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“We suffer together”: Hell Week for North’s musical

Junior Freddy Maresca and sophomore Scott Gelb pace on the thrust of the stage, circling the empty chairs of the pit orchestra.  The two characters, half in-costume and half in regular clothes, toss lines back and forth between each other, revising their intonation and movements on the stage as they practice.  Both are filled with a repressed energy—the kind of endurance needed for Shrek: The Musical‘s late night rehearsals during Hell Week.

Hell Week rehearsals begin the week before the production goes live.  The cast spends time rehearsing songs in the choir room, as music instructor Ken Carter makes sure the songs are balanced based on the number of mics available, according to senior Catherine Salvato, who is part of the ensemble.  The pit orchestra arrives later on in the evening so the cast can practice the timing of lines and coordinating dance moves.

Hell Week is hellish “because everyone is so hyper-focused and tired, which makes us stressed,” said senior Jonathan Gelb, who plays Lord Farquaad.  Senior Kiera Beatty, who is part of the ensemble, cites the attention to detail that everyone exhibits so that the show can run fluidly.

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The cast breaks for dinner at around 5 PM before the pit orchestra arrives.  “During Hell Week, we get to spend more time together regardless of section,” said senior Alan Gan as some actors went back for second helpings of dinner.  Gan plays one of the three little pigs this year; he worked for the stage crew as an underclassmen but joined the cast as a junior.   “For stage crew, Hell Week is actual hell in comparison to the others,” Gan said.  The running crew gets hit the hardest—they not only produce the set, but also work during the show.  “They can’t zone out on the wings because they’re always alert and catch scene changes,” Gan said.

Indeed, stage crew and the stage managers have their fair share of work as well.  “This is hell, and the stage managers are the devil,” said Claire Towell, who plays Gingy.  “And we love them,” added Annie Gawroniak, who dances in the ensemble.  The stage managers—seniors Sam Sun and Devon Austin, and juniors Darrah McClendon and Beatrice Feijo, as well as sophomore Kira Rose—are in charge of cues in the booth, scene changes, and curtain cues, just to name a few tasks.  “A lot of work we do cannot be when people are around.  It’s hard being awake at ungodly hours,” Sun said.  “For example, lighting cues such as blackouts cannot be written while people are on stage rehearsing or stage crew is working.”

Matt Rubin, a sophomore stage crew member who manages lighting, has been “cramming until 1 AM hanging up lights” using the lift.  The stock of colored lights arrived last week for the crew, so they are pressed for time in their setup, especially considering that the managers have to write in their lighting cues for each scene.

The pit orchestra also plays an important role during Hell Week, providing the ambience of the show.  “The pit doesn’t have the worst of Hell Week, but that often makes us forgotten,” said senior Maureen Haque, an instrumentalist in the pit.  “We’re just as crucial to the musical as the cast and crew are.”

For some, Hell Week as a whole is not difficult to adjust to.  “Hell Week is not that bad,” said junior Madhavi Challa, who is a first-year participant in the musical.  “I was expecting to work all the time, but we’re given ample time to complete our work.” Junior Jake Rosenthal said that balancing school work and rehearsals is “trial and error,” but after years of doing the musical, many of the cast members have their own systems of time management.  When actors are offstage, some take out folders and binders so they can get their work done before the next scene change.  But others simply practice their dances in the hallway or relax with fellow actors.

Hell Week is a buildup of suspense until the opening night—Thursday, February 26, for this year’s cast and crew—and the actors come through for the home stretch.  On Wednesday night, the group finished at exactly 10:27pm.  “[I have sacrificed] a lot of my free time.  Sometimes my sanity,” Gelb said.  “The latest I have stayed was from 3 PM until 12:30 AM.”  But the cast and crew find ways to diminish the stress, by planning psyches and attending dinners together.

“We suffer together,” said Rosenthal.

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