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By ALAINA BARTEL
Daily News Staff Writer
There was a rat scurrying around backstage in the Ketchikan High School auditorium on Wednesday evening. At least it looked like a rat, with its long tail skirting the floor as it ran by suspiciously in search of cheese or slop.
The rat’s name was Templeton, and bringing him to life for the final dress rehearsal of the First City Players production of “Charlotte’s Web” was actor Peter Epler. The play will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, but opening night was held on Friday.
“Charlotte’s Web” is about a young farm pig, Wilbur, attempting to avoid a dire fate. His strongest ally in the barn he was sent to is Charlotte, a caring spider who creates a plan to keep Wilbur out of the slaughterhouse using words written her web.
“Charlotte’s Web” is Amanda Glanzer’s directorial debut. Glanzer is the marketing and outreach director for FCP, and has assistant directed several shows in the past. Elizabeth Nelson, FCP executive artistic director, is the assistant director for the show. Sponsoring the show is Island to Island Veterinary Clinic.
Since graduating high school, Glanzer has auditioned for almost every show she could. For some productions, she is cast, and for others she’s not. Sometimes she is cast in a named role, and other times she’s in the ensemble.
But, she’s auditioned every time and her emotions have run the gamut — from sheer disappointment from not getting the role she wanted, to utter ecstasy from getting the part she has been dreaming of since the show was announced.
“Nothing compares to having to be the director and making those cuts and making those decisions,” Glanzer said.
There were around 80 people who auditioned for “Charlotte’s Web” and more than 40 cast. Glanzer has helped with casting in the past as the assistant director, but ultimately, it is the director’s job to cast the show.
“Even as an AD, I can be like, ‘Oh yeah, you need to cast that person, not that person,’ and I can walk away guilt free. But as the director, that’s your decision, it’s your call and those are your hearts to break,” Glanzer noted. “So I definitely shed some tears over that. It’s all a part of the process.”
It was particularly difficult for her because of all the talented adults and children that auditioned. She couldn’t cast 80 people, though, and really the show should only have about 20 people in it.
Glanzer said there are about 29 roles in “Charlotte’s Web” and they are meant to be doubled. However, she decided to cast more people to involve as many actors as possible, given the amount of talent. Because of this, the audience will see someone on stage for just a few seconds and then their character won’t be seen again.
The director said more than half of the cast has never done a show with the theater group before, and said she and the actors are figuring their way through the process together.
“Not only is it me finding my footing as a director, but it’s them trying to figure out how to be actors,” she said.
About half of the cast is children and the other half are adults. Glanzer said the children bring a sort of magic to the story.
“There’s such a spirit that a kid has,” Glanzer said. “So, Elizabeth always says, ‘The essence of a play is play,’ and kids do that. I remember learning in nursing school the work of a child is to play. So they do that naturally. To put them on stage in a play where they do what they do just seems so natural, and they just have so much fun.”
Aside from making those casting decisions, Glanzer said everything else has fallen into place — such as the stage decor by Blaine Ashcraft and Nissa Dash. Glanzer said the two created everything seen on stage, but Ashcraft mostly worked on the barn and Dash, the set decor.
The barn has two levels, the ground floor and the upper level, where Charlotte will be next to her web. To get down intermittently throughout the production, she will climb down a ladder. She meaning Charlotte’s actor, Bridget Mattson.
It’s Mattson’s first non-musical play that she’s done with FCP. She’s been preparing for “Charlotte’s Web” by rereading the book in order to honor the story and the feelings the audience might have about it.
“It’s such a classic story that I feel like people have expectations of the characters,” Mattson said.
She said it’s been challenging to be more spider-like. By moving her arms and legs, adjusting her posture, and lowering herself to the stage to be closer to what is happening on the main floor, Mattson has figured out how to embody Charlotte.
The actor said the show has some humor and heartwarming scenes, it’s beautiful to watch and it would be a good use of time for anyone to see.
“It’s really a charming, charming story,” Mattson added. “We have a fantastic cast. The characters are all played very, very well. It’s a great place to spend an evening, or an afternoon if it were Sunday, with your family.”
Costuming Charlotte was Jackie Jones Bailey. Lynn Jorgensen costumed the humans, and the overall costume designer for the show was Pam Duran.
Glanzer said Duran has a love for “Charlotte’s Web,” and the two began planning for its costumes since they found out the play was chosen early last year. Duran said the costumes turned out exactly how she and Glanzer envisioned them.
Duran described herself as the costume implementer, and said the end result came from Glanzer’s vision as the director. They worked together on how to make a human being feel like a sheep on stage without covering them in wool.
“It’s very much a, ‘This is what I’d like to have, and what can we do, and here’s how we can make something that isn’t — seem to be what it is,’” Duran noted.
She added later that Glanzer has been easy to work with and has been doing a great job as the director — juggling everyone’s schedules, personalities, costumes, makeup and every other detail that goes into putting on a show. Duran said Glanzer has handled the should-be-overwhelming situation quite well.
“The actors really respond well to her. She gives really good directions and she’s very patient,” Duran said.
The audience will soon see how Duran, Glanzer and all of the other costume designers were able to bring animals to life. Sheep is wearing a white top and white pantaloons, which is a blousey kind of pant.
Those pants are covered in lace, thanks to a large donation of lace to FCP. Basically, Duran said, Sheep is covered in lace from head to toe. She said the costume includes a lot of tucks and folds, lace and elastic around different areas.
Then there are Goose and Gander. Duran said they had to think of their costumes in terms of domestic geese versus geese you would see in the barnyard that is “Charlotte’s Web.” She said Goose, portrayed by Frankie Urquhart, has an orange bow in her hair to reference a bill.
“Charlotte’s Web” has been a reunion of sorts for Urquhart, whose partner Gander is her former student, George Dowling. She said it’s been great to work and reconnect with him as an adult, because they had a student-teacher chemistry in the past.
Urquhart said it’s been easy to get that back, as they are in every scene with each other and are able to play off each other’s lines.
Also in the play is her daughter, Neila Urquhart, who is playing Lamb. Urquhart said it’s been great seeing her daughter come into her own throughout the past few weeks. She added her daughter is more confident now compared to when she first started.
“When we first started doing this, she hid behind my skirt,” Urquhart said about her daughter when she first started acting.
She believes people should see the show to see the way the “magical and special” cast pulls from each other to bring a story to life that many people love.
“The way that we’re able to portray the characters, I think people will fall in love with it again,” Urquhart said. “If they haven’t already fallen in love with it, I think they will. If they already love the story, I hope that they will fall in love again.”
Urquhart added the characters are rich, and she hopes the audience enjoys the way they brought animals to life through costume and makeup. The makeup artist for the show is Nicole Caple; and hair is done by Cathy Cooley and Kathy Fitzgerald, led by Sharolyn Kroscavage.
While at the show, the audience will be able to read Glanzer’s director’s note in the program. The play is close to her heart, as well, being that “Charlotte’s Web” was the first chapter book she had ever read.
It’s also the first play she was in, when her teacher cast the painfully shy wallflower that she used to be as a speaking role in the production.
“It was just such a revelation,” Glanzer said. “So that year — ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and finding theater in the same year — it just seemed like providence that this is the show I would begin directing with.”