Two weeks before opening night, rehearsals moved to the recently completed set, which encompassed nearly 2,300 square feet. For the cast and crew, these final rehearsals were where the production began to take shape.
The thrust style of the stage, which places the actors — including UCF M.F.A. student Liz Mignacca, center — on ground level with the audience, created a more intimate feel for the production.
The rotating platform (note the seams in the floor) allowed furniture, props and actors to be moved on and off stage quickly. Called the "doughnut," the computer-controlled machine rolled on 56 three-inch caster wheels at a top speed of two rotations per minute.
To accommodate the cast of 27, UCF associate professor Bert Scott designed the set to have multiple acting levels, including an eight-foot-tall bridge along the back of the stage. To actor Darrington, the flexible design gave the performers, "so many options to challenge ourselves."
Removing the proscenium, the space typically considered backstage, provided more area to perform, but cut drastically the space for actors (Allison McLermore, left, and Jeffrey Todd Parrott, right) to change costumes.
Choreographing the movements of such a large cast was a main tactical challenge for the directors. "Directing is like being an air traffic controller," says Niess.
Niess's copy of the 332-page script, color coded to the play's interwoven plot lines, was well worn near the end of rehearsals. "Dickens writes about so many characters that intertwine. You have to make sure you’re bringing all the little snippets of the story with you so the audience gets them when you pick up that character again," he says.
There are countless details to polish during rehearsals, but Niess says a production is never truly finished because it continues to evolve during the run. "It’s not something that can be carved with stone — rather it’s sculpted with clay.
In the final days leading up to opening night, dress rehearsals combine all the elements, from costuming to lighting, music, props and choreography.
The cast and crew celebrate with a toast after the sold-out opening night performance. Says Niess: "I think [this production] truly is a hallmark of where this partnership has gone. We’re very proud of it."