By Greta Turney, Assistant to the Director and local theatre addict
For the first time in decades, the Arcata Playhouse and Ferndale Repertory Theater are teaming up to bring a fresh, exciting production of Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill to Humboldt County. Performing the musical at the Arcata Playhouse for the first two weekends, and then moving the entire production to Ferndale Repertory Theater for the final two weekends affords a variety of theater goers the opportunity to see this remarkable production. Furthermore, this traveling production also allows Threepenny fans the chance to attend two similar, yet different, depictions of the show using the same set and actors, but on two very different stages.
In a unique twist to the traditional productions of Threepenny Opera, director Leira V. Satlof along with musical director Jill Petricca, has gathered a talented group of instrumentalist/actors who can multi-task and assume character roles in addition to playing the score. This presentation will be a deconstructed Threepenny Opera of sorts. Jill Petricca, who plays several instruments and the role of Betty, faces obstacles specific to the design of this particular production as she brings the amazing score by Kurt Weill to life. For example, as rehearsals continue, the ensemble periodically realizes that the musician best suited to cue the beginning of a song is standing behind the other performers and musicians making it impossible to cue with a gesture. The band is learning to adapt, which requires really paying attention to both the scene and the other instrumentalists. It is exactly this kind of ensemble work that director Satlof was trying to inspire.
Adding to the challenges of this one-of-a-kind production, the rehearsal schedule is half that of most Ferndale Repertory Theater musicals. Last year, for example, Fiddler on the Roof began rehearsals in early January for a mid-March opening. Threepenny Opera, however, opens February 5th and began rehearsing the last week of December. Knowing that the rehearsal period would be brief, Satlof asked the cast to have their lines and songs memorized before staging rehearsals began the first week of January. This has allowed the actors to rapidly develop relationships among their characters on stage. It has been amazing to watch the show take shape so quickly.
And then there is the challenge of presenting the play in two, very different theaters. Ray Gutierrez (set designer) and Michael Foster (lighting designer) have had a lot to think about. The set was designed to work in both locations, but it will work differently which will provide some challenges to the actors and an opportunity for audiences. It also means two complete lighting designs. The Arcata Playhouse has a very low ceiling and no proscenium, while Ferndale Rep has a higher ceiling, raked seating and a proscenium. Lighting Designer Foster will have to hang two complete sets of lights, twice the work. Seeing the play in the very intimate setting of the Arcata Playhouse where the actors may very well sweat on you will provide one experience of the show. Seeing it again at Ferndale Repertory Theatre will give yet another take on the show as the audience is further away and staging, articulation, and size of the actors performances will have to accommodate the difference in spaces.
Threepenny Opera opens at the Arcata Playhouse on February 5th, moves to Ferndale February 19th, and runs through February 28th. For more information on tickets and times, please visit the Ferndale Repertory Theater website at www.ferndalerep.org.