This spring, the Robert E. Lee High School theatre department will produce "The Rivals," a Restoration-period comedy by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. This play about mistaken identities and true love is set in the late 18th century in Bath, England. Director Trena Weiss-Null hopes to maintain the traditions of Restoration style with the set, designed by freshman Jackie Claure. The play takes place in 10 different settings, and due to space constraints, many set pieces will be constructed on wagons for easier scene changes, while maintaining the historical accuracy of Restoration period set design and decorations. Claure has been researching and visiting local homes that are period appropriate to assist in planning set decorations.
Senior Liz Hèbert has the important job of keeping the costumes historically correct, and has spent a lot of time researching, envisioning, designing, shopping, and building costumes that will accurately represent the French and British influences of Bath styles in the late 1700s. Hèbert, who enjoys the challenge of purchasing material and watching her designs come to life, has felt particularly challenged by the need for men's fancy footwear. According to Hèbert, "men of that time period wore shoes similar to a contemporary woman's dress pumps, but finding heeled shoes that will fit a male size 13 and fit within the limited budget, has proven to be particularly challenging." Hèbert hopes to be able to find or construct such shoes in order to keep the costumes historically accurate.
Props Crew Head, Junior Brittany Puhala, is also required to build or acquire historically accurate props, including fake weapons that look both realistic and period appropriate, as well as the necessities required for a life without indoor plumbing. According to Puhala, "it is difficult to find matching pieces of furniture that fit the time period, so we will need to take modern pieces and refurbish them to look authentic."
In 1770's England, hair was long and elaborately styled. Men often had a ponytail and curls, and women wore their hair in intricate styles on top of their heads. Because of today's popular short styles, every male, and all but a few female cast members will require wigs, says Junior Ellie Mosser, who is designing hair and makeup. Each actor's hair and makeup will take approximately 90 minutes to complete, but Mosser states the lengthy preparations "are necessary to maintain the historical accuracy of the hair and makeup."
Accuracy is also a concern for the actors. In the script, characters have four different accents: high British (an older version of today's standard British), Cockney, North Country British, and Irish. Shortly after rehearsals began, actors learning accents received dialect CD's to listen to help learn their accent. In addition, cast members have found themselves speaking in their character's accent in their everyday lives. According to Junior Johnny O'Malley who plays Capt. Jack Absolute, "it's difficult to maintain your own accent when other people on stage have a different accent. It takes training and a lot of hard work to be able to keep your accent consistent."
The extra work that goes into a production such as "The Rivals" is what being part of theatre is all about. The teaching and learning that has taken place has proven to be a valuable experience for everyone involved. It has been two months of learning and rehearsing and there is still a lot to be done before opening night on April 23.