When “Gemini,” the latest Wilkes University theatrical production (and the last for the current academic year) takes to the stage this Thursday, audiences will be transported to South Philadelphia, circa 1973.
Few, however, will wonder how part of the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center in modern-day Wilkes-Barre was seemingly transformed into another place and time.
When the show is over, the actors will take their applause from dead-center in the public’s eye, hot lights shining down.
Others will take it from in the dark, waiting in the wings.
That applause may not be intended for them, but one could argue that they’re just as deserving.
After all, without the backstage crew members, without the set designers and propmasters, the wardrobe people, the lighting people, the sound people and all their kin, without all of them “Gemini” would amount to little more than naked actors reciting dialogue on an empty, unlit stage.
“Particularly for this play, we had to have a realistic set,” Joe Dawson, the play’s director and associate professor/chair of the performing arts department, said. “It’s replete with a lot of historic detail. It takes a lot of time. There are a lot of steps in producing the play.”
Taking place in 1970s Philadelphia, “Gemini” tells the story of a young man grappling with his own homosexuality and his interaction with the friend he’s attracted to and that same friend’s sister, who he used to date. Despite the heavy subject matter, “Gemini” is a comedy.
“It’s kind of a coming-of-age story about self-discover and self-identity, but it’s also really funny,” senior communication studies major and theatre arts minor Corey Martin said.
Martin plays the protagonist’s father, who, along with other colorful characters Martin describes as “just plain South Philly crazy,” provides much of humor to what might otherwise seem a straight-faced drama.
All told, there are seven cast members for “Gemini,” a number that pales in comparison to the 30 that make up the production’s crew.
Among them is junior integrated media and technical theatre major Joshua Solarczyk, who is the show’s stage manager.
“We spend four hours a day, six days a week just rehearsing. With lighting and set design, we spend at least 15 hours more a week, pushing 25 when it comes close to the show. My main job is to keep everything on schedule. I create the daily schedule of when and where everyone must go. I take notes throughout the night of what must be fixed as well. Whatever the director needs, I do,” he said.
“We have weekly meetings on what is going on and what needs to be done. The hardest time would be the entire two weeks before opening day. That is when the pressure is really on. Making sure sets are being completed, along with the lights being hung and focused. The audience just sees lights during the show, but it takes a long time to make it have a ‘realistic’ feel.”
It’s a stressful job that comes with little of the glitz and glamour typically associated with the performing arts. But for those who don’t have an interest in such pageantry, that’s just fine.
“I like what I do. I’ve always been a very organized and structured person,” sophomore theatre arts major and “Gemini” assistant stage manager Erin Reese said.
“What I find most rewarding is the way you become closer to your cast and to the department as a whole. It’s a small department, so we all know each other. But when you’re put into a position where you’re responsible for these things that people depend on, if you do it well they respect you even more. You can build really great relationships because of that.”
Perhaps that’s one of the reason that all theater majors, even those whose interests are exclusively in acting, are required to learn the technical aspects of production.
Most importantly, the goal, Dawson said, is to provide an education that is all-encompassing.
Though an actor in “Gemini,” Martin has served as an assistant stage manager himself in the past. As such he can attest to the importance of understanding the way those two worlds relate to one another.
“Behind the scenes, you are the support. You are what helps gets the play going. Without you, there’s nothing,” Martin said. “It can be a big transition from one to the other, but for the most part you feel just as involved and just as important. Because you are.”
Nevertheless, it can be all too easy for audiences to forget to give crew members the same recognition they provide actors. For Reese, though, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Quite the opposite, it’s a form of validation.
“People don’t realize that it is a group thing. The people backstage deserve just as much credit as the actors, because they do just as much work,” she said. “But if you’re not aware that there are people backstage, it’s probably because they’re doing their jobs well.”
Performance dates of “Gemini” are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 11, 12, 13 and 14. Performances Thursday, Friday and Saturdays will be at 8 p.m. The Sunday performance will be at 2 p.m. General admission is $10. Admission for students and seniors is $5. Admission for Wilkes students with a valid ID is free.