Steps toward showtime

From left to right, junior theater majors Alexis Slocum, Peter LaPrade, Rob Miller, and Taha Mandviwala practice Act 1 of their play “The 39 Steps” on Monday, February 2, 2015 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell

By Anne Halliwell

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The stage was lined with wheeling doors, ladders and boxes on “The 39 Steps” production’s first night in Guignol Theatre.

The props were minimal on Monday night — a bottle and telephone sat on the spindle-legged table and theatre junior Peter LaPrade held a glass tumbler in hand.

Visiting director Andy Gaukel, theatre sophomore Lucas Southworth and assistant director Christina Ritter marked the boundaries of the stage-within-the-stage.

Everyone pretended not to notice the actors and crewmembers sifting through costumes and posturing about 10 feet away.

The stage version of the 1935 Hitchcock film follows the character Richard Hannay through a comedic version of the espionage and intrigue-heavy plot.

“The movie was in a time when everything has a sort of Nazi feel to it,” said Gaukel, who graduated from UK in 1998. “The play is a spoof on that whole movie.”

To bring the movie to the small stage, Gaukel said that basic props would be manipulated to create a variety of settings. For example, a set of boxes will at one point be arranged into a box carriage, which the actors must “sell by bouncing around (and) using body language.”

“It’s really proving to be a challenge as a director and as an actor,” Gaukel said.

The three-quarters stage design means that the audience will view the play from different angles — and from much closer than in a traditional, “proscenium” stage layout, which places the audience in a lower and broader space relative to the stage.

There are only four rows of seats in the bleacher setup that already perches on the edge of the main stage. It will be joined by one on either side of the stage before the play opens on Feb. 19.

The furthest-away seats are 10 steps up from the stage. Behind those audience members, 18 rows of empty theater seats stretch out to the doors.

Gaukel spent much of the rehearsal stopping the action to adjust position, volume and elocution.

Prior to Monday, the cast rehearsed the play in different rooms. They received light and some sound on Monday night, as well as costumes, said Liz Ellis, the production’s stage manager.

“Right now, we all have rehearsal props,” Ellis said.

The large prop items like the trunks and doors will remain in the show, she added.

The cast and crew did get creative with portraying some elements of the movie, Gaukel said, as in one scene when the cast will use shadow puppets to convey a chase scene in the movie.

“The guy who wrote the play tried to stay as close to the movie as possible,” Gaukel said. “But there are some parts that you didn’t get to see … (that) I think add to it.”