Beyond Bright Lights of Opening Night: A Peek Behind the Pajama Game Curtain

By Ashley Rodriguez, Staff Writer

“This is it. This is it. No matter what’s happened so far, this is it. I ask the sound booth, are you ready? I ask the light booth are you ready?” says Mrs. Beth DeMarco right before a performance.

The lights dim, and the enlivened audience pipes down to a soft buzz. Excitement fills the air as the play kicks off with a marvelous performance by the band. The upbeat, exuberant instruments perfectly capture the rhythmic day’s long work in the bustling Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory located in Cedar Rapid, Iowa. But a day is not on par with the multiple nine-hour long rehearsals of the cast and crew. For months, they rehearsed endlessly to perfect the show.

Based on the 1953 novel “71/2 Cents,” “The Pajama Game” unravels the story of a union strike at Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory. In this toe-tapping production, the protest for a 7 ½-cent-raise threatens to tear apart a blossoming romance between Sid the Superintendent, played by Patrick Kearney (12) and Babe, a member of the Grievance Committee, played by Casey Nguyen (12).

“Something that I’m really proud of is the chemistry between our characters onstage,” says Patrick, “because, if there’s no chemistry, there’d be no realism in the story we’re telling.”

A huge part of the live performance happens backstage and is a result of months of hard work. Have you ever wondered how it all comes together? What happens before the curtains go up, before the bright lights shine onto the stage, before the cast receives thunderous applause?

Hell Week. One to two weeks before opening night, cast and crew stay after school every day until 9 PM. Sleep is scarce and scattered, and nerves run high. But before any of that goes down, Casey Nguyen (12) recalls having a hard time getting into character early on in the rehearsal process. “The part I play is nothing like my own personality, so it wasn’t until a couple weeks before opening night that I really connected with my character,” she says.

Behind the scenes, crew members had a lot of moving components to keep track of. “We constructed the whole set, meaning the scaffolding, platforms, walls, and doors. Then there were the special effects, such as the explosion and the knife throwing scenes. We created those as well, which was lots of fun,” says crew member Grace Ollivant (11). Costume lists, prop lists, a whole lighting plot, and set design plans were all part of the planning process. The set was changed almost seven times before they settled on one that worked perfectly. For every single scene and cue, the lighting crew had to see what colors worked. The sound team not only had to pick out fitting sound effects, but it also had to make sure the mics were working at the right intensities.

From the pressures of Hell Week, to the jitters of opening night, cast and crew members bonded through the stress of it all.

“One of the things that I noticed about them,” Mrs. DeMarco noted, “was how willing the actors were to help the crew members.There were times where I thought some of my crew members or actors were beside themselves, not really thinking that they could make it. And, then, to finally see them make it— that’s everything to me.”