White ’22.
Miller has that same appreciation for everyone involved with the production, adding he learned to not take live theater for granted.
“This particular show is a celebration of the endless possibilities theatre creates for an audience,” said Miller. “Our director, Javier, the crew, and the cast have been working to give the audiences a unique theatrical experience. I can’t wait for people to go on the journey this show takes you on.”