Written in 1895 and performed by Christian Brothers theater department in 2023, The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic Oscar Wilde comedy. Known for its satirization of Victorian Society, the play has become a staple for live theater. The show uses discrete language to criticize standards and stereotypes of the time. Oscar Wilde was […]
Written in 1895 and performed by Christian Brothers theater department in 2023, The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic Oscar Wilde comedy. Known for its satirization of Victorian Society, the play has become a staple for live theater. The show uses discrete language to criticize standards and stereotypes of the time. Oscar Wilde was cast out of society and used his genius to prove himself to those who judged.
With over a century’s worth of performances on its list, CB looked to be the next to conquer the play. “It was a question of ‘are we gonna pull it off or is it just gonna kind of seem bad?’” Says Performing Arts Teacher and Director Mr. Michael Jackson.
In January, I walked into the theater and auditioned for The Importance of Being Earnest. When I entered, I was nervous if I even had a chance of getting a role. With such a small cast and only four male roles, I was worried if I would be getting lines in the show. After four years of theater at CB, I was hoping that my time had come to showcase my skills.
Only four boys auditioned and all four got roles. After two days of auditions, the cast list was sent out, and I had the privilege of being the lead role. For the next two and a half months, I would rehearse four days a week after school for two to three hours.
The first day of rehearsal consisted of measuring out every one for costumes and doing our first read through.
Each of us played with accents and the tone of our characters. We went through the entire play as Mr. Jackson and Ms. Christianson offered their critiques and explained the Victorian dialect.
“The Importance of Being Earnest is all about the language and the ridiculous things that people are saying,” says Technical Director Ms. Heather Christianson ‘01.
After the first week of rehearsal, Mr. Jackson began to break down the blocking for the show. He threw us into our first scene and told us where to go. Tycho Fong (‘23) and I found ourselves running around the stage in circles chasing one another. This rehearsal showed the foolishness of the show and where we were headed.
For the next few weeks we would continue to stumble through the show, blocking each scene as we went and developing our characters. As the play continued to develop, everything around it did as well.
“We have a crew of volunteers here every Saturday, and it took eight Saturdays along with my work during the week for about nine weeks,” Ms. Christianson says. The set is equally as important as the actors on stage, for without, it they could be anywhere.
“It’s a play in three acts, and each act has a different setting, so how do you on a stage provide three looks that are intricate enough, interesting enough, that they are capturing people’s attention but they’re not overshadowing the humor of what’s being said?” Ms. Christianson says.
While the set was built on stage, Mr. Jackson was upstairs hand making our costumes.
After a month of rehearsal, we had begun running through the entire show. We slowly went scene by scene trying to remember where we needed to go and what words to pronounce. Although poorly, we made it through the entire play and were one step closer to the final product.
Mr. Jackson began incorporating props, such as a cigarette case, coats, tea sets and other various things that are placed throughout the show. Layer by layer, we continued to add onto the show, slowly working out kinks and learning from mistakes.
The next step was getting off-book, which is performing without a script in hand and having everything memorized. In previous shows, studying lines had never been something that I had needed to worry too much about. Before, I had been able to memorize everything in rehearsal either because it had been simple lines or all songs. But for The Importance of Being Earnest, I had entire pages to memorize and all in a British accent.
We were set to be off-book in a few days and I was nowhere near ready to do so. But I went into rehearsal, tried, and failed. I had to have someone off stage remind me of every other line and eventually just grabbed my script. I left rehearsal embarrassed of my performance and unworthy of my role. For the next week, I would continue to stammer through each scene and leave with my head down.
Then the next Monday, I woke up to a 103 degree fever. I went back to sleep hoping that it would just fade away, but it persisted. A day went by and the fever wouldn’t budge. My temperature wouldn’t go below 99 and three days of rehearsal had passed. It was the last week before the show and I missed all the rehearsals that week.
Feeling completely unprepared, I walked into the George Cunningham ’39 Performing Arts Center and jumped head first into a dress rehearsal. I gelled my hair, got into my first of three suits, put on eyeliner, and lined up for warmups. After we went through warmups, I scurried off stage and got into place for our first tech performance. My unexpected absence affected the course of the performance, but I was prepared more than ever to put the work in.
The show was on the way to being ready for an audience, but there was still work to do. We were all nervous as to whether or not the show would be ready in time or not.
”We wanted to put on the best performance we could because we had been hyping up this play and this performance,” Tycho said.
The normal staff showing on the Thursday Faculty Preview came quicker than we had hoped, and we were prepared to perform for our first first audience. The teachers were shuffling into the theater and the minutes were counting down until the curtains opened. In the blink of an eye, I was on stage and reciting lines like it was nothing. Three acts later and the performance was over with. We had finally seen the results of our months of effort and were ready for opening night.
“It all worked out, and I don’t think it would have worked out if we didn’t have such an amazing cast,” Tycho says.
The next six performances went by in a flash. My final CB show had come to an end and I was pleased with what I had done. Although it was different from any show before, with a smaller cast and British accents, I was happy for it to be my last.
After the last performance, we did our bows and received our flowers. We said our goodbyes and went back in to clean up the mess we had created. “So it takes about nine weeks to put together and it takes two hours for the cast to tear it down at the end,” says Ms. Christianson.
Nine weeks of hard work from cast, crew and staff, but did it all pay off?
“I think we pulled it off really really well,” says Mr. Jackson.