Cries of "action" and "cut" rang out through the Al. Ringling Theatre on Tuesday as a bit of Hollywood braved a Wisconsin winter for production of the independent film "The Mourning Hour."
The film is the creation of writer/producer/star Shevaun Cavanaugh-Kastl and director Susan Cohen, both of Los Angeles. Cohen said they brought a film crew of 27; plus 35 actors, including Baraboo residents; and a truckload of lights, cameras and sound equipment to the theater.
Much of the day the cast and crew were working on a scene in which the main character, Virginia, learns of the death of her husband in an accident. She enters a dreamlike state and goes back in time to age 19, when performing on the cello was a great love of her life.
The dream concert scene relies on an orchestra of adult and student musicians largely from Baraboo. High school senior Kara Hakanson is a flute player and budding actress who heard about the film through her agent and auditioned for a role. It will be her first time appearing on the big screen.
"It's very exciting," she said. "It's nice that my first film is in Baraboo where I grew up and at the Al., where I love to be."
University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County freshman Carolynn Cormican came to the set armed with her clarinet. She said she learned about the film from UW-Baraboo band director Bridget Morrey-Seals, who was also at the ready with her flute.
"I've been in music all my life," Cormican said. "I thought it would be fun, something different."
"It's great that the locals get to be part of this special film," said high school senior and trombone player Stephanie Schuebel.
Most of the morning and into the afternoon, Cohen was working on a scene in the Ringling's orchestra pit with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Music Director Andrew Sewell and local musicians.
Cohen and the crew worked through a bewildering variety of details, from the placement of lights and camera to how Sewell would walk into the scene.
It was the job of one production assistant to sprinkle a mineral called fuller's earth onto Sewell's baton before each take. It produced a fall of glittering dust when he tapped the baton on a music stand, beginning the dream concert.
Kastl said the film has Virginia looking back over her life and how she has negotiated the expectations of her role as a wife and the love of music she had as a young woman. The film is set in the 1950s, a time when marital roles were more restrictive.
"It's this dichotomy of grieving something that's gone, but also it's a new beginning in some ways as well," she said. "It explores all those conventional restraints of a 1950s marriage."
Cohen said they needed a theater and a 1950s-era home for the film's scenes. After finding a ‘50s theme bed and breakfast in the Columbia County village of Arlington, the Al. Ringing worked out naturally for the theater setting.
Cohen said she and Kastl were in Baraboo two weeks before filming began, making arrangements and building scenery with help from local people.
"The town of Baraboo has been amazing to us," she said. "We borrowed props at the antiques stores. Brian (Heller) at the theater here has been extremely generous to us.
"The caliber of talent both in designing the production as well as actually physically in the production, working on it, is astounding," Cohen said.
Cohen said filming will continue in the Al. Ringling through Thursday. Then they move onto the Arlington B&B and an outdoor cemetery scene.
"The Mourning Hour" is set to have its world premier at the Al. Ringling, likely in September, Cohen said.
About the film