A Crew's Curtain Call
When the curtain opens and the actors come on stage, Alabama Shakespeare Festival audiences are in awe of the magic taking place on stage. But amidst all the fanfare in front of them, there is a special crew, hard at work backstage, who does not give the final bow at the end of the show. In fact, their work begins over a year before the show even reaches its opening.
As “Annie” makes its first appearance at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, the RSVP team went behind the scenes to see all the work that goes into such a large production. From the wigmakers who sew each red, curly wig strand-by-strand to the builders who work for weeks on an ice cream cart that passes on the stage only once- the work is tremendous.
Initial planning begins with applying for rights from a publisher. From there, an artistic team that includes the director, set designer, and choreographer is hired. The director works to establish and communicate a vision to ensure everything is successful- even down to the lighting. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival crew builds the sets and costumes and is in constant dialogue with the directors and designers. “When it comes to the behind-the-scenes team dynamics, the key word is trust,” says Ahkim Church, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival production manager, who guides every production through the build process and onto the stage. “It’s 100% trust. You have to know that everything will be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, night after night. You are working with a team of people you can always count on.”
Actors and dancers are cast both locally in Montgomery and through companies in New York City. A month before opening, the actors arrive in Montgomery and spend six days a week in full-time rehearsal. Hannah Jean Farris, stage manager and right-hand to the director, works to ensure every detail is carried out just as needed. “My favorite part of preparing for a show is watching the actors go through the rehearsal process. I get to watch as each individual actor creates their character in an evolving process in the rehearsal room. Everyone brings something new to their character and I enjoy seeing the personal touches they add to their roles,” she shares.
“Annie” brought a lot of excitement to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival staff. Lovers of the 1982 film who grew up watching the spunky orphan face her difficulties with a song can now see it live and in the comfort of their own city. Additionally, the 2014 version of “Annie” (starring Jamie Foxx) revived the classic for a whole new generation. Katie Perkowski, marketing director for the Shakespeare Festival, enjoys the unique dynamic a show with children has. “The kids – oh my goodness! The kids are adorable! They make every performance a unique adventure. Add to that a stellar cast of dynamic Broadway performers and you have an unforgettable experience that the whole family can enjoy and share in together,” she says. ASF’s production of “Annie” has cast a multitude of local children.
Any “Annie” lover knows there would be no show without the title character’s canine sidekick, Sandy. Casting a dog takes a unique sort of preparation that Alabama Shakespeare Festival fortunately has experienced in previous shows. Last year’s production of “Because of Winn Dixie” allowed ASF to work with Broadway animal director, Bill Berloni. Berloni is renowned for his animal actors and even trains them for New York’s Broadway stage. Marti, who plays Sandy in the ASF show, was originally trained to appear in the 2014 version of “Annie” with Jamie Foxx. She has performed in many stage versions since- giving the Alabama Shakespeare Festival the best Sandy they could have.
“Annie is a story about resilience, hope, and optimism. It is an inspiring story that has touched the hearts of multiple generations. Christopher Windom is a director and choreographer who exudes optimism and joy, and he has created a production that speaks to our River Region audience,” says artistic director Rick Dildine, who tells us this adaptation is uniquely designed to fit the Montgomery area. Christopher Windom says, “The challenge was to create a production that is unique to this theatre and this community while honoring the intention of the story. You don’t just want to present a one-dimensional story about hope and optimism – rather you want to explore the emotional depth of characters, the story and the time period, to create something that will really resonate with the community of people watching the performance.”
As the opening of “Annie” draws closer, keep up with more behind-the-scenes action on Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s Instagram and Facebook pages. “Annie” will run from July 4th through August 5th. Don’t miss your chance to see the play and its beloved songs, including "It's the Hard Knock Life," "Easy Street," and "Tomorrow," come alive on stage.