Wait Until Dark Wednesday: Q&A with Props Master Lynda Kwallek

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The kitchen is a centerpiece of the production, filled with period-specific items like a ’60s-style gas stove and oven, copper containers, and functional sink.

Wait Until Dark is nearing the end and to highlight some of the cool aspects of the show, we have done short series called “Wait Until Dark” every Wednesday throughout its run.

To close out our series, we take a look at the one of the other stars of the show: the props!

The woman behind our fabulous props onstage is our Properties Designer Lynda Kwallek, who has worked on this show twice before The Rep.

We had the chance to sit down with her and explore the wonderful world of props. Here is what she had to say:

Q: What is the process of you choosing props for each show?

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Kwallek selected this specific couch for the show because of its color, shape and style.

A: I read the script numerous times, for Wait Until Dark, I’ve read it about half a dozen times. I read the script, sit down and highlight all things that are mentioned as props and then I make a list and send it to my director and designer. We all then have a conversation where I discuss the use of those things and what is actually needed for them.

From the moment I read a script, I’m kind of peripherally searching for something. I’m always on the lookout for specific things that I think we will be using at some point. I’m usually searching fairly early on but I’m not purchasing until after I’ve talked to the designer and director.

Q: Props play such an integral role in Wait Until Dark. Can you talk about some of the most important props and how they were chosen for the stage?

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Because matches play a big role in the play, a lot went into picking the perfect matches– and boxes– to use.

A: For the matches, we started out with the large kitchen matches. We were going to use the non-strike anywhere because in the past, we’ve had an incident in another Wait Until Dark production where they jostled in the show and it lit onstage during that climactic moment when they’re fighting. So, we wanted to use kitchen regular-size matches and then they wanted to have a smaller matchbox, so I bought a bunch of those. [Director] Bob [Hupp] asked if I had researched any other matches and I really hadn’t, so when I did start to research it, I noticed there weren’t that many other brands out there. So, what we are currently using in the show are those little bitty tiny boxes of matches with the strike on the side with fireplace matches cut down to fit in there– only three or four fireplace matches to fit in each one. The fireplace matches are heavier and thicker and they create a bigger flame. We go through one a night—I think Amy Hutchins (Susy) goes through two packs and MIchael Stewart Allen (Roat) goes through one pack a night.

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Initially, Kwallek went with a rotary phone, but after much research, decided to go with a push-button phone to help with the pace of the show.the phone.

Another prop that in prominent in the show is the phone. Initially I had pulled a rotary phone. It’s what we expect to see but through a little bit of research, I found that push-button phones were available in 1963. I often thought the length of time that it takes to dial with a rotary, Bob wanted to keep that pace moving. I didn’t find anything that said people with limited vision had the need for a push-button phone but it kind of made sense to all of us and to keep. We try to keep things period-accurate, but we also have to take into consideration the pacing of a show, the needs of a show and just what the director wants.

All the way through the show, there was a soundscape that worked in cooperation with the props. There is the buzzer when Nate Washburn (Sam) is doing the photography developing; there is a bell in the phone; we have various door frames backstage that make noise; and the keys all rattle in the locks. The soundscape in this particular show and the props were very very important. It was about making noises that [character Susy] would be so much more aware of than we are on a daily basis. The fact that she can distinguish the sound of [character Roat’s] shoes. We heightened much of that.

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In addition to the cool props Kwallek selected for Sam’s office, Resident Set Designer Mike Nichols went through our photography files– old postcards, business cards, mementos, etc.–and pulled stuff to dress that area.

Q: What do you enjoy most about finding props for the shows?

A: It’s about the prop that everyone says you can’t find and I find it. Now occasionally there is that thing I never find and I do never find it, but take for instance, the camera for Memphis. People were blown away by that old camera used in the second act and I found it here in town. It was something I found during our production of Frost/Nixon. I kept the guy’s name written down and when I needed one from that area, I called him up.

I enjoy meeting the people around the area, also. It’s great fun. I get to be out and about with the public and talk about the shows here at the theatre.

Great seats are available for Wait Until Dark. Purchase yours online or by calling the Box Office at (501) 378-0405.

Wait Until Dark Wednesday: Learning to Play a Blind Character

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Actress Amy Hutchins will portray Susy Hendrix, a blind character in Wait Until Dark.

Think of the time it takes to play a lead role in a play. Weeks, months, days and hours memorizing lines, learning to interact with other characters, figuring out blocking on stage and keeping in mind various other things that have to be acted out flawlessly for each performance.

Now, imagine how long it takes to play a lead role who is blind– and the actor is not blind.

That is the very case of Amy Hutchins, who will be portraying Susy Hendrix, the blind lead character in the historical production of Wait Until Dark.

To better prepare for her role, Little Rock’s very own World Services for the Blind–the only facility in the world that offers comprehensive programs to blind or visually impaired for sustainable independence– offered free Life Skills Training to Hutchins, which involved learning basic techniques of daily living and orientation and mobility training, said Tony O. Woodell, President and CEO of World Services for the Blind.

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Robert Duvall as Roat terrorizes Lee Remick as blind Susy
in the 1966 Broadway production.

This included how to cook, clean, sew, iron and how to mark items appropriately for use.

“Ms. Hutchins was able to learn how to orient herself in a room by using senses other than sight and learn basic skills of travel for those that are blind and visually impaired,” Woodell said.

One thing Hutchins enjoyed about her class was observation– watching others at the WSB facility who are blind or are visually impaired go about their day. It was key to learning certain mannerisms and helped in learning different strategies to complete simple tasks that were critical to portraying the character Susy.

“My character knocks the salt and pepper shaker off the table and she has to find it later and [character] Gloria throws silverware all over the floor and she has to find it– she didn’t put them there so she has to find it,” Hutchins said. “So I asked, what is a good strategy?”

She said the instructor told her to think of the floor like grid pattern– think of the surface area like graph paper– you’ve got to go section by section.

19819996_BG1“Visiting WSB has given Ms. Hutchins practical skill knowledge that will help her better represent individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  With this practical knowledge, she can base her character in reality rather than stereotypes,” Woodell said.

For Hutchins, having the WSB in the area proved to be a valuable resource for her preparation.

“I just wanted to give an accurate representation,” Hutchins said. “It’s my job as an actor to figure out how to navigate the world without sight.”

Have a chance to see Hutchins in action when Wait Until Dark takes the stage from Friday, Oct. 24 and running through Nov. 9. Get more information and purchase your tickets at TheRep.org.

Wait Until Dark Wednesday: A Look Back

Broadway 1The opening of Wait Until Dark is fast approaching and to highlight some of the cool aspects of the show, we’ll be doing a short series called “Wait Until Dark” every Wednesday through Nov. 5.

Before fans feast their eyes on the upcoming thriller, it’s important to take a look back at the long history of this legendary production.

Robert L. Neblett, an American theatre scholar, has prepared an educational study guide to accompany students for special student matinee performances of Wait Until Dark, which includes a historical rundown:

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Frederick Knott and Grace Kelly on the Set of Dial M for Murder

Playing off the enormous success of Dial M for Murder, his 1952 television play that was later turned into a London and Broadway hit, then a blockbuster film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Frederick Knott wrote the stage version of Wait Until Dark in 1966.

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Robert Duvall as Roat terrorizes Lee Remick as Susy
in the 1966 Broadway production

The Broadway premiere of the thriller starred Lee Remick (Anatomy of a Murder, Days of Wine and Roses, The Omen) as Susy and Robert Duvall (The Godfather, The Apostle, Tender Mercies) as Roat. Remick was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance, for which she studied with the Lighthouse Foundation for the Blind to prepare for the role.

The play received overwhelmingly positive reviews and it ran for 374 performances.

In 1967, a film adaptation of the play starring Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, My Fair Lady, Funny Face) as Susy, Alan Arkin (Catch-22, Glengarry Glen Ross, Little Miss Sunshine, Argo) as Roat, Richard Crenna (Rambo series, The Real McCoys) as Mike, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (77 Sunset Strip, Maverick) as Sam. The film also featured a chilling score by Harry Mancini. It was one of the most popular films of the year.

As the screen is plunged into darkness, movie theatres dimmed and turned off their auditorium lights until the audience was in complete darkness during the film’s climactic scene.

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Audrey Hepburn as Susy in the 1967 film

Hepburn earned an Academy Award nomination and she and Zimbalist were nominated for Golden Globes for their performances. It is rumored that Julie Andrews, George C. Scott, and Robert Redford were at one point considered for the roles of Susy, Roat, and Mike, respectively.

Bravo lists the climax of the film as No. 10 on its list of 100 Scariest Moments. The American Film Institute ranks the film as No. 55 out 100 best thrillers for the screen.

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Quentin Tarantino as Roat in the 1998 New York revival of the play

In 1998, a New York revival starring Marisa Tomei as Susy and independent filmmaker Quentin Tarantino as Roat opened to mixed reviews, largely due to Tarantino’s “wooden” performance.

In 2013, a new stage adaptation of Knott’s play by Jeffery Hatcher opened at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, starring Alison Pill (The Book of Daniel, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Newsroom) as Susy. The adaptation transfers the action of the play from the 1960s to the 1940s and capitalizes on a film noir sensibility. It also replaces the heroin sewn into the doll with valuable diamonds, eliminating the theme of drug trafficking. This version of the play will open in New York in late October 2014.

See The Rep’s production of Wait Until Dark live onstage, starting Oct. 24 and running through Nov. 9. Purchase online here and get more information about the show–including special events– here.