“The Tape Recorder.”
Loren Armitage has just concluded his performance, but the show doesn’t open until five days from now. Maegan Mercer-Bourne is now doing all of the heavy lifting in this play, although she doesn’t actually say anything.
What is most immediately striking about Pat Flower’s 1967 play, “The Tape Recorder,” is that no one has to memorize any lines.
There are two characters. Miss Collins, played by Maegan, is onstage the entire time but has no lines. The Writer – Loren – is heard via the show’s namesake, but is not seen (or will he be?).
“The Tape Recorder” was originally written as a teleplay, and it has the distinction of being the BBC’s very first color broadcast. Flower’s career was actually more involved in television than theatre, and it was only after her editor persuaded her that she wrote the stage version we will be performing.
Because the piece began as a teleplay, there are a set of challenges when producing it live. Simple cutaways and common editing techniques can create surprise effects that we cannot replicate onstage. A prop cannot just appear or disappear onstage without some sort of cover. So we had to take a few liberties with the suggested set design (Flower’s was pretty involved for a one-act play!). We’ve simplified the set design quite a bit, but I think it will still give us a perfect setting for terror.
This play is creepy. There is a menace that slowly sinks in as the play moves forward. It’s one of the big draws of doing this play for me. I love it when theatre or film makes everyday objects scary, and in this case we have a real relic…the tape recorder.
It’s the most important prop in the play. It becomes another character, serving as a physical proxy for the writer. Early on in our rehearsal process I knew I wanted to use a working tape recorder. I wanted the prop to be practical, so that the writer’s voice coming from the tape was authentic and not cued from house speakers by Emily, our wonderful stage manager.
I thought we’d be lucky to find a functional cassette recorder. It would have been somewhat anachronistic, because the play feels more 1960’s, but no matter because we were able to borrow a genuine reel-to-reel…and it is beautiful.
This is hands-down my favorite prop I’ve ever handled. Not only does this baby work, but the slowly turning reels are the perfect visual as the writer weaves a web of terror and suspense around the unsuspecting Miss Collins.
I just hope it continues to work for one week.
The machine itself is almost 50 years old. The speakers kind of come and go, which might be great for the creep factor or they might just crap out altogether. The reels of magnetic tape are an even bigger concern for me. Will they hold signal? We’ve already discovered the hard way that the tape can easily break when trying to stop it after a fast forward.
If it works, the tape recorder adds a dimension to this play that I have not seen before. Sure, I’ve seen and worked on many plays that use pre-recorded material, but it’s all been in the digital age. A stage manager can stop and start tracks from CD or playlist easily and quickly.
With this tape recorder, everything is laid out ahead of time. Timing is everything. Maegan will work a tightly choreographed sequence throughout the play, and it must line up with the entire reel of tape.
One week. It just has to hold out one week!