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The Play Produced

THESISTERS ROSENSWEIG by Wendy Wasserstein

The Progressive Players were formed in 1920 by three sisters named Hope, Ruth and Sylvia Dodds - three very impressive and dominant ladies who eventually found the means to build our beautiful Little Theatre which opened its doors in 1943. We owe a great deal to our founders and to the local community who support us so much. It is a happy coincidence, in this our Diamond Jubilee Year. that we have the three sisters in our production of The Sisters Rosensweig.

PLOT The sisters Rosensweig are three extraordinary Brooklyn足 born Jewish women . Sara is the managing director of the European branch of the Hong足 Kong/ Shanghai Bank, is often described as brilliant, living an ostenSibly happy, man-free life in London with her intelligent daughter, Tess. She is sometimes cynical and world weary and often very vulnerable. Pfeni is an eccentric travel writer who pursues an unsatisfactory relationship with Geoffrey, a bisexual theatre director; naive in spite of 'her worldwide travels. Gorgeous tells the world about her perfect husband and family in Massachusetts, with her career as a radio agony aunt, though all the time 'hiding her troubles behind an outwardly "funsy"!' fa9ade. When they meet up at Sara's home in Holland Park to celebrate her fifty-fourth birthday, reawakened familial bonds cause each woman to confront her past and her future. The men in their lives appear to be unimportant at first but as the play unfolds and characters develop, we see Pfeni 's heartbreak over Geoffrey, Gorgeous's

22

Amateur Stage

disappointment with her husband and Sara's terror of becoming too involved with Merv, the "world leader in synthetic animal protective covering". She likes him, could never love him , but she doesn't want him to leave. This play is described as a comedy though it is never going to have people rolling in the aisles. The Jewish humour is very prominent. It could have been a tragic little piece about three sisters questioning their lives, loves and religion , and there are one or two sad little moments in it, but there is also some wonderful comedy. The two teenagers are an interesting counterpoint to the main plot with Tom from Liverpool , appearing to have no brain at all , though being remarkably observant, and Tess, a very intelligent young lady who knows exactly where she is going .

CASTING T~e Progressive Players appear to have a large membership but there is a small nucleus of people who actually act. We have more women than men, as is the case with many societies , and we have more people in their fifties than in their twenties and thirties , although we are doing well at the moment for young teenagers. The three sisters in their forties and fifties were easy to cast but the men were a different kettle of "gefilte". As a director of an amateur group I would expect that anyone who wants to be in a play has at least some idea of the craft of acting. but this is not always the case. We produce ten plays a year and are constantly in rehearsal; with just six weeks between plays we are therefore casting certain players in one play

after another, tiring them out in the process. We do not normally audition unless a player is Ilew to us and we are not sure how much experience he or she has had. With youngsters, we find that their experience is from school productions which are family shows. They have difficulty at times in adjusting from such productions to an actual play with a paying critical audience. Once the adjustment has been made, we find we have some really good material to call upon. The difficulty comes , most often, with older people who think they know better than the director and object at being told what to do. I try to be gentle with people and not to order them about, but one reaches the stage where the efforts of certain actors just will not do . We lost one male member of the cast within three weeks, for which I gave a sigh of relief, but had great difficulty in replacing him. Once that replacement had been made and rehearsals started working properly, the whole play came to life.

REHEARSALS With a schedule of ten plays a year, rehearsals are restricted to six weeks of fairly intensive work covering three evenings a week. With four scenes in the first act and three in the second , rehearsals fitted nicely into one act at a time, then smaller pieces when panic set in later into the schedule. As the characters emerged rehearsals became more intense and the question of learning lines became the main problem. Everyone has their own way of memorising a script and needs to be encouraged to work at their own pace but there comes a time in the rehearsal schedule when, if books are still in

evidence, rehearsals can become a little fraught. The three sisters had a great deal to learn but it soon became evident that they felt easier when they were on stage together. The scene where they sit on the couch and talk about their thoughts and dreams was a wonderful part of the play and they worked very hard to make it perfect. The men played supporting roles but each with distinctive characters and all thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Attendance at rehearsals was excellent throughout, except for the young man playing Tom , with his Liverpool accent; he plays rugby and couldn't possibly miss training. And who's to say he's wrong?

SCENERY I do not like box sets and will do anything in my power to avoid them where possible. The scene was set in a living room and appeared to call for a box set, but we have a very good cyclorama and I decided to use this as the window and build the room around it. Staircases are always difficult for us, for some reason, so I used half a staircase disappearing off into the wings, which seemed a great idea at the time, but caused difficulty for the actors descending back stage. They are good old troupers, however, and securely fixed stepladders came in useful. We had columns of curtains across the cyc, which made the window look realistic and there were many favourable comments from our patrons. The colour scheme was kept neutral so that the costumes would show to best advantage and we had a round of applause on a few occasions when the curtain went up at the start of the play. MARCH


LIGHTING We are particularly lucky in having excellent lighting equipment and, though the scenes called for few lighting variations, with general daytime lighting, afternoon to evening lighting, nighttime and early morning, we were able to convey all effects well with using the cyc as the window. There were no other sources of light on stage except for candles which were used for the Sabbath sun-down. This was not a play calling for hundreds of lighting cues, though we have been known to run our poor lighting team into the ground - they are great fellas.

SOUND EFFECTS AND MUSIC When Sara Rosensweig was a young girl in college she ::l'elonged to an all women's a ;appel/a singing group. The - lIgest mistake of all was - ~ jn king we could do our own a ...cp.oel/a singing. We are not a -vsical group, generally, - 911 some of us can sing I thought nothing could be ~han having a few of the s ractising and then omg Shine On, Harvest - and the rest. Wrong! dman was very patient ~ 5 and recorded effort ~ :"ort. but in the end we - -': singing to an absolute - a allowed Frank ake the music for - '-:;r a . he is much better '.", are. In hindsight - ".'ie all got 20/20 s10uld have asked - tar oetter qualified - " !i'oups to record Sound effects can -c- e!d but we had - _ in this play, -= dcorbell did not _ , ork.

COSTUMES We have a massive Wardrobe Department and hire costumes to many other local groups as well as clothing most of our own shows . We really went to town with costumes for this production. The only person we could not manage to dress in this play was Merv, because he is a big man and we felt he needed a light coloured suit , large size. which we did not have. No problems_ We have arrangements with other local groups and a suit was found to fit. The sisters were of contrasting types and our Wardrobe Department took great joy in dressing them. Pfeni , the traveller who carried all' in shopping bags instead of suitcases, was lightly dressed in cotton trousers or flowing caftans - except for the beautiful evening dress, which caused a gasp in the audience each night. Sara was sensibly though smartly dressed in mainly light colours except for the evening skirt in purple and black. Gorgeous wore suits during the day while "schlepping" her ladies around London. Her eveningwear was also a black skirt with a suitably gorgeous turquoise top. She was called upon to have a shoe with a broken heel and our Wardrobe Department was fully prepared to find a beautiful well fitting pair, and then snap off the heel, all for the sake of art. All the sisters' eveningwear shimmered; the tops were sequined, as was Sara's skirt , and Pfeni 's whole dress shone as she moved. The effect was beautiful and the audience loved it. We don't often get the chance to show off our beautiful dresses. The teenagers wore jeans and tee shirts most of the time, but Tess dressed in a pretty frock for the dinner party. The best effect was the "body" worn by

Gorgeous when she came downstairs from her morning exercises and later modelled her "Chanel" suit. The audiences really appreciated her curtain call in her aerobic ensemble and beautiful high足 heeled black patent shoes!

PROPS Our furniture store, full of old armchairs, settees, odd tables and chairs, some worn and tired looking, some in slightly better condition , did not contain what was required for this play. All these wonderful pieces of furniture have been donated over the years by members and friends , all have been well used and seen better days. For this particular set, a house in Holland Park, obviously rather posh , we felt we needed something special. Our props team are very reliable and one member in particular set out to find a furniture warehouse wh ich would be prepared to lend us a three piece suite. This took some doing and I take off my hat to him for his diligence. This furniture helped make the stage setting and more than once I heard people say they could live with this at home, wh ich is what I had hoped to convey. The record player/music centre was another item on loan , though we were able to furnish the rest ourselves - with a specially built bar and some of the hundreds of saved bottles from our attic props room.

SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS OR PROBLEMS With all amateurs, home lives and problems with work and families are bound to have an effect on performances on stage. We are not being paid for all this work but will always

give of our best for the sake of our paying audiences. A member of the cast may have a problem learning lines - it is no use shouting at him or her, encouragement is what is needed. Another person may have ser,ious work problems which keep coming into his or her mind - it can 't be helped. We can try to leave the outside world outside, but it has a habit of creeping back in . Patience is the key word. Apart from that there were no actual problems associated with the play itself. We played to 77 .7% houses over six nights, finishing up with a nice little profit. Most of the comments from our audiences were favourable, especially about the scene with the three sisters discussing their lives and loves, sitting on the settee. Some people felt the play was a touch too long, though I have to admit that such a thing had not occurred to me, or even to the cast. We are a well足 established amateur group of players; we enjoy being on stage and pleasing our audiences. Our audiences certainly seemed to enjoy this play and our production of it and that 's what it's all about! All scripts, scores and libretti featured in 'The Play Produced' and 'The Musical Produced' can be obtained from

5~ RVI""G A MAHu ll.

THEATRE S INCE 18 9'1

Music and scripts available for all.

Discounts for members

Tel 0870 770 2480

Fax: 0870 770 2490

email: everyone@noda.org.uk webSite: www.noda.org.uk Amateur Stage

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The Sisters Rosenweig - March 2004  

Janey Winds discusses her production of The Sisters Rosenweig by Wendy Wasserstein for the Progressive Players, Gateshead

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