Tech Week Behind the Scenes: How to Make a Musical “Practically Perfect” in Every Way


The Banks family, played by Emmy Bear, Miya Lasher, Henry Purcell, and Alex Shuie (Lara Paschalidis)


Tech week, the infamous seven days leading up to a production, features what can only be described as beautiful chaos; it is the satisfying culmination of months of effort—and the last chance to get everything just right. From the audience’s perspective, musicals appear effortless, but behind the scenes, there’s more than meets the eye.

To get a spoonful of what the Wilton High School Theater cast has in store for their upcoming production Mary Poppins, I  immersed myself in the hustle and bustle of tech week.

“When we get to tech week, it seems like it’s not going to come together but it always somehow does in the end,” said Illeas Paschalidis, who plays Robertson Aye, the Banks family butler, in the musical. The stress that characterizes tech week certainly pays off when the curtains close on opening night, thanks to the work of volunteers and artists who have been working tirelessly for months.

The visually appealing nature of high school productions can be attributed to stellar makeup and costume design. Each character, whether part of the ensemble or Mary Poppins herself, has a specific regimen of makeup and dress that, when completed, transforms the actor into their unique character. 

Wilton High School’s theater department enlisted the help of Julianna Trichilo and Molly Smith for the creative feat of applying cast members’ makeup. 

“We’ve always loved making intricate Halloween costumes filled with fun makeup looks,” said Trichilo, who explained that a teacher recommended the pair for this job. “We met with Andrea Metchick, the director, and we planned the color schemes with her,” said Smith.

Mary Poppins, a musical set in the 1910s, features outfits characteristic of the era, such as flowy dresses and petticoats, slick-backed hairstyles, hair ribbons, and more. People can’t help but think of Poppins’ iconic blue skirt and coat when the play comes to mind, which is why Mary Brennan, the Musical’s costume designer, is devoted to bringing viewers a perfect mix of the classic outfit styles with a Wilton twist. 

Actresses Sayuki Layne, Clarissa G Aly Eidt, and Miya Lasher pose for a backstage shot before their final dress rehearsal (Yana)

The costume process is arduous and demanding, but Brennan undertook the task with the utmost preparation. Her process allows the designer to style outfits that fit both the period and the whimsical vibe of the Musical. 

“I watched a lot of productions of Mary Poppins and did a lot of research online about the styles worn in 1910 when the show was set. Then, I went through the closets that we have here at the High school because we were working with a school budget so it’s important to start with what you have and add things from there,” Brennan explained. 

Many costumes consist of fabrics adapted from other past productions, making for a show that will certainly serve as a nostalgic walk down memory lane for many viewers. “It’s a long process, but I have a lot of help,” said Brennan. 

Ava Keogh, Kate Rusin (Stage manager), and Yana Giannoutsos (myself) constructing kites for the “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” scene (Sayuki Layne)

Amid the hustle and chaos of actors taking their places is a plethora of parent and student volunteers assisting backstage. For example, Ava Keogh, a student artist, used her skills to help create props for the play. She helped make the colorful kites seen in the musical’s most iconic scene: “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.”

Many actors needed to learn entirely new techniques and skills to play their roles and work with these new props. 

Emmy Bear, who plays Jane in the musical, explained that she took up a somewhat new hobby during show rehearsals. “We had to learn how to tap dance,” she said, “many people for the first time ever.” 

Other actors, specifically Ella Deluca and Jake Enman, Poppins and Burt respectively, had to learn to take flight for some of the most thrilling scenes of the musical. The flying system is a big deal, and requires a great deal of responsibility from managers and actors alike.

“It’s a new experience. We’ve had a bunch of rehearsals planned for this. Since the show’s beginning, when I was told I would be flying, I’ve been anticipating this moment. Now that it’s here, it is an incredible feeling. I can’t wait to put it on and show other people what we’ve all been practicing for the last few months,” Enman said.

Paschalidis is optimistic not only for the melodic tunes throughout the piece (like “Just a Spoonful of Sugar” and “Step-In-Time”) but for the dancing that accompanies these legendary songs.

“This play has some really good dancing; possibly some of the best we’ve seen on the stage since Newsies,” he said. The actors must stay synchronized in both movement and mindset to put on a compelling performance.

“The actors all have a great chemistry together and they’ve had several shows to develop that chemistry,” said Thomas Fletcher, Fly Rig Operator (a.k.a. “Flyman”). 

This “chemistry” can be attributed to the inclusivity and support shown by all cast members both on and off stage. “My favorite part about Mary Poppins is the cast. I love how nice everyone is, and we are having a great time backstage,” said Sayuki Layne, actress. 

The incomparable visuals of this musical are made possible only by a group of unseen heroes. These stage managers, flying operators, and set-movers work not on, but as a part of the production.

“Because this is such a big show, so many set pieces have to be moved, and the only way that the stage crew can do it while staying inconspicuous is if they are in costume,” said Lyra Sharma, a senior and actress. This hidden fun fact is unique to Mary Poppins, a musical where everyone, including crew and audience members, is immersed in the whimsical universe of twentieth century London.  

The view from the orchestra’s pit below the stage (J)

Traveling further down the stage is a group that goes widely unrecognized for their diligence and talent: the pit orchestra. This group of musicians resides in the pit below the stage during all performances, accompanying the actors as they belt and project their voices. 

“We have been rehearsing twice a week since the start of April, working on each act at a time,” said Connie Gao, a flute player.  “It’s really interesting to see all the pieces coming together. We also have ringers helping us, so it’s cool to see different instruments being featured in different moments. It’s also cool to listen to how the singers play into it as well. We are accompanying them most of the time; not playing the melody. It has been a lot of fun learning all the pieces and getting to sit in the pit.” Whether under the stage or above it, all members of the crew must watch carefully to sync thier movements and instruments to the musical’s cues.

The thrill of this production lies in the actors literally defying gravity. From the catwalk, Fletcher drops entire sets and helps facilitate the flying process. “I use the rope and pulley systems that are on the sides of the theater, and I drop in heavy pieces of sets and other assorted curtains and stuff from the sky,” Fletcher said. To time everything right, he has to drop and lift objects based on cues from scenes in the show, which means he gets just one chance to get it right.

In between the hard work, actors and crew members share moments of contentment, moments where they can see with their own eyes the culmination of the work they’ve done. “The best parts of putting on this production are those little moments where you and your friends have such a good workflow because every puzzle piece is fitting perfectly; you’re all on the same wavelength and everything is meshing right,” Fletcher said. 

Mary Poppins is a timeless tale that is emblematic of childhood itself. I remember attending the Broadway musical for the first time, equipped with an umbrella in my hand and a sparkle in my eyes. When Mary Poppins flew right past my seat, I knew that I’d never forget that moment. 

Re-telling such a significant production is a great honor and a big responsibility. “It’s cool that we are telling a story that a lot of people know because we are constantly thinking: ‘What more can we do to add on to this classic story and make it our own?’” said Layne.

With a team of actors, artists, managers, and directors, the WHS Theatre department will do just that. To see what they have in store, come to the show either Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday at the listed times. The musical is so sweet, you won’t need a spoonful of sugar to help it go down!