From script to stage: CSU cast brings ‘Appropriate’ to life

Claire Oliver

Lights up.  The actors walk out on stage surrounded by the rising sound of cicadas and dim light.  The scene goes well, each character connecting through dialogue and action.  The performance is captivating. Just as the dialogue on stage advances, the action stops.  The director calls to hold the action in order to adjust the sound design. Cicadas don’t sing in the morning.  

The movement on stage stops in an instant despite the dialogue starting to build and grow to the climax.  Garrett Ayers, director of Colorado State University’s “Appropriate,” stops the action to correct a sound design flaw or a light cue that does not work for the scene. 

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“Alright,” Ayers says.  “We’re good let’s take that again thank you.” 

And with that, the dialogue picks back up where it left off as if nothing had interrupted to scene at all. 

For every show that is put on stage there is an army of people working behind the scenes months in advance to create the finished product. 

The show opens Feb. 16 and runs until Feb. 25 with Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

The process for making a show involves a great deal of work and dedication from the cast and crew—each person working like a cog in a well-tuned clock, every piece fits together to produce the show that the audience will see. 

Casting

For this season’s opening show at CSU, the department chose the contemporary family drama “Appropriate” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Garrett Ayers.  The show focuses on siblings Bo, Toni and Franz who, after the death of their father, have to deal with an old plantation estate sitting on a large piece of land and mountains of debt. 

“I read the play and it went fast,” Ryan Volkert, a theatre and economics major at CSU who plays Franz, the youngest. “I couldn’t stop reading like I couldn’t put it down it like flew by for me”

Despite playing a character that Volkert wanted to play, the role presented its own challenges.   

Toni, Franz and River enter a heated argument during Branden Jacobs-Jenkins "Appropriate" at CSU.
Students Ryan Volkert, Sonny Walls, and Cierra Amavisca work on a scene during a rehearsal for CSU’s production of “Appropriate”. (Photo courtesy of Annabel Wall)

“It’s been weird playing the younger brother because I am the oldest so I’m used to taking charge and being the leader.” Volkert said.  “…I’ve definitely felt like a lack of power and I am always the one who’s sitting behind, so that’s been a little different from my own life.”

A unanimous feeling throughout the cast and crew is how amazing the show has been, some even saying the show is one of the best productions they have worked on.  Not only because of the shows content and writing but also because of Ayers’ direction.

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“So far it’s been the best thing I’ve done,” Volkert said.  “I think that it’s beautifully written and just has amazing qualities to it that I’ve not been able to experience anywhere else.” 

Keegan Bockhorst, who plays Bo, is a transfer student from the University of Denver and almost did not audition for the show.

“When I read the play I liked Bo and Frank/Franz” Bockhorst said.  “Bo had the potential to be more challenging because of that last moment, which turned out to be the case.”

Sonny Walls is a senior performance major who plays the eldest sibling, Toni.  Her character has the most lines and is one of the more difficult personalities within the show.  Walls connected with Toni after first reading the script and was determined to get the role. 

“In the audition process, I think it was pretty obvious which (character) I was stronger at and which one I cared about more…” Walls said.  “I knew I really loved the character and the play.   When I auditioned with Ben who plays Rhys, my son (in the show), we just had so much chemistry… and that was when I was like ‘I have to have this role.’” 

I am so proud of this show; I am like so proud of this show I can’t even describe how excited I am to share it with people.” -Garrett Ayers, director of “Appropriate”

Becoming an older character was a challenge that Bockhorst and Walls both had to face.   Both actors had to embody movements and gestures that only people 20 to 30 years older than they would make. 

“There’s certain things you want to try and certain ways you want to stand like if you notice somebody do certain things and you just hope will help an audience believe you,” Bockhorst said.

Makeup and costumes

Makeup will also help to convey the age gap, using very specialized techniques to shade the skin tone of the actors.  Clothing is another way to convey age.  Bockhorst uses the costumes to his advantage, hiking up his pants before he sits down in a way that the older generation men might do.

The script

Keegan Bockhorst rehearses on stage.
Keegan Bockhorst a junior theatre major rehearse a scene in “Appropriate” where he plays the character Bo. (Claire Oliver | Collegian).

The script stands out among other plays from even just a few decades ago for the topics it discusses.  American playwrights like Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee did change the way emotion and deep-set truth were portrayed on stage, but Jacobs-Jenkins combines elements from all three and forces hard truths to the surface.

Understanding the material is the largest aspect of creating a believable play.  The actors go through intense table work and research in order to present the audience with honest story telling.  Ayers would assign homework for the cast to research the South and Arkansas. 

After the table work started, the actors did improv scenes mimicking family fights they had experienced.  But one of the most difficult parts of the play, according to Ayers, is the fight scene in Act 2. 

 “When I got the plays last year I knew it was the biggest aspect of the play that I was scared of because, and I took it as a little personal challenge, I’ve never seen a stage fight that I believed,” Ayers said.  “To me it always looks fake it always looks staged.”

Tech and staging

After the staging of the show, which included weeks of rehearsal, the production would move into tech week.  This is when the designers would start to officially incorporate their aspects of the show.  Lighting design, sound and set design being the larger aspects of the show. 

Tara Tolar-Payne is the stage manager and sees the play from a more technical viewpoint than the actors see. 

“It’s basically working with the artistic side, with the cast and along with the people who are actually going to implement that like the carpentry and the paint shop since they all don’t talk to each other individually,” Tolar-Payne said.  

Although the stage is dark Tara Tolar-Payne's desk is illumiated so she can call cues during a tech rehearsal.
Tara Tolar-Payne, a theatre major at CSU, calls cues from the front of the stage during a tech rehearsal of “Appropriate”. (Claire Oliver | Collegian)

Stage managers literally manage everything that goes on stage.  Tolar-Payne records what props are used where, which doors actors exit through and when each sound and light cue goes off.  But stage managers are the silent helpers, they do not contribute to the artistic process.  That is the job of the directors and assistant directors as well as the actors themselves. 

“(The actors) have inhabited these people and it’s really something to see and it’s been such an experience to watch them and to kind of develop into these people…” Ayers said. “It feels like I am working with peers.”

Writing and directing

The playwright is instrumental in the creation of the play, and not just for writing the actual thing, but for the stage directions or specific design elements that are included throughout the script. Jacobs-Jenkins asks for long moments of silence and very specific sounds to be played throughout the show in order to create the atmosphere the characters live in.  Ayers honors these moments by following the stage directions from the playwright.  Luckily, there is room to have some artistic license especially with the execution of the design elements.   

A red light shines down from the catwalk illuminating the stage while mist catches in it's rays.
A light fixture captures the ambiance created during CSU’s production of “Appropriate” (Claire Oliver | Collegian)

“As well written as the play is, I think what really sets it apart from other plays is just atmosphere, which is created with sound and with design,” Ayers said.  “And of course he’s not designing it, but he is giving you the building blocks in the play or in the stage the directions that are then lead to those design elements.” 

The show is more than just reality on stage.  Each element brings in something natural and unnatural to the story of this dysfunctional family.  Design really helps to create levels within the show, according to Ayers, and it can be seen as just a story about a regular family duking it out or it can be seen as a ghost story, a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seats. 

“To me as a director the challenge was, on a larger level, the topics you know how to we deal with these things that in a way we are respecting them and giving them proper weight and respect,” Ayer said. 

All the hard work that has been put into the show will come together on opening night, Feb. 16.  The show is free for CSU students and tickets can be purchased online or at the box office at the University Center for the Arts. 

“I am so proud of this show,” Ayers said. “I am like so proud of this show I can’t even describe how excited I am to share it with people.”  

Collegian reporter Claire Oliver can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @claire_oliver21.