Monday, April 8, 2024

Go "Backstage" and Discover a New Film by Kevin Austra

Jeff Gudzune writes book reviews for a variety of publishers and is active in community theater. Since 2013, Jeff has owned and operated Matrix Notary Service.

Theater is a world of its own. A multi-faceted realm where reality intersects with fantasy and art is given life. It isn’t easy. Anyone who has gone through the rigors of cold readings, callbacks, and the emotional roller-coaster associated with awaiting a casting decision can attest. Actors are not simply reciting words; they are giving of themselves to bring their characters to life. It’s a wonderful, collaborative, and exhausting process. It is agony and ecstasy. Directors have the arduous task of taking the script and translating their vision into blocking. Set Designers must bring the bare stage to life. Costume Directors must outfit an entire troop in keeping with the theme of the show, often using a shoestring budget. In essence, every theater is a community theater. Months of work go into production — most of it happening before Opening Night. But what of the drama that happens behind the curtain?

Backstage is a film that exposes the gritty underside of theater with a careful mix of humor and drama. An unnamed theater group is working hard on their winter show, Romeo and Juliet. Among the cast is newcomer Sam, whose struggles with bringing his character to life will strike a familiar chord with many neophyte thespians. Sam is the everyman, a complicated person with a backstory that is cleverly revealed throughout the film.Among the players, each one represents an archetype of the theatrical world. There are stars, prima donnas, hams, and old hands. There is the frustrated Director, the sanguine Stage Manager, and the interfering Board Member. While the principal focus of the dramatic arch is Sam, the ensemble characters stand out with their own stories.

The cast of Kevin Austra's new film, Backstage.
Photo provided by Kevin Austra.
Backstage is an independent film by Kevin Austra, shot entirely inside the iconic Everett Theatre in Middletown, Delaware. Utilizing a cast of local actors, the film examines the complex dynamics of the theater itself. While there are points where the timing seems slightly off, and some of the lines are rushed, the performances are nuanced and poignant. Among the more memorable moments is a conversation in which a more experienced performer explains why he accepted the relatively minor role of Montague even though he thinks he deserves a larger role. Confronting a younger performer, whose inclusion in the cast was the result of his association with a prominent board member, the older actor explains that at the end of the day, the theater is where he wishes to be. His job may pay the bills, but the theater is his life.

This alone underscores the reason actors, directors, stage crew, and those who run the theater do what they do for little to no pay. It’s not about the money, it’s about the art. There are moments in the film where it seems as if the characters have lost their direction, and the plot seems to grind to a halt. This can only be deliberate, as the tone change represents a transition into the more serious aspects of the drama.

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