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Theater Diary: After weeks in a sparse studio, a production comes to life on stage - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

Theater Diary: After weeks in a sparse studio, a production comes to life on stage

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By Andrew Samonsky
Originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune

Andrew Samonsky, who plays Joshua and other roles in the La Jolla Playhouse’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” will recount his experiences for six weeks in Arts.

For five long weeks our cast had been working in a black-walled rehearsal studio —

Andrew Samonsky

Andrew Samonsky. Photo by Nelvin C. Cepeda

colorless, costumeless, setless, micless, and lightless. We got a lot done. I was amazed how complete our “Little Miss Sunshine” looked and felt in that sparse room. Rehearsals were going so well that we were running the entire show almost every day, aching for the time to arrive when we could get on that magical stage.

Well, the time has come, and I could say that the ache has been soothed, but that wouldn’t be quite true.

Welcome to tech. Tech. Never could such a small word encompass so large an event.

Tech is the shorthand term we use to describe the point when we add the technical elements of the show … ALL AT ONCE! Lighting, costumes, wigs, makeup, stationary set pieces, moving set pieces, sound effects, mics and an entire crew backstage join us in this tech “event.” Why we add these elements all at once, I really don’t know, but this has been the tradition ever since I’ve been in the theater — and the tradition continues here at The La Jolla Playhouse.

As you might imagine, tech is a study in chaos. It always is. This show that you’ve been rehearsing over and over suddenly feels like an old friend you bump into on the street but don’t recognize right away. “Wait a minute, don’t I know you? You seem kind of familiar. Oh my God, it’s you! Good Lord, you look different!”

And at first, this old friend appears a complete mess. Patience. Day by very long day, the makeover continues, and slowly but surely, this friend starts to look absolutely astonishing. So have we begun to recognize “Little Miss Sunshine” as the same gorgeous, heartfelt show we fell in love with in that rehearsal room, but now oh so much more.

The experience of teching a show is an odd balance of boredom and excitement. The process involves starting at the top of the show and slowly going through it, scene by scene, making sure each light, costume, sound effect and set piece is in place. And slowly we do go. During one four-hour session, we got through seven minutes of the show. There is a lot of holding positions on stage, allowing our lighting designer (the genius Ken Billington) to position the lights perfectly. The operative word is “Hold!” and while we stand and await the next command, costumes are changed, wigs are adjusted, set pieces are painted, or choreography is modified to fit the stage more perfectly.

But each “Hold!” is also a moment to fully take in what’s happening on stage. I can only describe it as magical in that special way that theater can be. Watching the world of “Little Miss Sunshine” slowly materialize around us is like watching a magician show you the secret of his trick — yet still believing it’s magic.

Andrew Samonsky recently played Lt. Joseph Cable in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of “South Pacific,” where he was also seen on the “Live From Lincoln Center” PBS broadcast. He created the role of Nick on the national tour of “On the Record.”