Theater & dance

BEHIND THE SCENES

Locals step into walk-on roles at Gloucester Stage

“Lettice and Lovage” director Benny Sato Ambush talks to volunteers playing tourists.

Caitlin Kenyon

“Lettice and Lovage” director Benny Sato Ambush talks to volunteers playing tourists.

What: Locals are filling an important role in “Lettice and Lovage.”

Where: Gloucester Stage Company, through June 11. Tickets: 978-281-4433,
www.gloucesterstage.com

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In the first four scenes of “Lettice and Lovage” at Gloucester Stage Company, the dramatic Lettice Douffet (Lindsay Crouse, in a tour de force performance) embellishes the dry history of the English manor house where she works as a tour guide. Her exaggerations are entertaining, if not factual, and they begin to draw a crowd, as more and more people join the tour to hear her stories. At Gloucester Stage, these “tourists” are members of the local community who volunteer their time in exchange for free tickets to another performance.

“When I read ‘Lettice and Lovage’ I wondered how to go from an anemic handful of tourists to a crowd that is eager and enthusiastic,” says director Benny Sato Ambush. “The playwright Peter Shaffer offers the option of simply using the audience as the tourists, but I knew Lindsay would enjoy playing to different individuals.”

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The response has been impressive, with several people performing their walk-ons at more than one performance, and a few families performing together. The goal is to have just three or four visitors on the first tour, and then keep adding people until the fourth tour includes more than a dozen people.

“I’ve performed four times already and I’m signed up for four more performances,” says Claire Wilson, of Lynn, a longtime fan of Gloucester Stage. “We are given a little orientation to let us know where to stand and what to wear, and then we simply react to what’s going on. It’s great fun.”

Since the number of volunteers varies from performance to performance, they need to be prepared to appear in one, two, three, or all four of the tour scenes.

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“We come prepared with four layers of clothing,” says Wilson, “and the idea is to remove your hat or scarf in between scenes to suggest that you are a different person or it’s a different time of year.”

Wilson, a clinical social worker, says she used to sing with Sweet Adelines, but otherwise has no stage experience.

“I’ve been coming to Gloucester Stage for several years, but being a part of the production has given me a real insight into the process,” she says. “I’ve also been so impressed not only with the quality of the actors, but with the quality of the people. Lindsay Crouse, for one, takes the time to introduce herself to every volunteer and really makes us feel like part of the company.”

TERRY BYRNE

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.
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