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Calvin Theatre Company rehearses for ‘Mystery of Edwin Drood’

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A small crowd files into the large, cold, black, box-like theater space. A line formation of long, white tables divides the room in half. Some actors are in colorful suit jackets, dress shoes and white button downs. Two women bind their chests with Ace bandages while others help each other lace their corsets as tight as they can. It is a routine they know very well.

It is 12:40 p.m. on a cold, rainy Saturday. The early afternoon is dreary, but the actors talk animatedly among themselves while getting ready. The weather does not seem to affect them at all.

All the actors, stage management and director have been in the Lab Theater since 10:30 a.m., and the three almost empty donut boxes are the only evidence of their breakfast, a much needed sugar high to get them smiling and singing for Calvin’s fall musical, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” on a Saturday morning.

For the past two hours, they have danced, sung, acted and taken notes. Every week, Tuesday to Saturday, this dedicated team rehearses in hopes to do the ‘Best Musical’ Tony award-winning show justice on Calvin’s Gezon Theater stage.

Lindsey Huizenga, a sophomore and stage manager, brings the actors to attention as she announces that it is time for warm-ups. The actors all gather in a circle and follow the lead of one of their own, senior Tim Lim. With only a word or two from Lim, the rest of the actors immediately do the stretch exercise. They know the routine.

Professor Debra Freeberg, the director, joins the actors. After a few stretches, she leaves the circle.  “I needed to stretch,” she says with a laugh.

The warm up routine may seem boring, but the singing and giggling throughout the warm ups say otherwise.

After the physical warm ups, professor Charsie Sawyer, the musical director, leads them in vocal warm ups.

Freeberg uses this opportunity to discuss a little about the rehearsal process so far.

“The rehearsals have been front loaded with learning dancing and music,” says Freeberg. “There isn’t a lot of spoken scenes so they need to know the songs pat so we can really block the scenes and songs.”

After the vocal warm ups, Freeberg instructs the actors to start from the very beginning, the prologue.

Because other crew members are installing the set in the Gezon Theater, the Lab Theater becomes the actors’ rehearsal space.

“I know there isn’t much wing space, but move as best you can,” Freeberg says while they wait for the cue to start.

A minute later, Brian Alford, a junior, struts center stage with a huge smile and confident air. He starts the play as the character of Chairman.

As the actors act, dance, and sing, Freeberg and her stage manager hurriedly make notes as they watch.

Freeberg stops the continuum of the musical frequently to talk about beats of reactions and pauses, emotions and stage directions. To others, the things that she stops to fix seem trivial; however, she does this to find the right rhythm.

“They have been doing bits and pieces, scenes, before,” says Freeberg, “Now, they need to know the story arc, the continuity of the whole musical.”

And finding the perfect rhythm of the whole musical is a hard task when actors have just been off book (theater-speak for memorized lines) that week.

However, the director has nothing but praise.  “They are doing so well,” says Freeberg.

The rehearsals are draining physically, and it shows on many of the actors, waiting on the sides to come on.  But when they enter on stage, all signs of tiredness disappear with a smile.

Emily Wetzel, a freshman, is enthusiastic when talking about the rehearsal process.

“It’s so much fun!” she says gesturing toward her peers. “Everyone has been so welcoming and professional.”

A musical requires the actors not only to act but to sing and dance. When asked what part is her favorite, Wetzel answers with enthusiasm.

“Acting,” she says, “I love experimenting with character, making the characters my own.”

It is 2:55 p.m. when Freeberg halts the rehearsal. Huizenga immediately picks up her laptop and gives the announcements to the actors.

And it is finally with the director’s “Go home” that the actors can finally peel off their rehearsal clothing. Everyone sheds off any small remain of character, and only the tired actors are left.

Rehearsals are grueling, but Emily Diener, a senior, is grateful for the small break ahead.

“It is so tiring, but we are all grateful for Sundays and Mondays,” she says, “It gives us much needed rest.”

The actors are all tired and need rest, and some might say that they will reap their rewards on their performance nights. However, the tired hugs, arms around each other and the encouraging words display a reward that these grueling rehearsals have already given: a family.

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