Walking into the Center for Art and Theatre at Georgia Southern, the actors are dispersed in various areas, most with their noses buried in scripts, eyes closed and mouths moving with only whispers of words.
All the actors have a calm panic about them as it’s the first day of act two without a book in hand for playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s comic look at serious situations “Wonder of the World.”
The play is entering its final days of rehearsal as it opens Wednesday and runs through Friday at the Center for Art and Theatre on the GSU campus with performances at 7:30 each evening.
"GSU professor James Harbour, director and instructor of the Rehearsal and Performance class and show, is backstage with students as the lights are adjusted and the stage set. The class he oversees with assistance from professor Kelly Berry produces a summer stock show in which Abaire’s dark comedy is cast, rehearsed and performed for the public all within two weeks.
"You learn the work will get done as long as you [the student] choose o get it done,” Harbour said. “It’s the sense of a deadline, and as long as the individual chooses to achieve it, it will get done, and that’s a life lesson.”
Harbour chose both the show and the summer stock format for its educational value for the students and entertainment purposes for the audience. Functioning as both professor and director, Harbour works with the cast in between each scene, educating his students on the intricate details necessary to bring Wonder of the World to life.
Struck by the show nearly 23 years ago in New York when Sarah Jessica Parker originated the lead role of Cassie, Harbour regretted not being able to see the show during its run and said he has wanted to direct it ever since. As for the show’s quick-turnaround format, he believes that it offers a valuable experience because professional theatres around the country function under the same timetable.
Harbour said it is the first time GSU’s theatre program has conducted a two-week stock, normally allowing the summer show four weeks to rehearse before the premiere. All members of the class pull double duty with dual casting as well as helping with the production and promotion sides. Students are given a variety of jobs to complete, such as set and costume construction, public relations and box office duties as well as stage management and acting in order to get the show onto its feet in the condensed amount of time.
Conducting two rehearsals a day Zoe Campbell and Brittany Miller, Harbour’s seconds in command at the stage management position, found that the biggest change in their jobs came in the area of keeping the actors and crew on point each day.
“You have to keep everyone on edge a little more and keep people focused quicker while still maintaining a fun atmosphere,” the two stage managers agreed.
Hillary Diebold, who plays Cassie, the sweet-natured, erratic lead who leaves behind her former life in search of her “real life,” said, “[It’s] an experience. Something I’ve never done before that’s for sure. It’s hard to find the balance between the comedy and the drama of this play. One moment it’s funny and the next it’s serious.”
The contrast between comedy and tragedy follows the overall theme of the play, which is a battle between people trying to save relationships, create relationships and run away from relationships.
After discovering a dirty secret in her husband’s sweater drawer, Cassie sets out on an existential quest to find herself with a bucket list of 200 things she has always wanted to do.
Along the way she meets an odd cast of unusual yet realistic characters including Lois, a wry suicidal alcoholic, Captain Mike, a lonely Maid of the Mist tour-boat captain, and an odd couple of private detectives, a strange round up of quirky waitresses, and a desperate husband.
There is no admission charge, but donations for the Stephanie Routman and Dorothy Few Lee Theatre Scholarship programs will be accepted. “Wonder of the World” contains adult themes and language and is recommended for mature audiences.