Guided Spirit Walks 2019 Behind-the-Scenes: REHEARSALS

We are officially in Guided Spirit Walks rehearsal season! With our first week of rehearsals over, it’s time to do some reflecting and let you all into rehearsals to see the process that leads up to the performance in Victoria Lawn Cemetery.

After co-writing the script without knowing any of the actors or actresses, I was pretty anxious to meet the cast and see how and if they fit with their characters, and how they brought the writing to life.

After finishing the 20 page script, and getting it proofread by several people, it was time for our first full-cast read-through.  Our cast read-through involved sixteen people around the table: twelve cast members and four crew. This is pretty straight forward: the cast members find out the characters they will be playing, and we do a full read-through of the script.

It was incredible to have all of the cast in one place and to see them excited about the roles they were given.

“I finally get to play a mother! Who’s Tristyn, who’s my daughter here?”

“Ooh, I am a secretary for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, I will have a lot of fun with this one”

“A plane crash in St. Catharines, who knew!?”

From right: Crew member Lauren Curtas, Cast Members Rachelle Longtin, Lily Young, and Tristyn Tompkins

We officially began rehearsal by introducing ourselves. We have returners who have done Guided Spirit Walks from its beginning, as well as new faces joining for the first time. We thought a fun ice-breaker would be asking them to introduce themselves, how long they have been part of Guided Spirit Walks and what drew them to volunteer, and then the biggest scandal they can think of (due to the nature of this year’s theme). Once we had gone around the table, it was time for our first read-through.

As the cast read through their lines, we noticed some kinks in grammar, spelling, formatting, and general fluidity that would need to be addressed. We drew a lot from written primary documents which were meant to be read silently, not aloud. Sometimes things that flow well when you read it silently, doesn’t flow at all when it’s read aloud.

The read-through also helped us see if our writing was as impactful as we hoped. This year’s tour involves some difficult content, including scenes dealing tragedy, sorrow, and even murder. We had to tow a line between keeping respectful to the historical figures and writing a script that would deliver an impactful tour. There were a few instances where we realized we had added too much “fluff” wording and the scene lost its meaning.

After the read-through, the cast were measured for costumes and that was that! We delved into discussions about how well cast members suited their characters. I co-wrote the script, but I hadn’t actually met any of the cast members aside from Des, I relied on Sara’s descriptions to guide my writing. Seeing the characters come to life, and the actors suit them so well was extremely rewarding.

So what’s next? Individual scene rehearsals. We started less than twelve hours after our first read-through with two of the scenes. In the individual scene rehearsals, we work with the cast on their lines – the way they say their lines and where the emphasis should be, general character development, and blocking.  It’s a lot of asking the cast “how did that read-through feel?”, “how do you think you would react here?”, “what do you think your motivation is?” The nice thing about this production is its very collaborative. Rather than us always telling the cast how they should be portraying their characters, we encourage the cast to interpret their historical figures and act accordingly. Some cast members asked for the primary documents we used to write the script, in order to develop a deeper understanding of their historical figures.

Cast Member Armand Romagnoli practicing his lines as William Pay in our individual rehearsals.

As someone without a drama background, the rehearsals were new territory for me, but the cast and crew made the experience so easy that I am actually considering volunteering for Guided Spirit Walks in the future. The way that we are able to tell peoples’ stories that, otherwise would maybe not be told is incredibly fulfilling.

Cast Members Lily Young, Ian Ashman, and Emily Squires rehearsing the Stinson trial scene

We have about a month and a half left of rehearsals before the first performance, and everything is coming along very nicely. Tickets are on sale now. Get yours and come see “Glimpses of St. Catharines: Stories of the Famous and Infamous”.

Guided Spirt Walks run September 6th, 7th, 13th, and 14th at 6pm and 7pm at Victoria Lawn Cemetery. Tickets are now on sale at $12.00/person. For more information visit our website.

Amanda Balyk is the Museum’s summer Program Assistant and is completing her M.A. in History at Brock University.

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