“Step into a ghoulish state of mind” with HMTC’s “The Addams Family” 

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Maeve Goldman and Mira Bansal, Staff Writers

Choreography

As the curtain lifts on Gross Theater stage, a flurry of jazz hands and grapevines emerge: the opening number, “When You’re an Addams” has begun. “Classic musical theater dance, salsa, flamenco, and tango have all been combined into one show,” Choreographer and Dance Teacher Angela Patmon said.

Patmon drew inspiration from past productions of the musical, ranging from high school shows to the official Broadway production, but she also left her own unique mark, she said. For the iconic Addams Family snap, instead of simply placing actors around the stage, Patmon choreographed them to snap in a cluster, she said. “Everyone is snapping — it’s this vogue feel,” she said.

Patmon created the unique language of the show’s choreography through special moments, she said. Motifs such as the snaps and the cast placing their hand on their heart in the opening number repeat continuously throughout the production, connecting each number to the show as a whole, Patmon said.

In order to ensure that her choreography blended seamlessly into the production, Patmon collaborated with theater teacher and Director Benjamin Posner and music instructor and Music Director Emma Weiss, she said. Patmon’s choreography emphasizes Posner’s vision for each dance number, as well as Weiss’s interpretation of certain sections of the score, she said. For example, Posner and Patmon collaborated on the number “One Normal Night”, which includes both acting and dancing.

Because there were less than two months between auditions and opening night, Patmon needed to choreograph the show quickly, she said. “It was really important for me to have material ready to put on the dancers in the rehearsal space,” she said. “I taught the movement and then once they had the movement down, we worked on spacing and detailed bits.”

During rehearsals, Patmon updated her choreography to account for the cast’s diverse levels of dance experience, she said. “It makes sense to me to set the choreography around the dancers I have in the room,” she said. For big groups, Patmon chose movements that were simple but still “packed a punch,” she said. For smaller groups, Patmon worked to highlight  the strengths of students and included more intricate choreography, she said. “Our Morticia, Celia Stafford, is an incredible dancer so she does these beautiful fan kicks and pirouettes,” she said. “I just want to make sure they are all shining.” 

Overall, Patmon’s choreography reflects the story of The Addams Family, she said. “It has these otherworldly moments,” she said. “I’m so excited — a little nervous, but excited.” 

Set/lighting
“From the trees, to the gravestones, to the monsters, I feel like I’m transported out of the Horace Mann campus and into the world of ‘The Addams Family,’” Bethany Jarrett (10) said. “‘The Addams Family’ stage has been set.”

Painted in hues of blue and purple, a castle surrounded by cardboard trees and gravestones sits on the center of Gross Theater stage, Set Designer Yunshu Wang (12) said. “All of the elements, whether big or small, tie into the story of ‘The Addams Family,’” she said.

The stage will be transformed by a haunting glow of saturated lavenders, deep blues, indigos, reds, and greens, Lighting Director Ming-Xing Hawkins (12) said. “The show goes through around 300 different lighting looks.”

Although lighting’s primary purpose is ensuring that the stage is visible for the audience, it is also crucial in setting the tone of a scene, Hawkins said. “Lighting is key in helping to differentiate location and time of day, as well as the emotions of the scene.” 

Hawkins prepared by researching locations of key scenes in the show, such as Central Park, she said. “I wanted to see what Central Park looks like at night and then figure out how to translate it best to stage lighting,” she said. Hawkins also experimented with more abstract effects, such as using washes of saturated backlight to create a silhouette on the actors, she said. 

Wang started designing the set in November, she said. She researched set designs for past productions of “The Addams Family” and formalized the theme for the show — a “creepy, monster-y style,” she said.

The end product reflects efforts of both Posner’s and Wang’s ideas to create a cohesive vision, Wang said. “I was envisioning a blue color story but Posner was thinking more purplish.” They compromised by adding purple details, such as the grinning square and circular monsters painted on either side of the blue castle’s door.

Hawkins’ lighting designs were built around Wang’s plans and sketches, as she needed to take into account how the light would reflect on the set, she said. “My color usage was a bit limited regarding yellows and other colors that wouldn’t read well over her purple set pieces.”

To illuminate the stage, Hawkins placed colored sheets of film into different light instruments, she said. For smaller, more targeted beams of light Hawkins operated a Source 4 Ellipsoidal Reflector, she said. Parabolic Reflector and Fresnels were used to illuminate large areas of the stage at once, she said.

Once the set plan was finished, the stage crew brought Wang’s ideas to life, she said. Wang is also a member of the stage crew, so she participated in the building process. She mixed paint, pieced together furniture, and assisted students with the proper measurements for her creation, she said.  

The actors loved seeing the set come together, Jarrett said. “Everyday there would be a new element of the Addams family’s world to experience,” she said. “I especially love the little monsters painted on the castle, which are very cute.” Lighting also helps the actors feel immersed within the story, Jarrett said “When the light goes up on the graveyard, I can step into a more ghoulish state of mind and really feel like an ancestor of the Addams.” 

Costumes/Props 

Off stage, Costume Designer Sara Vandenhuevel alters the hem of a Victorian ball gown while Prop Coordinator Sophie Costanzi craft glues feathers onto a plastic bird carcass. The costumes and props of “The Addams Family Musical” pay homage to the old gothic theme of the original play while incorporating a modern twist: “spooky with a little bit of quirkiness,” Costanzi said.

The costumes follow with a color pallet of dark red, black, and purple, Vandenhuevel said. “All of the Addams Family have an out of time look — it’s a little bit retro, a little bit vintage,” she said. “It’s somewhat ostentatious, but in a fun goth way.” 

Before designing costumes, Vandenhuevel did some research, she said. “Since it’s The Addams Family and not a historical play, there is this ridiculous fantasy that lets me look at more fashiony stuff,” she said. Although Vandenhuevel had artistic freedom for her designs, she still made sure that they would reflect the essence of the characters, she said. For the Beinekes, whose defining trait is that they are from Ohio, Vandenhuevel searched Facebook and Instagram to see what clothing people from Ohio wore, she said. Vandenhuevel then settled on a modern JC Penny look with lighter colors, she said. 

For main characters, Vandenhuevel stepped into their headspace and shopped for outfits in the school’s costume shop, she said. “I think, ‘would Wednesday wear this?’ ‘Would Mortia like this shirt?’” She also combined thrifted clothing with new items to create a modern-vintage look that reflects the nature of the characters, she said.

Vandenhuevel’s costumes emulate the classic black Addams family attire — Wednesday is decked out in 1950s Rockabilly style complete with swing dresses, while Fester has a post-apocalyptic vibe, she said.

Contrasting the main cast, the Addams Family ancestors wore white and gray period costumes that ranged from prehistoric cavemen to Victorian era men, flappers, and saloon girls styles, Vandenhuevel said.

The ensemble’s costumes allowed the cast the opportunity to piece together the historical lineage of the Addams Family, actor Serena Bai (10) said. “We all got to choose the historical character we wanted to be,” she said. “I chose this Edwardian ankle length gown.”

Prop design began with the script, Costanzi said. “I read through the script and compiled a list of everything an actor needs to hold,” she said. “I try to be pretty true to the source material.”

Once Costanzi completed her research, she compiled supplies for the props, Vandenhuevel said. “We are very lucky to have a well stocked prop and costume shop, and I start by going through and looking at what we do have.” While Costanzi found most of the props in the school’s costume shop, she filled in gaps by online shopping on stores ranging from Amazon to lesser-known sites such as Feathers.com, she said.

In addition to the props used in scenes, Costanzi wanted to include small details that were not inherently spooky to match modern elements of the show, she said. For example, instead of a traditional ornate silver tray — which matched the gothic theme of the props -— Costanzi gave the Grandmother a bright pink tray with stripes as a nod to the candy striper outfit the actor wore, she said. “I tried to include these little moments of fun as a little bit of a wink to the audience.”

The props are exciting for actors as they allow them to suspend their disbelief and really feel like they are a part of the Addams world, Jarrett  said. “There’s Gomez’s sparkly orange cigars, Wednesday’s bow and arrow, and this really gruesome dead hand,” she said. “Having costumes and props allows us to literally walk in and exist in the shoes of our characters.”

General rehearsal 

The Horace Mann Theater Company (HMTC) premiered their spring musical, “The Addams Family,” yesterday with shows today and tomorrow at seven p.m.

This production marks the school’s return to in-person musicals after two years. At the end of last year, Director Benjamin Posner did not pick a show for the following spring because he did not know what COVID-19 regulations the school would have in place, he said.

As the school year approached and COVID-19 regulations eased, Posner became increasingly hopeful that the HMTC would be able to perform a show, so he decided to include the HMTC leadership in the decision, he said. Choosing the right play is a big responsibility, Posner said. “30 percent of the success of the show has to do with choosing the right material and casting.” He made a list of options for the HMTC leadership to pick from, and the students researched the plays by reading their scripts and listening to their music, he said. 

In addition to the play’s repertoire, HMTC leadership looked at the racial, ethnic, and gender breakdown of the characters and considered whether or not the school had students who matched those demographics, he said. After much debate, the HMTC and the theater department agreed on “The Addam’s Family,” Posner said. “We kind of kerplunked our way to this show.”

The cast had met for two hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday since March for rehearsals, Matthew Aponte (12) said. Along with their after-school rehearsals, they also had three Saturday practices that lasted over eight hours each.

“It amazes me how much time these students have given to put this show together,” Posner said. “After hours and hours of rehearsal, the show is going to be performed three times and then it’s gone.”

 Posner is proud that the cast will perform in front of an audience after missing out on live performances throughout the pandemic, he said. “They’re not hiding behind a piece of paper, they’re not hanging their art on a wall and walking away, they are literally putting themselves in the spotlight.”

Aponte is also excited to be back in person for this performance, he said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling,” he said. “There is a certain energy that you get from the audience that is hard to explain, and when you’re in a show, you feed off that energy.”

Music

“The Addams Family” features a live orchestra for the first time in two years due to COVID-19, music instructor Dr. Amir Khosrowpour said. “The musicals have always sounded so great here with a live orchestra, so I’m very excited.” 

The orchestra is composed of professional musicians, including a drummer, bass player, guitarist, clarinet player, saxophonist, trumpet player, percussionist, trombone player, cellist, violinist, and a pianist, Khosrowpour said. The players are a mix of musicians that work at the school and elsewhere, he said. 

Live performances give the musicians flexibility in their phrasing and timing so they can respond to the actors on stage, Khosrowpour said. That freedom is taken away when the music is prerecorded, he said.

“We, down in the pit, are pretty focused on the music and hitting all the cues and the notes and the rhythms and being in sync with each other,” Khosrowpour said. The orchestra sits underneath the stage and cannot see the performers, so they rely on Musical Director Emma Weiss to coordinate cues between the two groups, Khosrowpour said. 

Despite the challenges of performing live, Khosrowpour believes that live music is always better, he said. “Live music gives the show this intangible quality that adds the oomph,” he said. “There is an energy that is shared with the actors on the stage and the musicians in the pit.”