Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 20, 2014
It takes an island to combat Cabin Fever
Susan Robinson, set designer, left; Mark Robinson, prop master; and Linda Campbell, stage manager, on the set of The Pajama Game, this year’s Cabin Fever production, coming March 21 -23, 2014.
by Suzanne Ruch
Feeling a little stir crazy? Looking for spring in all the wrong places? There’s hope on Deer Isle.
This weekend’s Cabin Fever Theater production of Pajama Game at the Reach Performing Arts Center will likely cause viewers to tap their toes, laugh out loud, and feel a lift of spirit. If you’re scratching your head and wondering if you’ve heard of Pajama Game, think of its more familiar tunes—“Hey, there, you with the stars in your eyes,” “Hernando’s Hideaway,” and “Steam Heat.”
Perhaps some of the storyline will help: Set in the 1950s at the Sleep Tite pajama factory, management and labor battle over the union’s request for a 7.5 cent raise. Romance blossoms between the opposing sides of the dispute—Sid Sorokin, the new factory superintendent (played by Ray Dinsmore) and “Babe” Williams, leader of the Union Grievance Committee (played by Pam Getto). Feisty union female seamstresses, strict male bosses and supervisors, an assortment of factory workers, both male and female, keep the plot moving along to its happy conclusion.
The annual Cabin Fever production takes an island-wide community effort. All of the actors and chorus members spend hours of rehearsal time learning their lines, songs, steps, and positions on stage (also called blocking). They play to island audiences for three performances and take their bows to enthusiastic applause. What many audience members don’t know about is the “magic” that happens behind the scenes that makes it possible for the actors to execute their roles. All of these pieces of the performance puzzle take numerous volunteers who are devoted to the creativity and hard work that go into every Cabin Fever Theater performance.
Early in October, Morgan Witham, director, solicits input to assist her with the selection of a musical. Susan Robinson, set designer, begins to research the set design in early fall. Trained as a graphic designer and familiar with two-dimensional work, Robinson appreciates the opportunity to design “big” for Cabin Fever sets.
Both she and husband Mark Robinson, prop master, have said that being involved with Cabin Fever performances “creates community and allows them to get to know people they might not meet otherwise.”
Building Crew Chief Robin Dunham is best known for his many Cabin Fever acting and singing roles, but he is also the go-to guy for gathering a team that will turn Susan’s designs into reality. Dunham explains, “I’ve been building since I was a kid. It’s another kind of creativity when I can make all the pieces fit.”
While set pieces are being hammered, nailed, and painted, Joan Roy and her team create costumes, some from scratch and some from the large Reach costume collection. Having made costumes for every Cabin Fever production, Roy explains, “When you love to sew, it’s fun to see it all come together.” Linda Campbell, stage manager, mirrors the comments of many in the production team: “It breaks up the boredom of the winter months and the accompanying cabin fever. I do it for the community of it.”
These are just some of approximately 40 people involved in the behind-the-scenes work of creating an annual Broadway musical, Deer Isle style. Combined with the performers and musicians, the sum of the parts creates a whole that many islanders look forward to the third weekend in March.
Audiences are the final piece of the puzzle that are essential to a successful production. The back-and-forth play between the audience’s reactions and the actors’ responses creates an energy that keeps everyone on their toes, both on stage and off. Norma Morey exemplifies the dedicated Cabin Fever attender. She always goes to all three performances and takes a van of eight friends with her to the Friday night show. She said, “I know most of the people in the show and all of them are so musical and so talented; it’s all wonderful!”
The Pajama Game will be performed on Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 23, at 2 p.m. For more information visit atthereach.com.