Sunday, March 1, 2020

Ben Hur

I went to a rehearsal of Ben Hur by Patrick Barlow at the Garden Theater (160 W Plant St, Winter Garden, FL 34787). Director Jason Horne said that I had sketched a performance he was in years ago at Shakes, so he knew of my mission to document the arts with my sketches. I entered the theater through the stage door in the back and lead through the rickety stage set held up by 2 by 4 braces.

Cast was back stage trying on costumes. That gave me plenty of time to sketch the stage before they started to rehearse. The lighting techs were set up in the middle of the audience and they went through lighting cues as I worked. The theater went black quite often as they switched lighting effects. I used my cell phone to light the page when the theater went dark. I was concerned about the battery running out on my phone, so I would switch it off every time the theater lights went back up. One tech noticed my ongoing dance with my phone for light and he brought over a book light and clamped it onto the theater seat in front of me.That made life so much easier.

The premise of the show is that an amateur theatre troupe tries to perform the epic story of Ben Hur. As the struggling actors rehearse the grand tale of the fictional Jewish prince and merchant, offstage rivalries and romances interfere with their chariot races and sea battles. Patrick Barlow’s new adaptation of Ben Hur is a light-hearted comedic take on the timeless story.

While the actors were back stage, a stage hand on a ladder worked diligently to get a banner hung above and entrance door. With a light tug of a string offstage, the banner can unfurl. Another stage hand worked on a banner which had a mountain range on it. Both props would play a part in the scene about to be rehearsed.

The one scene I got to see rehearsed was the epic chariot race. Of course in the 1959 movie starring Charlton Heston the Chariot race is set in a huge coliseum with a cast of thousands. To simulate the crowd, 4 panels were rotated to show photos of a crowd on the stage set. Pontius Pilot (Adam Graham) entered through the door on house right. The banner was unfurled and it settled right in front of his face. It was an organic hilarious moment that is now integral to the show. His wife (Kristin Shirilla) also ducking the banner acting like Vanna White. Pilot walked over to the box center stage which was an orange crate that had Winter Garden Oranges printed on it. With a grand flourish he introduced the race. When the crowd was to Boo, Pilots wife held up a poster board.

Panels opened to show the chariots which were retiree medical mobility scooters. Ben Hur, (Daniel Veil) raced against a Roman Captain, (Mason Criswell), They circled center stage at top speed until one flew off stage and crashed. Smoke hinted at flames. Pilots wife suddenly had a fire extinguisher and she blasted the freezing spray on the chariot. The race and battle were over in an instant, hilarious and chaotic. Ben Hur did his victory dance like a seasoned WWF wrestler.

I loved how relaxed the cast were in their parts. New bits of slapstick humor were being developed on the fly. This show promises to be a very fun romp.

Ben Hur
Tickets are $20 to $32.
Remaining Show Dates...
Sun, March 1, 2020 - 2:00 PM
Wed, March 4, 2020 - 7:30 PM
Thu, March 5, 2020 - 7:30 PM
Fri, March 6, 2020 - 7:30 PM
Sat, March 7, 2020 - 2:00 PM
Sat, March 7, 2020 - 7:30 PM
Sun, March 8, 2020 - 2:00 PM
Wed, March 11, 2020 - 7:30 PM
Thu, March 12, 2020 - 2:00 PM
Thu, March 12, 2020 - 7:30 PM
Fri, March 13, 2020 - 7:30 PM
Sun, March 15, 2020 - 2:00 PM

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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