features

High Energy Behind the Scenes of The 39 Steps

Kelly Gallagher ’22

Senior Advisor

When Vincent Sekafetz ‘25 earned a role in the Theatre Department’s fall production of The 39 Steps, he found that he was the only first-year in the entire cast. Or more accurately – the entire two casts, of five actors each. The small, tight-knit community of seasoned juniors and seniors quickly welcomed Vincent, and he told The Spire he was happy to have found the “camaraderie” he had been drawn to in high school theatre. Preparing for the light-hearted action-comedy has been a fun, lively experience for the entire crew as they returned to in-person performances. 

The 39 Steps is unique in its small cast and flexibility. The five actors in each cast play over 20 characters throughout the show. Brian Saville ‘22, the production’s stage manager, explained, “Every role is played by two people, and the casts will alternate performances. This was a response to COVID concerns, so if someone ends up in quarantine, their equivalent in the other cast can step in.” Though the decision to double-cast originated in COVID-related precautions, it’s opened up new opportunities. Vincent mentioned that he enjoys seeing the differences between each casts’ take on the same character. For example, the two actors for the main character, Richard Hannay, have their own approaches, and “it’s so fun to see the different charm they bring to the same exact lines.”

Nate Tanner ‘22 stars in one cast as Richard Hannay. He told The Spire that the most challenging part of the role is the fast-paced action. Hannay, on the run for a murder he didn’t commit, is constantly being chased by police and foreign agents. Nate reflected that “because of this [Hannay] is always having to narrowly escape and find new places to hide…. Throughout the rehearsal process, I very often find myself needing a water break. But the chaotic nature of the role is also one of the things I love most about Hannay.” Hannay’s predicament leads to various hijinks. Tanner spends almost a quarter of the show handcuffed to Emma Kennelly ‘23, who plays Pamela. Backstage, Tanner’s come to expect “a daily dose of handcuff jokes.”

Nate’s favorite aspect of the character “is how despite all of the crazy, comedic things he faces, he is just another man struggling with finding his purpose in the world like the rest of us. I really like when characters are relatable to the audience even when they are ‘saving the country.’”  

The actors who play multiple roles within the show have enjoyed the artistic challenge. Serey Kremer ‘23 told The Spire, “I play 8 characters in the show and one of the most challenging aspects is having to do quick costume and accent changes.” She elaborated on switching between Cockney and Scottish accents, saying that she finds the latter “very challenging but I love it! Because of this show I find myself slipping into a Scottish accent here and there in real life.”

Vincent has also embraced his role’s unique qualities. “I love getting to play multiple characters and really stretch my own limits in terms of performance, as switching rapidly between accents and ideologies is nothing I’ve ever had to do on this scale before.”

Off-stage, Brian has been enjoying his first experience stage managing for a live production. Brian, who’s acted in previous performances such as Cabaret and worked as stage manager for last spring’s virtual production of Le Deluge, shared what drew him to stage managing The 39 Steps: “I won’t lie… I was roped into stage managing in high school because I wanted to get involved in theater stuff but didn’t have what it took to act. Last fall, I wasn’t interested in performing virtually and thought stage managing again would be a good compromise to stay involved and somewhat sane. I had a feeling The 39 Steps would be a blast and was able to audition for She Loves Me at the same time, so I agreed to come back for another managing hoorah. I’m happy to report that it’s been everything I hoped it would be!”

Graphic Courtesy of the Theatre Department

Brian reflected that “it’s great to be back to an almost-normal show experience after the crazy alternatives of last year,” but he noted that COVID still presents challenges to the show, in ways that are less exciting than the double-casting measure. “It’s uncertain at this point whether the actors can perform unmasked, so we rehearse as if they will be. Every other seat in the theater has been roped off for distancing purposes, which makes me sad because I want as many people to see this one as possible.” 

Those who attend the production are sure to enjoy the cast’s energy as they perform with their friends. Nate said that working with the small cast has been his favorite part of the show, adding that “We all have gotten so close with one another and everyone’s hard work has allowed us to put in really great strides during rehearsal.” Similarly, Vincent’s favorite part of the show is “definitely the new friendships I am making,” and he’s enjoyed being part of a cast where everyone is “bouncing off each other.” 

The 39 Steps runs November 4-6 and 11-13 at 7:30 p.m., and on November 6 and 13 at 2:00 p.m. in Fenwick Theater. The play is written by Patrick Barlow, and the Theatre Department’s production is directed by Scott Malia, Assistant Professor of Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at hctheatreanddance.eventbrite.com.

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