HUNTINGTON — A local theater company is taking a stage production to the big screen.
Alchemy Theater Troupe’s feature film “Hay Fever” had a world premiere Saturday night at Marquee Cinemas at Pullman Square.
“Hay Fever” was adapted and directed by Stephen Vance. Based on an original stage play by Noel Coward, the story is a comedy of manners about an artistic family that invites guests to their home for a weekend. The movie was shot in Huntington at the Coin Harvey House on 3rd Avenue. Local talent and crew worked on the film. To create the film, Alchemy Theater received a CARES grant from West Virginia and sponsorship from Dutch Miller.
Vance said the idea to perform “Hay Fever” started last year. The group planned to decide in February if the production would be on stage or filmed and to take into consideration COVID-19 pandemic guidelines at that point. They opted to film.
“Hay Fever” feels like a film rather than a theater production, Vance said. He added that the play is a very dialogue-driven story. The production crew came into the project with histories in filmmaking, he said.
“When I first saw it (the trailer), I was gobsmacked,” Vance said.
While some changes were made to the script — instead of the English countryside, the film takes place outside of Boston — the final product pays homage to Coward’s original vision. Alchemy’s “Hay Fever” is set in the 1920s, like the original play. Some original scenes that do not factor into the overall plot and references to British slang were cut, Vance said.
Coward is featured in a prop shown in the movie. Vance said the team went back through old newspapers from the era to use in the film. One headline mentions the playwright.
Getting the props and costumes just right was one change that was new for many in the group, Vance said. On a stage, it is easier to get away with smaller detail, but items need to be authentic for the camera, he said.
Another new aspect for many in the cast was the difference between stage acting and film acting.
The cast approached the film like a play in some ways. Normally, Alchemy takes around five weeks to rehearse a play. The actors kept to this rehearsal schedule while social distancing and wearing masks, Vance said. By the time it came to record scenes, most of the people working on the project were vaccinated, he said.
Then, cast and crewmembers moved into the Coin Harvey House for about a week. Filming took about three 16-hour days, Vance said.
“Without that cast, there’s no way that we do it,” Vance said. “It was nine people who absolutely 100% committed to the call, the protocol, the work, jumping into something that they didn’t even know that they were capable of doing.”
The time put into producing the film was also longer than a play normally takes, Vance said. The entire production schedule for the film took around three months, whereas a play takes six weeks.
A sold-out premiere was held at Marquee Cinemas at Pullman Square on Saturday night. Two future showings are scheduled. The first will be at Ritter Park on Friday, May 21, and the second will be at Heritage Station on Wednesday, May 26. Both showings will be outdoors at 8 p.m. Visit Alchemy Theater’s website to get $10 tickets for the Ritter Park event or space reservations for the Heritage Station show.
Vance said “Hay Fever” will be kept to audience showings at first and then will be submitted to film festivals. Blu-Rays do exist right now, but those are mainly for the cast and crew. He said the team is weighing streaming platforms for “Hay Fever” in the future.
The community response has blown Vance away, he said. In addition to the sold-out premiere, people have gone all out with their support. Some bought new outfits to wear to the showing and said they looked forward to getting out of the house after staying at home for so long.
“Even more than just making the art for ourselves, what’s felt great about it is people have something to look forward to. And I know that’s been really hard for people to find, something worth celebrating,” Vance said.