Photography by Victoria Kaye, Randy Freer & Bryan McGowan

Community theatre is professional theatre

The world of theatre may centre around the stage, but it can’t exist without set production and costume design. These are the visual statements made for the audience, thus allowing them to time travel and lose themselves in the actors’ performance. For Brampton Music Theatre, it is this attention to detail that has elevated their community theatre productions into professional shows.

As Bramptonians celebrated a long weekend, the cast and crew of Evita were busy moving into the Rose Theatre. Curtain rises for five shows on Thursday April 9th at 7:30pm through Saturday April 11th. For three months, actors have been rehearsing and many have been equally busy building sets as others designed costumes including high fashion gowns, jewellery and accessories.

“We built 90% of the Evita set at the Orenda Rehearsal Hall,” begins set designer and head carpenter Brad Bryson who, along with 20 of the cast, wears steel toe shoes as they use hammers, nails, screws, drills and circular saws to erect it. Brad began designs immediately after Brampton Music Theatre’s production of Les Miserables. “It seems, as the shows go on, our sets get bigger and better,” he smiles with pride as he shares how 40% of the Evita set is recycled from Les Mis and the rest is newly built.

Brad studied vocal music and is a trained opera singer. He has been involved musically in several productions during three-and-a-half years with Brampton Music Theatre. He believes being an actor makes him an ideal set designer, “It helps, as you know where more space is needed where scripted.” For Brad, building this set is added to his normal day job plus performance rehearsals on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday nights. “Though this is all part of the whole theatre experience, much as the time I’ve put into it myself, I couldn’t do it without all these amazing people,” says Brad, glancing at his fellow performers and stage crew hammering away. “We’ve developed a great relationship with each other as well as the technical crew here at The Rose. Together, it’s amazing how we get it all done.” Brad points out that the Rose Theatre is a world class stage, and BMT is made up of volunteers. Watching them work, you could never tell.

As busily as set building is taking shape on stage, in the dressing rooms costume designer Sylvana Di Bello is organizing costumes she has been feverishly creating for the last three months. This is the start of Tech Week,  when everything finally starts to come together, yet equally things seem to fall apart. “Eva’s ballgown broke a zipper,” Sylvana explains her first meltdown and how, on Good Friday at a family dinner, she sat with stitch ripper in hand to delicately begin necessary repairs, thinking of three dresses that also needed completion.

I take great care in how the actors will look on stage. Is the audience going to see the little bow on the centre of this dress?” Sylvana lovingly admires the dress she’s unpacking and explains how it will look really pretty on the cast member. “Details matter to me,” as she believes an actors performance is enhanced when they love their costume. Sylvana is a seamstress, self-taught from the age of 15 and, like Brad, performed with BMT in Les Miserables. She will be making a cameo appearance in Evita as Eva’s seamstress, assisting her out of her ballgown in Rainbow Tour. Not all costumes required custom sewing. “I like MacGyvering costumes; everything has been thrifted, reinvented or repurposed to replicate the 40’s style,” she shares how she transformed her own costume from a simple black dress in her wardrobe, adding a bow and a pleated hem.

Sylvana’s true talent lies in how she has been able to dress 45 cast members in over 100 costumes with $1,000. “A month ago, I still had $500 remaining in my budget. Just this week we made our first rentals, and I still think I’m under budget.” Grace Gauvin, who is assisting Sylvia on Evita, shares the fact her budget also was $1,000 when she costume designed for 72 in the 2013 BMT production of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. What drives them to do the impossible? “It’s the feeling of family,” begins Grace. “We’re doing it for everybody; it’s not just BMT, but for the audience as well the Arts in Brampton. It’s our sense of community. I can assure you, its not the money, as there is no money. But the rewards we get from doing it … that’s greater than money.”

As Sylvana enters the wardrobe room, looking for a stitch ripper, wanting to redo an embroidered pyjama pocket which is a few millimetres off centre, Grace quickly intervenes, assuring her no one is going to notice. “As you can see, there are no stars to a costume designer; each actor’s outfit is just as important as the next.”

Part of Sylvana’s team is Cassandra Watsham, who works on jewellery and fabricating costume accessories. Cassandra has been involved in musical and live theatre all her life and, at age 11, she performed in Evita along with her younger brother Darcy. Their father Peter was an admiral in the production, and a regular performer with Brampton Musical Society, predecessor to Brampton Music Theatre.

In addition to acting, Cassandra also teaches beading and jewellery making. When Sylvana asked her if she wanted to help make Eva’s jewellery, her emphatic answer had been, “Yes!” That very night after rehearsal, she went home and started and now, “I haven’t stopped.” Being part of the ensemble allows Cassandra to concentrate on the jewellery as well assisting in makeup design. “It’s just as rewarding to work on production as is performing.” Like Sylvana, Cassandra will be dressing Eva with one of her custom creations. “All the pieces have been designed with magnetic clasps and elastics, allowing for quick changes,” as everything has been designed with the actors in mind.

The first piece Cassandra worked on was a necklace Eva Peron wore often, including in Juan Peron’s presidential photo. “Juan Peron wanted Eva included, for she was not only instrumental in his political campaign, she was equally loved by the Argentinian people. They truly were a super couple.” As we watched Cassandra work on a few remaining pieces, we learned that these actors not only get into character, but become historians, as they are able to tell you the significance of each of their creations. Fabricating the military medals was the most fun for Cassandra. “I have a deep respect for war history, so I made sure that from afar they could be identified as medals of honour however, up close, they could never be confused with the real things.”

Evita-stageEveryone involved in production is also an actor in the show, for BMT asks each performer to volunteer an additional 20 hours. Of course, everyone far exceeds this requirement. The set as well as the costumes are performers themselves, for they too, like the actors, have to project to the rear balcony and make a connection with the audience. It is this professional approach to theatre production that contributes to Brampton Music Theatre surpassing its ticket sale goals.

BMT is the only organization in the 2014/2015 season that uses The Rose as a theatre, not just as a concert hall, for their productions utilize the under-stage pit to house a 20-plus orchestra. Live performance is experiencing a resurgence, not only in popularity, but also in its ability to affect change in modern society, thus allowing Brampton Music Theatre to run two-week shows next season with Mary Poppins and Jesus Christ, Superstar. But before next season’s planning can begin, immediately after Evita ends, attention will turn to the Youth Troupe and their production of Bye Bye Birdie which runs on May 8th and 9th at Brampton’s Lester B. Pearson Theatre.

Brampton Music Theatre is a world-class act with community heart, and deserves continued success. Proceeds from each and every ticket sold from now to showtime fuel their operation.

Let’s help sell out Evita from April 9th to 11th. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Rose Theatre box office by calling 905-874-2800.

See you at the show!