Last Friday, the cast of the Horace Mann Theatre Company’s (HMTC) “The Dining Room” sat in a circle of chairs in the Black Box, reading over their lines and becoming acquainted with their characters. For the first time in 18 months, students are preparing for a performance with a live audience.
This fall, the HMTC will perform A.R. Gurney’s “The Dining Room,” a series of 18 comedic scenes depicting different families at various time periods in the same dining room. The production will debut on November 11 with two matinées for students and faculty and two nights for parents and family.
The play emphasizes the value of coming together in a dining room with friends or loved ones, director Jonathan Nye said. “[A dining room] is a place where families would traditionally have their evening meal, and it talks about how that tradition is slowly going away,” he said.
“The Dining Room” features 67 characters throughout the production, all with unique narratives, Nye said. Historically, the play has six actors, each playing multiple roles from scene to scene, but Nye cast 18 actors in the school’s production. A “vignette production” is a great way to teach students the skill of quickly switching between characters, he said.
The fast transition between scenes is an interesting aspect of the production, Nye said. “One scene is happening and characters from another scene start coming in during that and sometimes there is the overlapping of dialogue,” he said. “That transitional moment will need to be rehearsed and practiced quite a bit.”
Oscar Shah (10) will play three roles, including a real-estate client who appears in the opening scene of the play, he said. Shah has prior experience with productions like “The Dining Room” that consist of many small characters in short scenes, such as “Almost Maine,” a show he acted in during middle school.
“The Dining Room” is the school’s first in-person production since the start of the pandemic, so the cast and crew will have to readjust to rehearsing together. HMTC co-president Sarah Taub (12), who will not act in the production but will be involved with publicizing the show, believes the members of the theatre department learned valuable lessons from online rehearsing and performing. “Rather than being stuck in a traditional theatre experience of being on stage with an audience, cast members have really learned to be flexible and work with one another to problem solve, try new things, and experiment,” she said.
Now that rehearsals and performances are in person, the school administration had to determine the necessary pandemic safety protocols. Though actors will be masked while auditioning, rehearsing, and performing, the process of preparing for the production is largely back to normal, HMTC co-president Bailey Hecht (11) said.
Each actor auditioned by preparing a short monologue and reading a scene with another person to give Nye insight into the chemistry between actors, Hecht said. Since the cast is no longer rehearsing over Zoom, it is much easier to warm up and act together, she said. “It was really fun to act with my peers and be giddy about auditions,” she said.
Nye plans to rehearse two scenes per day until October. Since each scene has completely different actors, only a few cast members will be called each day. The cast will work through the scenes individually, then Nye will call more students to rehearse together, he said.
Athena Spencer (11), who plays multiple roles including a newly divorced woman, realized that quickly switching to online rehearsing and performing gave her perspective on the value of an in-person connection. “I think everyone has learned to be very flexible in terms of how the show is going to go,” she said. “Hopefully, we won’t have to be flexible with this one.”