Most of what we see during theater perfomances such as Sister Act, a much-acclaimed Broadway musical comedy that premiered on June 27 at The Theatre at Solaire, Entertainment City, Pasay City, is only the tip of the iceberg. Beyond the glitzy lights, the breathtaking choreography, and the catchy songs, there is more to staging this musical extravaganza than meets the eye. So much takes place backstage that we never witness, a choreographed endeavour that is as intricate as the one being performed onstage.
The musical is a re-creation of the music and general story of the hit 1992 film comedy of the same title. Preparations began months in advance, with lead characters throwing themselves fully into the roles that they have to play.
For Rebecca Mason-Wygal, the actress who played Mother Superior, it meant researching into a faith that was different from her own. "I had to do a lot of research before we started," she reveals, "There was a lot of terminology in the show that was not familiar to me. I read a lot of books by women who had joined convents."
For Dene Hill, the lead actress who played vibrant club singer Delores Van Cartier, it entailed adapting a completely different persona altogether. "I'm very shy in my personal life and Delores is the complete opposite," she laughs, "The shyness had to take a backseat, in order to bring this party on."
Backstage could best be described as organized chaos. In a relatively tiny space, dozens of people work to bring a whole new world to life. Boxes of props, wigs and costumes are neatly labeled to avoid confusion. Designated areas hold wardrobe dressers to help keep the actors close to the stage for quick costume changes. Set pieces are arranged accordingly, with a mind towards efficiency of movement. Much of the scenery backdrops hang from the ceiling and the other set pieces are rolled in on a palette from the sides of the stage in the wings. Several computers control most of the machinery, with systems each dedicated to lights, sounds, and scenery.
Together, all these departments work as a team, moving in synchronicity with one another to ensure that the show goes on, with each act flowing seamlessly into one another. The work is hard, and it's not glamorous. Long, unsociable hours, and lack of a life outside of the production: those are the facts. However, job satisfaction is absolutely off the scale. Long after the last audience leaves, long after the last costume is packed up, each member of the cast and crew can step back and say, "We did that."
Sister Act runs from June 27-July 9 at The Theatre at Solaire, Entertainment City, Pasay City
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Photographs by the author