Discussion of Studio Players' production of The 39 Steps keeps coming back to numbers. More than 300 sound and light cues. Ten weeks of rehearsal. Thirty hours of preparation for every minute on stage. Four actors. More than 100 characters.
"Well, the script says 'more than 100,' but we're not sure if that's true," says director Ross Carter.
Suffice to say there is enough going on in the 2005 comic farce, which was a hit on Broadway and the West End, that Carter calls it "the most ambitious show this theater has done." His cast and crew of Studio Players stalwarts concurs.
And they all say it's worth it.
"Having all of these different characters and scenes makes it so much fun and spontaneous," says Tim Hull, who plays the lead character, Richard Hannay, a man thrust into a harrowing chase after a mysterious woman is murdered in his home.
The play is an homage to the classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps starring Robert Donat.
In the story, Hannay is mistaken for the woman's killer and becomes the subject of a manhunt through Scotland, with episodes on trains, in hotel rooms, at a political rally, theater shows and many other locales. Through it all, Hannay is trying to find an answer to a question: What are the 39 steps? They're something the woman mentioned but never explained before she died.
Carter says he fell in love with The 39 Steps when he saw it in England in 2006.
The idea of the play is that the film is re-created with one actor playing Hannay, an actress playing the three women he falls in love with, and two other actors playing every other character in the show. Since 2006, Carter has seen five other productions, including the national tour that went through Cincinnati and the June production at Pioneer Playhouse in Danville.
In seeing those shows, he says, he has found "there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. Some productions just decide they are making fun of the movie, and that's not the intention. The right way is as a homage and a celebration of the magic of theater.
"It's funny because the actors are doing their best against impossible odds and use primitive effects in a small theater."
Actor Graeme Hart, one of the players with dozens of roles, says, "At the beginning, Ross told us he didn't want caricatures. He wanted us to take it seriously, but you also see the absurdity of these actors killing themselves to pull out this impossible task."
And it's not just the actors.
Backstage, four other people are frantically trying to keep costumes, props, scenery and lights moving onstage and off as the action hurtles forward.
"This show is very technical, and everything has to be right," stage manager Reinee Dunn says.
Barbara Clifton, who runs the sound and light boards during the show, says, "If I miss one light cue, I miss the next two or three light cues."
Usually the backstage crew comes in the week before a show opens, but Dunn says she got the 39 Steps crew — rounded out by Tonya Spears, Rob Maddox and Katee Holznagel — four weeks ahead of time to get them into the rhythm of the show's quick changes.
Try as they might, the cast and crew know there will be slips, such as forgetting to put a gun in a character's coat before he goes onstage.
"Then, I just make up my own gun," actor Randy Hall says, putting his hand into that classic gun profile, with the index finger as the barrel.
Both Hall and Hart say they have dropped 10 to 12 pounds since starting rehearsals.
Carter and his crew hope all those numbers add up to a memorable production of The 39 Steps.