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Produced by National Arts Centre Théâtre français
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© Simon Ménard
Michel Bérubé and Valérie Cantin in Au moment de sa disparition by Jean-Frédéric Messier, Théâtre le Clou, 2000.

Title: Au moment de sa disparition

Production: Théâtre le Clou, 2000.

Playwright: Jean-Frédéric Messier

Director: Benoît Vermeulen

Lighting: Mathieu Marcil

Set design and maquettes: Raymond-Marius Boucher

Video production: Benoît Prégent and Jean-Philippe Rossi

Music: Sylvain Scott.

Putting on a play: step-by-step

The dream

An idea has been simmering in the back of your mind for quite some time and it’s becoming an obsession. Day and night you dream of strange characters, multi-coloured costumes, high emotions and cheering audiences. You dream of theatre, of putting on a show that bears your mark. You have things to say and you want to share them. So go for it! If you have a strong desire to do it then you already have the basic ingredient that you need to jump right in. Passion and enthusiasm are your strongest assets in making this dream a reality.                                            

The team

Putting on a play takes a great deal of work, organization and time. From the page to the stage, there are challenges to be met in producing a play. You must find a team, a script, a theatre; build sets, make costumes, organize rehearsals, and direct the actors. But where do you begin?

You must start by sharing your dream. Tell anyone and everyone about your plan. Someone may know someone who knows someone who… In other words, word-of-mouth works! If people seem interested in getting involved then let them know that you are open to new opinions and ideas. Emphasize the fun you will have working together. A great team is formed when people pool their talents (and make compromises!) to achieve a common goal.

The theatre director guides the vision for the creative team’s work. The division of tasks for this team should match, as much as possible, each contributor’s interests and aptitudes. Appoint people to take charge of sets, costumes, music, etc. but emphasize that everyone should pitch in where needed, including painting sets and cleaning the brushes afterward!

The venue           

Once your team is in place don’t wait to establish a performance date and venue. The dream suddenly becomes very real when you start inviting people to the show! Knowing exactly how much time you have to prepare for the big night provides a healthy dose of motivation (and sometimes a bit of anxiety!) for the whole team.

When looking for a venue, turn to your community. Ask for support from your school, community centre, or youth centre, as they may be able to lend you working space or an auditorium. Persevere and you will discover that many people will give you a hand when they see how committed you are to your project.

The script

Finding a script can be a long and demanding task so start the process early on. While the chosen script should please everyone, it must also be within your scope. When you are starting out look for a play that will be easy to stage and fairly short, that way you will have more time to fine tune every detail. Here’s a tip: You should estimate about one minute of stage time per page of script.

Be realistic when casting your production. It’s rare that a play has the same number of actors as there are roles. This means that actors often play more than one role. Doubling, as it is called, is a challenge and can be great fun!

The direction

Once you have found your script, re-read it carefully and start thinking about how you want to direct it. What principal idea do you want to come across? How can that idea be evoked? Discuss the script’s stage directions extensively with the set designer and make note of everything including the number of sets, the set pieces and the props. Determine the essentials and distinguish them from the superfluous: directing a play is about making choices, and choosing means eliminating. Your motto should be simplify and evoke. Be creative. You don’t have to build complicated sets. You can transport your audience to the desert with a handful of sand, or to Africa with the sound of traditional drums. Theatre is the realm of the imaginary and evocation reigns queen. You do not need to show everything; words are often enough.

The schedule

You have your team, your script and a good idea of what you want to do with them. Now you must start preparing for opening night! Draw up a list of everything to be done before the time comes: sets, costumes, props, music, etc. Make the list carefully because you must think of every detail. Assign these tasks and schedule their completion over the weeks before you open. Guided by this production schedule, you will be able to assess the actual size of the project and your team’s chances of surviving the experience. Be realistic. If the schedule seems too heavy, simplify. A few tips: you can change a setting by re-positioning a set piece; one prop can be used to serve several purposes; some costumes can be made by altering existing garments instead of constructing them from scratch.

The rehearsals

You have cast the play? Terrific! Now you can start rehearsals. Draft a schedule that extends right up to the performance run. Count at least one rehearsal hour per page of script. If you have several months to do the job, you can start with one or two two-to-three-hour-long rehearsals per week, then increase that length in the final weeks.

In the first rehearsals, do readings. In an informal read through session the director will have a chance to explain to the cast and crew his or her concept of the script and the characters. As an actor, start learning your lines at once and start building your character: imagine his or her life and how that person would move, speak and react. The actor’s job is to do more than just learn lines by heart!

Devote a few rehearsals to improvisation to explore the characters, their relationships and the situations in the script. Then move on to the blocking: scene by scene, set the actors’ moves on the stage. From time to time, invite the whole team to a rehearsal. The team will be motivated to see how the show is progressing.

Reserve the last two weeks for run-throughs: perform the whole show without interruption. This is the time to detect and fix small technical problems like too little time between scenes for a costume change, music at the wrong level, actors not projecting loud enough to be heard from the back rows, set changes that take too long, etc.

Hold a dress rehearsal the day before you open.

Now that the opening is almost upon you get a good rest and smile! You are ready and the audience will love it!!!

Script sources

Electronic directories:

* unless otherwise specified, all websites below are in French

The sites below contain directories teeming with information about scripts and their playwrights. You can use them to do detailed research (play type, length, number of characters) to track down a script that meets your needs.

  • Association québécoise des auteurs dramatiques (AQAD) : http://www.aqad.qc.ca
  • Fédération Québécoise de Théâtre d’Amateur : http://www.artscite.com/fqta
  • Mascarille 2001 : CD ROM database containing close to 30 000 theatrical works written in or translated into French.
  • Dedicated to promoting Québec and French-Canadian play writing, the Centre des auteurs dramatiques (CEAD) has a documentation centre. There is no charge for consulting their scripts on the premises. However, only members (membership fee charged) may borrow unpublished scripts. The CEAD also offers published plays for sale.
  • Centre des auteurs dramatiques : http://www.cead.qc.ca
  • Centre de documentation du CEAD
    3450 St. Urbain St.
    Montréal
    (514) 288-3384
    cead@cead.qc.ca

Virtual libraries :

Scripts exempt from royalties. Print them free of charge!

  • http://jydupuis.apinc.org/
  • http://www.toutmoliere.net/
  • Virtual library of the Association québécoise des auteurs dramatiques (AQAD): http://www.adelinc.qc.ca (over 300 titles can be read on screen or printed at a reasonable price).
  •  

    Specialized libraries

    Specialized libraries have almost everything! However, you must have a subscription (renewed annually) to consult or borrow books.

    • Library of the National Theatre School of Canada, 5030 St. Denis St., Montréal, (514) 842-7954, ext.125.
    • Bibliothèque du Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique de Québec, 12 Sainte-Anne St., Québec City, (418) 643-9184.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are royalties?

    Unless the playwright died more than fifty years ago, you absolutely must contact the playwright (or playwright’s agent) to obtain authorization to stage the play and negotiate the amount of royalties to be paid. You can find all the relevant information on the Association québécoise des auteurs dramatiques (AQAD) site:  http://www.aqad.qc.ca.

    What if I want to write my own script?

    You’ll need some good ideas and a lot of patience. Scripts always need rewrites. Keep a journal and note all of your ideas. Go back to your journal if you get writer’s block. Write the main lines of the story (beginning, main plot developments, resolution). Expand the characters and the situations, then break down your story into scenes. Start writing the dialogue. In theatre, words convey everything. You can also write as a group: this is called a collective creation.

    Visit ArtsAlive.ca English Theatre for some script-writing activitites to get you going!

    How can I avoid nasty surprises on opening night?

    Be prepared! Think of all the little challenges that could arise, and prepare for them.

    • During rehearsals, go and sit in the back of the house. You must be able to hear every line.
    • Make copies of your CDs containing audio tracks.
    • In the wings keep an emergency kit containing needles and thread, copies of the script, bottles of water, a first aid kit.
    • Tell the company to be at the theatre two hours before curtain.
    • Organize the box office and lobby