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Butterflies Are Free Presented by the FESTIVAL PLAYERS

Written in 1969 by Leonard Gershe, Butterflies Are Free ran on Broadway for over one thousand performances. In 1972, it became a film, with Edward Albert and Goldie Hawn in the roles created on stage by Keir Dullea and Blythe Danne. Eileen Heckart repeated her stage performance as the mother and won a supporting actress Oscar.

Baker, blind from birth, who has just been allowed to live alone, away from the clutches of his over controlling mother. She is not allowed to visit for two months. He has one month to go! Meanwhile a flighty, 19 year old woman, Jill Tanner (formerly Mrs Benson - married at 16, and divorced 6 days later!) moves in next door. She wastes no time in introducing herself to her new neighbour and assumes he can see just how interested she is! One thing leads to another… Don’s mother then decides to arrive one month early, only to catch them both in their underwear.

The play is set in New York in the late 1960’s in a scruffy, downtown apartment. The story concerns a young man, Don

Act 1 introduces the contrasting characters of the two leading roles. Don is quiet, with a dry wit, making up for his lack of


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worldliness with a strong sense of himself, and what is right for him. Jill however, flits from one relationship to the next with apparent ease, and yet underneath her confident exterior, hides a vulnerable, sensitive woman. As their relationship develops, the audience are enveloped in a raw see-saw of emotions. Don and Jill are so much more than they initially seem. Mrs Baker is not keen for her son to get emotionally hurt by falling in love again, and makes this quite clear to Jill. Jill, much to Don’s despair, decides to move in with an “off-Broadway” producer she has become re-acquainted with at an audition. Ralph Austen, the lucky man, provides a short, but highly


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rewarding excuse for some overacting and fun costumes. He is an arrogant, self opinionated idiot, but somehow likeable. Don’s mother offers actresses a wonderful opportunity to delight the audience with some fabulous one-liners “May I have seen you in anything, other than your underwear, Jill?” She is initially presented as a harsh, sarcastic witch of a woman, but as the play unfolds, we are given glimpses of a true warmth, and genuine affection for her son. Casting was challenging. The two leads needed to be strong, young, and believable. Powerful, young male actors are precious commodities in Loughborough, but we were blessed with a very talented 18 year old who happened to also have a beautiful voice. (Don sings the theme tune Butterflies are Free during the performance, live and on a tape recorder) Don’s biggest challenge was to act blind –

little things – like never looking directly at the person you are talking to, deliberately pacing whenever moving around the stage, touching the seat before sitting and not using too much facial expression. There were a number of hopefuls auditioning for the part of Jill. She needed to have youth, and yet a worldliness, and air of sexual confidence about her. We spent a lot of time experimenting with her character, from Los Angeles originally, so the accent needed to be appropriate too. Mrs Baker was again a popular part. We pitched her age at about 40-50, and she needed to look believable as our Don’s mother. Ralph was easy to cast!

REHEARSALS We had a long rehearsal period of four months. This was fortuitous, as the younger members had so many other commitments!! One was finishing her degree, the other was doing AS levels,

involved in two other shows, and performing at the Edinburgh fringe! The week before the show, as “Don” announced he had tonsillitis, was somewhat fraught.

SCENERY The setting for Butterflies are Free caused no particular problems and comfortably fitted in the 34ft wide proscenium of the Cope Auditorium. It was decided to make the set a loft style apartment with sloping ceilings with built-in gauzed skylights and – to emphasise the bachelor nature of the occupant – was painted in vivid colours – pink, red, blue and yellow – causing quips from the cast about whether the designer was still at playschool! Our stock scenery is 14ft high which enabled us to have the bed at 6ft 3” high over the bathroom door and a sloping ceiling immediately over with skylight illuminating the bed area. An arched window was downstage right with a 3D groundrow behind showing tenement


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THE PLAY PRODUCED blocks and fire-escapes and windows that lit up for the final night scene. Centre was the door to the landing and another double skylight over the rear kitchen area. Fortunately we had in stock a large period fridge, electric cooker and sink unit – and the freestanding bath was “loaned” from the local tip. Having our own workshops, we were able to paint all the set in-house and pin-hinge together, so making a speedy build on the Sunday morning. Our previous theatre had the benefit of flying which would have made the lifting of the, heavy, skylights simple. As it was we made the unit over the bed as one piece on the floor and then lifted it vertically. The larger, stage left, skylight was hinged vertically from a header flat spanning the opening before being swung back 45 degrees to rest on the rear wall of the kitchen. 10 ft bookcases were incorporated – minimally dressed to emphasise Don’s recent occupation and a mixture of non matching furniture from stock completed the set.

LIGHTING The audience entered to an open stage, atmospherically lit – night exterior, the exterior-backing, backlit through its windows and the raised bed highlighted The first 3 scenes take place over a 2 hour period on a sunny June day. Don’s apartment, Jill’s apartment and the entrance door backer to Dons apartment

are all brightly lit. The main stage area and the raised bed are all bi-directionally lit. There is an interior light in the fridge. The upstage centre skylights are back lit in open white and the effect of the sun streaming in, was created by two parcans, shining through the SR skylight (above the raised bed) and the window (black wrap used to control spill with temporary barn doors). It was felt unnecessary to light the bathroom backing, under the bed. The transitions into and out of scene are gentle fades, with the exception of the end of A1S2 and the end of A2S1, where a snap blackout was employed to reinforce the moment. The final scene is played out at 22:30 the same day. The exterior to the three skylights & window are lit in dark blue and the exterior-backing, backlit through its windows. The apartment is warm and romantically lit, motive light coming from downlights SL & SR and battery candles CS. Backing behind the door into Dons apartment is brightly lit, in contrast to the warm romantic lighting of the apartment. There are 2 lighting cues within the scene : i) when Jill returns home, the light in her apartment is added brightly, such that a halo can be seen around the connecting door, reinforcing the off-stage dialogue that she has returned and when the door is opened a shaft of light harshly cuts through the warmth of Dons apartment.

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ii) when the candles are extinguished, loss of motive light and associated stage area. This focused the audiences attention on the powerful last moments of the play. Control at the Cope Auditorium is a Frog board, eighteen 10A channels on a 63A feed and a further six 10A channels on a 32A feed. The board was operated using 5 submasters.

COSTUMES This was not difficult as fashions at present do seem to incorporate the late 60’s early 70’s trends. Jill only had one change, plus underwear! She did need some kind of back fastener which she insisted on getting Mrs Baker to do up at every possible opportunity! Jill also has to wear a hair piece and false eyelashes, which are both inadvertently removed by Don, who is tenderly feeling her face at the time - a hilarious scene! Don was dressed quite formally, with


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THE PLAY PRODUCED cords, sensible shoes, and a long-sleeved shirt. His hair was very tame, and full of hair product for Jill to make him look “hip” Mrs Baker was immaculately attired with gloves, suit and handbag. Ralph really went to town and ended up looking more like Austen powers!

MUSIC I’ve always been passionate about the use of music in plays. We used American and British bands, like The Stones, the Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, Donovan, Simon and Garfunkel, to really set the scene throughout the play, with numbers like “Let’s just do it in the road” just as the scene is set for Jill and Don to get it together! I also used “the sound of silence” as a backing to a very powerful and painful final scene, as Don crashes around the apartment in utter despair as Jill has left him. The volume was deliberately raised as he pulled off the table settings and then there was a sudden silence as he knocked over the table with the tape recorder on it. Jill actually then returns to find a sobbing Don on the floor. A light piece of music helped just lift the very final scene.

SPECIAL EFFECTS AND PROPS These were minimal. Food was an issue, as Jill does love to eat. Smoking is a key crutch to the beginning of the play and (according to the script) reveals Dons blindness to Jill. However, with the smoking ban in force nationally and no smoking permitted on the Cope Auditorium stage an alternative had to be found. Eventually we homed in on cherries and pips, to substitute for cigarettes. A speaker was positioned behind the sofa, to localise the sound of the tape recorder.

CONCLUSION The play proved extremely popular in performance. It generated a lot of laughter, and yet a number of people left the auditorium in tears. The audience are really drawn into this powerful relationship, and the play offers a unique challenge and experience for two young actors. it was a delight to direct.

Passionate about theatre

Summer School 2009 1 – 8 August, Loughborough University AS MAGAZINE | JANUARY 2009 Summer School_Teaserad.indd 1 jAN09_12-21.indd 7


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Butterflies Are Free - January 2009  
Butterflies Are Free - January 2009  

We discuss a production of Butterflies Are Free presented by the Festival Players