Working overtime to bring ‘9 to 5’ alive
Published February 19, 2013
Nineteen students span the stage in Askanase Hall as director Lori Horvik energetically weaves between them and two rows of equally spaced, small wooden desks.
“Stay glued to his hip and continuously take notes as you walk over here,” she says to a young woman who plays a brown-nosing secretary in “9 to 5”, a musical based on the 1980’s comedic film in which three women fantasize about getting even with their egotistical, sexist boss. The student feverishly scribbles in her notepad, while taking up personal space of the student playing her supervisor.
Horvik then turns to another young woman who plays the office gossip. “Walk over here while keeping your eyes on her,” Horvik says. The student craftily crosses the stage delivering an eyebrows-raised once-over. She reaches her desk, then eagerly dials her rotary phone to deliver the latest dish.
“Oh, I like that,” says Horvik, associate professor of theatre arts and stage director of Theatre NDSU’s rendition of “9 to 5”, which opens Thursday, Feb. 21.
The process continues student by student until it is time to see the action together.
Horvik sings the end of a song and claps. The office is set into motion. The movement ends. She tweaks a few things. Repeat.
Orchestrating these precise movements across stage is called blocking and it is an art form in itself. The students are practicing a transition after a song. It will account for seconds of the production. But this Tuesday evening, getting it just right takes nearly an hour.
By opening night, the cast and crew will undoubtedly make the show look effortless. But getting to that point takes an immeasurable amount of time, energy and dedication.
“Most people don’t realize how much time is spent,” Horvik said. “It’s exponential, depending on the number of people on the stage. But they really help each other understand the process, which is great.”
They began their three-hour, five-day-a-week rehearsals in early January, but planning for the show began a year and a half ago.
“It’s work,” said Lori Boucher, a senior majoring in musical theatre from Fargo, who plays Roz, the office snitch and secret admirer of the boss, Franklin Hart Jr. “But it’s work I enjoy. At the end of the day, I always have fun at rehearsal and performing and even in my classes.”
Designers are involved from the start. Last semester they began searching for and constructing everything that will appear on stage. In “9 to 5”, this includes everything from office supplies and desks to rugs and curtains to vintage typewriters and a monstrous Xerox machine.
To locate period pieces, students scavenge thrift shops and antique stores. “Properties is a field that is really challenging because you have to know all the resources in an area and be creative and hopefully not have to build everything,” Horvik said.
But when they do build, they build to the highest quality. Even if it’s on stage momentarily, hand props, stage props and costumes are all made to last. For example, in “9 to 5”, numerous hours went into constructing three princess costumes for a two-minute dream sequence.
Cody Gerszewski, a junior majoring in theatre arts from Grand Forks, N.D., who plays Hart, appreciates the department’s high expectations. “I’ve felt since I got here the department is really big on preparing us. They are so precise with everything we learn so we are ready for the real world.”
In addition to blocking and design elements, there’s hair and makeup; lighting and sound; and backstage and front of house management, all of which have similar amounts of intricacies. Not to mention 120 pages of script, 20 songs and numerous choreographed dances to memorize.
All the students in the theatre department, roughly 50 freshmen through seniors, contribute to four productions a year. They all play a valuable role, whether on stage or off. “Everybody is doing something. It is pretty rare that anyone is not,” Horvik said.
Participation counts as both an extracurricular activity and a one-credit class, which goes toward the department’s required practicum.
One lesson inherently learned is time management, Horvik said. Students become skilled at balancing classes, rehearsals, work and their personal lives. For example, on this cold evening, Boucher has two tests to study for after rehearsal ends at 10 p.m.
As they patiently practice blocking, an unspoken stage etiquette is detectable and camaraderie obvious. This is their home on campus and the actors beside them have become their university family.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it,” Gerszewski said. “The bottom line is it gives me something I enjoy doing and lets me continue to do it.”