What: “Harvey,” a Pulitzer prize winning comedy about Elwood P. Dowd and his imaginary rabbit friend. Elwood’s sister tries to commit him to a sanitarium to save the family from embarrassment, but winds up committed herself in a series of mishaps.
When: 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, Jan. 26-28, Feb. 2-4; 2 p.m. on Jan. 28
Where: Riverside Playhouse, 233 B. N. Wenatchee Ave.
Cost: $15 adults, $12 on Thursdays for Music Theatre members; $5 for students at the door with identification (based on seat availability).
Contact: mtow.org, 663-2787
WENATCHEE — It’s “hell week” on the “Harvey” set and first-time director Melissa Carlson couldn’t be happier. The stage crew is adding finishing touches to the lights and sound. Actors are perfecting their timing and costumes.
“This is when the magic happens,” Carlson said at dress rehearsal Monday. “When the lights go up, the actors put on their costumes and you see all the parts — page by page, scene by scene — finally coming together in a finished product.”
There was a time when Carlson lived for opening night, when she stepped out from behind the curtain, felt the hot lights on her face and acted her heart out in front of a live audience. Carlson, 37, has been involved in Wenatchee community theater groups since age 11. She was Frenchie in “Grease” in 1998, Irma in “Anything Goes” in 2000 and she starred as Maggie in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in 2005.
“I thought it would be a tougher transition becoming a director,” Carlson said. “I have an actor’s ego … There’s nothing like that feeling of taking a bow, getting a standing ovation and hearing the cheers. I didn’t know if I would be jealous of the actors when the lights went up.”
During rehearsals for “Harvey,” she found the view from the director’s chair just as satisfying, but in a different way. It’s the kind of satisfaction that comes from seeing your vision of the production finally come to fruition, she said.
“As a director, once show goes into production a director’s job is done,” Carlson said. “Each night I can sit in the theater and watch this amazing cast and crew take my vision to the next level.”
The idea of directing came to Carlson only after leaving the acting scene for several years. She moved out of the area for a new job in financing. When she returned to community theater last year, she couldn’t find many acting roles that suited her so she volunteered behind the scenes as assistant producer for “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and assistant director for “Sweeney Todd” last fall.
“Sitting on the opposite side, that’s when I realized I’ve been doing this for 25 years now, I think I can take a stab at it,” she said.
As a first-time director, Carlson was assigned two theater veterans, Cynthia Brown and Kevin McKee, by the Music Theatre of Wenatchee. The theater group created the mentorship program several years ago to attract new directors and build talent within their ranks.
“She’s doing really well. She came in knowing exactly what her vision was for every single scene — how it worked, how people should move,” Brown said. “But she’s also willing to make changes. It’s a good balance listening to others and knowing what she wants.”
Carlson spent a year researching and planning “Harvey,” a comedy chosen for her love of classics. She thought enough people would know the 1950 Jimmy Stewart film to draw a decent-size audience, Carlson said.
Rehearsals are four nights a week, plus she’s spent 10 hours a week working on “Harvey” from home. But, when asked how she liked directing, she whispered excitedly, “It’s fantastic!”
“I’m really tired, I’ve been living on Diet Coke, but the entire process has far exceeded my expectations as far as how much I would enjoy it,” she said. “It’s one of those things that I love so much it doesn’t feel like work … I’m so proud of this show.”
Rachel Hansen: 664-7139