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The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Secrets in the Wings

Join actor Lisa Pan and crew member Lucy Marek for a behind the scenes look into the Bishop’s production of “The Secret in the Wings”
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Lucy Marek
The set for The Secret in the Wings was created by Technical Theater & Design teacher Mr. Kyle Melton with the help of his students in ATP (Advanced Theater Production) and Technical Theater 1 & 2.

The Bishop’s production of The Secret in the Wings lasts just over 70 minutes, but that doesn’t account for the countless hours devoted to the show — by both cast and crew — that makes the performances possible. Join us, actress Lisa Pan (‘26), who played the roles of Ambassador, Snake Leaves Princess, and one of the seven sons/swans, and props manager Lucy Marek (‘25) on our journey through opening night of the 2023 Bishop’s fall play on October 27, 2023.

The Secret in the Wings by playwright Mary Zimmerman is a collection of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales, mainly those that were less popular. Such fairy tales were “The Three Blind Queens,” “Stolen Pennies,” “The Princess Who Wouldn’t Laugh,” “The Three Snake Leaves,” “Allerleira,” and “Seven Swans” or “Silent For Seven Years.” 

In “The Three Blind Queens,” three queens are hunted by an evil nursemaid, who orders an ambassador to kill them and take out their eyes as proof that they are dead, and they take their own eyes out to survive. In “Stolen Pennies,” the ghost of a young girl crawls desperately at the floorboards, hoping to give two pennies to a poor man in order to free her trapped soul. 

In “The Princess Who Wouldn’t Laugh,” hundreds of suitors perform comedy skits in an effort to try and make a princess laugh, but if they failed, they were to be beheaded. In “The Three Snake Leaves,” a princess would only marry a man who would die with her if she died first, and after dying and being resurrected by three magical leaves, betrays her husband for another. 

In “Allerleira,” a grieving king falls in love with his daughter, who looks exactly like his dead wife. And in “Seven Swans” or “Silent For Seven Years,” seven naughty sons are cursed by their father to turn into swans every day — a gruesome experience — and to save her brothers, the sister remains silent for seven years.

The show begins with the first half of each story, and ends with the second half of each story, until we realize that all of these stories were not real — they came to a young boy named Jake in a dream. But what does this timeline look like from the point of view of the cast and crew?

 

5:00pm – Dinner

At 5:00 P.M., we all enjoyed some dinner, which happened to be Greek food from The Kebab Shop, in the Taylor Performing Arts Center (TPAC) courtyard. People were lounging around on benches at the base of the large tree in the center. The courtyard is a place for discussions about school, sports, the upcoming performance, and everything in between. Even if it’s short, dinner is still a bonding experience for the cast and crew.

 

5:30pm – Cast and crew go their separate ways

Cast Begins Physical Warm Ups – Lisa

After dinner, Riley Brunson (‘25) and Lainie Beamer (‘25) led the physical warmups on the quad: jogging in a circle, which turned into an oval, then shifted dramatically to the right, and actors struggled not to accidentally step on Lainie’s phone, which was playing the music.

“There are three main tools of the actor. There’s the body, there’s the voice, and there’s the mind,” Director Dr. Kristen Tregar explained. “We stretch to help prevent injuries. There’s a lot of physicality in the show, so we wanna make sure everyone’s feeling pretty limber.” As an actor in the Seven Swans scene, in which seven sons who turned into swans grotesquely contort and cry out in pain, stretching was definitely extremely important.

Freshmen Halyn Chon and Parsa Avaz-Barandish, both members of stage crew for The Secret in the Wings, hang a quilt over a wardrobe as part of their preset — putting everything in the place it needs to be for the beginning of the show — before a performance. (Lucy Marek)

Crew Begins Preshow – Lucy

At 5:30, the crew began their preshow rituals and checks. Jack Rudy (‘26) and I — the stage crew for stage right — retrieved headsets from the booth to give to the rest of the stage crew, Halyn Chon (‘27) and Parsa Avaz-Barandish (‘27). While we were there we saw stage manager Ella Foppiano (‘27), who was also preparing for the performance: “It’s my job to go through the [lighting and sound] cues before the show and make sure they’re in place,” which ensures that there are no oddly-timed noises or sudden light changes, she said

Meanwhile, light board operator Serena Jaiclin (‘27) was busy “turning off the house lights, work lights, the ghost light, and catwalk lights, and turning on the blue lights and lighting board.” The blue lights help cast and crew see backstage while not casting a glow onstage, which would catch the attention of the audience. Sound board operator Adam Fang (‘27)… turns on  the sound board and the amplifier racks, then unmutes the area microphones and the speakers.

Jack and I retrieved the headsets from the booth and put the batteries in. While Jack handed these out to Halyn and Parsa, I went into the catwalks to plug in lights that would help Parsa and I see while we sprinkled snow, leaves, and petals onto an unsuspecting audience later that night, as part of the “Seven Swans” scenes. Finally, I joined the rest of the stage crew to double-check our work from the previous night: presetting the props. 

 

5:45pm – Crew reviews preset as actors warm up

Cast Begins Vocal Warmup – Lisa

After the physical warmups, the actors split up. Those who did not have to sing in the production went backstage to begin hair and makeup, while those who did have to sing went to the stage right wing, where Music Director Raphael Delgado (‘24) was waiting at the piano.

Songs were only needed in the “Three Blind Queens” scenes, which told the story of three blind queens who ate their babies to survive after being abandoned on a mountainside, and the Snake Leaves scenes, which told the story of a princess who only married a man who would die with her in her grave and, after dying and being resurrected, killed her husband to love another.

“They’re certainly not your typical songs that you’d find on the radio or in a musical,” Raphael noted, chuckling. “Eerie folk music is the best way I can describe it.” The first song, “The Song of the Three Blind Queens,” was sung without music. “It makes the song a bit more raw. It’s a very pretty song, but if you look at the context of the people who are singing it, who have ripped their eyes out in order to stay alive, I don’t think it was meant to sound like a song with a lot of structure,” Raphael added.

The Snake Leaves scenes were made up entirely of songs, which were accompanied by a guitar. “When you add a piano, it becomes very formal in a way that I didn’t think fit the song. It works a lot better with guitar,” he explained. “The chords for the song were very dissonant, and it sounds a lot less jarring when you’re using a less ‘stable’ instrument.”

Crew Checks Presets – Lucy

The Secret in the Wings requires a lot of presetting — moving props from where they end up at the end of a show back to where they should begin — and the stage crew made it a habit to go over our work to make sure we didn’t forget anything. We checked that nothing was missing from the prop tables in the wings, that the three sets of babies in the show — lovingly known as the “stick babies,” “potato babies,” and “grotesque babies” — were where they should have been, and that a basket of aster flowers to be used in the “Seven Swans” scene was just out of sight of the audience. 

We made sure that a quilt was draped over the wardrobe, three frames were stacked next to a screen, and that the three folding chairs were in their proper positions — one onstage next to the wardrobe and the others offstage. And those were just a few examples.

The number of props in Secret is enough to make you want to take copious notes just so you don’t mix up the different placements of the two sets of spray-painted leaves, which was exactly what some members of stage crew did: it wasn’t unusual to see Parsa and Halyn glancing from their phones to the set to make sure their notes matched our work. And with a hesitant “I think we’re done,” we took one last look and walked up to the booth.

 

6:00 P.M. – Actors start getting into costume while crew reconvenes

The cast of “Secret in the Wings” gathered for a group photo outside the dressing rooms in their costumes from the opening number (they had many outfits for the show). Depicted is Bella Combs (‘25), Safina Abraham (‘25), Lainie Beamer (‘25), Riley Brunson (‘25), Lisa Pan (‘26), Caz Mallick (‘26), Jake Shim (‘26), James O’Brien (‘26), Olivia Alexander (‘25), Leela Zaveri-Tabb (‘25), Malaika Khanna (‘27), Sophie Gratry (‘27), Dashiell Flaig (‘27), and Jackson Weisser (‘26). (Lisa Pan)

Actors Do Their Hair, Makeup, and Costumes – Lisa

Once vocal warmups had completely finished, we headed backstage to begin hair and makeup. I had actually completed my makeup ahead of time, at 3:30 P.M., when no one was backstage yet, but stage makeup is a lot bigger and bolder than usual makeup. Frequently, you’ll always find people struggling to get their eyeliner on or asking the question, “Is this enough?” And onstage, you can never have enough.

Makeup can be a very boring process when you’re alone, especially since all actors do their own makeup, and the experience of being in a dressing room and conversing with other actors about daily life and anecdotes is rather entertaining. For example, many of the actors have a love for Taylor Swift, and many turned to talk to each other through the clouds of deodorant spray to discuss the boyfriends each of her albums are about.

After I finished hair and makeup, I also got into my costume for the opening scene, which was designed by Angie Villa (‘24): a tuxedo with huge shoulder pads, a baby blue bow tie, and a comically large top hat, which had a whole rim of hat tape stuck to it to keep it from falling off my head.

Crew Reconvenes in the Booth – Lucy

While the actors were busy styling their hair, putting on their makeup, and getting into costume, the crew gathered in a circle in the booth. We had some time before the house would open, and we intended to use that time wisely: talking about English essays and math test, teaching the freshman about the names we had given to the prop babies in the show, and making jokes about our all-black clothing making us look like a coven of witches that decided to start an emo band. After a discussion about what kids’ shows we watched as children and several rounds of patty-cake for no apparent reason, it was time for the stage crew to go to the wings.

 

6:50pm – Actors Start Pre-show Actor Rituals – Lisa

Mr. Melton’s familiar voice cut through the chatter: “Ten more minutes!” We all replied, “Thank you, ten!” and headed over to an empty space in the workshop backstage. And the actors’ rituals began. Since there were no seniors in the cast, we skipped senior speeches and the opportunity to ruin our makeup (senior speeches tend to be incredibly emotional). We all held hands and passed around our squeeze to center ourselves in the moment, connect, and ensure our focus for the night. After a few secret chants and a lot of hugs and shake-outs, it was time for us to get rolling!

 

7:00pm – Opening night show begins!

Tech During the Show – Lucy

Ella’s command of “curtain go” was heard over the headsets and Jack opened the curtain to begin the opening night show of The Secret in the Wings. In the booth, Ella told Serena and Adam when to press each cue, while in the wings, the stage crew helped fold costumes left over from quick changes and prepared props to be taken onstage. About halfway through the play, Parsa and I left the wings to run up to the catwalks and sprinkle snow, leaves, and petals on the audience.

Actors Take Their Places – Lisa

Waiting in the wings was both nerve-wracking and funny at the same time. As an actor, you’re never alone backstage and communicating with each other is always a game of miming and very quiet whispering. Right before we went onstage, costumers waiting in the wings would check to make sure our shirts were tucked in correctly, our ties were straight, and that everything was in-place and ready for the show. When I wasn’t in the wings or onstage, I was racing against time to change into my next costume, touch up my stage makeup, and rush to whatever side of the stage I needed to be on for the next scene.

 

8:15pm – The Show Ends

Actors got out of costume, made sure to hang them up properly, and waited for each other before coming out as a whole group for photos with friends. Meanwhile, the stage crew preset all the props, put the headsets away, picked up the fallen leaves and petals, and vacuumed up the snow while everyone in the booth turned off the light and sound boards. Finally, cast and crew reunited at a short afterparty in the theater lobby to joke about every small thing that went wrong and resolve to do better the next day.

After the show, the Taylor Performing Arts Center (TPAC) courtyard was packed with parents and friends, all waiting to congratulate their hard-working actors. (Lisa Pan)
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About the Contributors
Lucy Marek, Content Editor
Lucy Marek is a junior and Content Editor on The Tower, which she joined as a freshman. When she isn’t at school or doing her homework, you can find her reading, listening to music, or watching some of her favorite shows — usually with her dog, Potomac. She describes herself as having no taste in fashion and has been described by others as having no taste in movies, but she chooses to ignore this criticism and will continue to watch Cats (ironically, she assures you).
Lisa Pan, Assistant Graphics Editor
Lisa is in her second year of The Tower as a sophomore and an Assistant Graphics Editor. She loves writing articles, whether fun or serious, mainly about performing arts and entertainment recommendations. When she’s not at school or working in Los Angeles as a professional actress-singer-model, she spends her time writing novels and songs in addition to news articles somewhere in the library. And you better believe she’ll have a Harry Potter book in her backpack, an iced latte in her hand, and a smile on her face every day at school. If you ever see her around campus, feel free to stop and say hello!

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