GREENFIELD — Meghan Batka, power screwdriver in hand, repaired a stand-up coat rack. Dharma Tilley and Serena Yazell sorted through hundreds of pieces of clothing in the costume loft. In the dressing room, Peyton Bousman put the finishing touches on a bald cap to cover actor Alexander Johnson’s full head of hair.
At every turn, a student — focused, diligent. Each working to bring the vision to life.
Nearly 90 students are involved with Greenfield-Central High School’s upcoming theater production of “You Can’t Take It With You.” Actors make up just a fourth of the group; the rest serve on the assorted technical crews who manage the behind-the-scenes work necessary for a successful theatrical production.
Story continues below gallery
Under the watchful and guiding eye of Greenfield-Central drama director Ted Jacobs, the techies — as they like to call themselves — are the backbone of any theater department. Without them, there would be no set, no lights, sound, costumes, make-up or props.
Each rehearsal for “You Can’t Take It With You” begins in the auditorium. Jacobs gathers his troupe in the seats and outlines the goals for the rehearsal: which scenes to rehearse and what the assorted tech crews need to complete by the end of the day. When the short meeting is over, the students scatter — to the tech booth, the greenroom, the scene shop and the costume loft — and get busy with their responsibilities.
Batka, a senior, has taken her turn on stage as an extra in previous productions of “Shrek the Musical” and “Alice in Wonderland,” but like her three siblings before her, the backstage world of the techie calls her name. She shares head tech responsibilities with fellow senior Cory Charbeneau, assisting with general tasks such getting the flats out and putting up the walls. She also makes frequent visits to storage, where the big props such as couches, tables, lamps and bookshelves are kept.
In addition to doing some heavy lifting, Batka was also at work on a creative project. An image on her laptop showed a small, tabletop printing press to be used by one of the characters in the show. The collection of wood and hardware next to the computer on the workbench will soon resemble the image on the screen, and Batka was confident she was up to the task.
“I’ll just figure it out as I go along,” Batka said.
Dharma Tilley, a junior, and her assistant, sophomore Serena Yazell, spend most of their time in the costume loft. Their job is to make sure the actors look good on stage. Many of the 21 actors will wear more than one costume in the show, and it is up to the costume crew to outfit them all.
Tilley and Yazell bring actors up to the steep stairway to the loft one or two at a time to have them try on costumes. Since the show takes place in the late 1930s, the girls have gotten a lot of their costuming ideas from fashion websites or YouTube videos of other productions of “You Can’t Take It With You.”
They have measuring sheets to help them with sizing, but they still end up doing a lot of alterations.
During the production, the girls will be on call backstage in case of a wardrobe malfunction. This is not their first time on the costume crew, and they know to be ready with a flashlight in case a costume needs repair mid-show.
“We have little bundles of safety pins pinned to our shirts so we have them at all times,” Tilley said.
They have their own brand of costume horror stories, like the night an actor’s shoe came apart, and it took a stick and a half of a hot glue to put it back together.
In the green room, make-up techie Bousman, a junior, sought help from professional make-up artist David Schlatter. Schlatter guided Bousman with the bald skullcap to be worn by Johnson as the character of Mr. Depinna.
“I have lots of hair, and there are many lines in the show that reference that I’m bald,” Johnson explained.
Bousman dabbed make-up on the hairless cap. “You have to make sure all the edges are down, and the color of the cap matches the color of his face,” Bousman said.
“And if your head itches,” she said, “it’s an itch you can’t scratch.”
Jacobs, drama director at Greenfield-Central for more than 15 years, selects shows for the young thespians for a variety of reasons including the literary value of the script. “You Can’t Take It With You,” written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, was a Broadway hit in 1936 and a Pulitzer prize-winning drama in 1937.
It’s also a comedy, Jacobs pointed out. He admits that comedies are out of his comfort zone.
“We always do heavy-handed dramas, and I wanted to do something different,” he said.
He also likes to pick shows with a set design that challenges his tech crew.
“You Can’t Take It With You” takes place in an old, somewhat disheveled Victorian mansion, Jacobs said. The assembled flats that make up the main room inside the house zig-zag along a crooked line from one side of the stage to the other.
“It has lots of lines and levels to give it depth and an unsettled look,” Jacobs said. “It reflects the quirkiness of the family.”
Jacobs said he is proud of the hard work the kids put in. He is the first to admit that Greenfield-Central Drama is a hands-on, student-run organization.
“My biggest reward,” Jacobs said, “is when a parent realizes that hardly any adults touch the set — the gasp from the audience when they recognize that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill high school theater program.”
Greenfield-Central High School theater troupe presents “You Can’t Take It With You” by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16, 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 18 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 19 in the auditorium at Greenfield-Central High School, 810 N. Broadway. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students. For more information, call 317-462-9211, ext. 34121.