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The Remains of a Play

8 Jun

IMG_0311Every few years, we go into the High School Performing Arts Center, and decide, “that’s it, the stage needs painting.” So somebody heads to the hardware store and orders up three gallons of the bottom of the line, black, flat, interior paint. We tie back the curtains, sweep and mop the floor, and finally paint.

So Dave and I (Lyman) arrived at the PAC early Friday morning, tracked down brooms and mops and started to work. I swept around the outside edge of the stage where the concrete apron meets the wood floor of the stage. Theres an expansion joint that goes all around two sides and the back wall. It’s there in the cracks and edges and around the backs of conduit and table legs where you find the reminders of all the things that have happened on that stage.

The Addams Family set work.

A stray silk leaf probably from The Addams Family, a half a dozen feathers from the Bird Girls in Seussical, sequins and other shiny bits from costumes from dance recitals, bits of wood and cloth and craft materials from any of the eight or nine productions since we last painted the floor.

No Clue

No Clue

Then I looked closer at the rest of the stage where one could see the wavy edge of the front of the platform that was Whoville. There were zig-zag lines from where the flats that created the back walls of No Clue and Outrageous Fortune were placed. The center of the stage is more chewed and pocked marked from the extra beating that it takes during nearly every performance. There were gouges where a wagon brake or other set piece had opened an arced gash in the stage.

Rehearsals in Whoville

Rehearsals in Whoville

When Dave and I walked away three hours later, the stage was a flat even black and the obvious scars and spatters of past shows where hidden from view. But no amount of paint and sweeping can take away the memories of the shows that preceded us in this facility.  And when Dave and Jay and I showed up on Saturday morning, we tracked dusty foot prints to the center of the stage, laid out the spike tape to outline Mushnik’s Flower Shop, and proceeded to add one more layer of history.

Ready for more.

Ready for more.

Growing Truffala Trees

16 Jun

TT Sideways CutoutsTT Waste???There aren’t many Once-lers in community theater set construction crews. Everything is re-used, up-cycled, re-purposed and repaired to the point that many 2 x 4’s and drywall screws have been in more shows than any actor. I cut a half inch block off a 2 x 4 the other day and tried to decide if I should leave it for some other purpose or throw it away. (I left it in the scrap box. Heck, it will become a shim in some set piece someday.)TT Book Covers

Over the last week or so the Truffala trees have been coming together in the shop. The tree trunks were formerly the cardboard centers from rolls of  carpet. They are sturdy and about twelve feet long and could be cut to the lengths needed. Scott put out a call for them early on and somebody knew somebody who was a carpet layer and suddenly the shop was littered with them.TT Weighted tube

Unlike carpet tubes, not all Truffala Trees grow straight to the sky so experiments were conducted to create bends in the trees. One was placed on sawhorses and wrapped in moist rags then sandbags were placed on it. Unfortunately the moisture got to the glue that holds the wraps of cardboard together and it looked as if it had been struck by lightening.

TT Arcing tubesOne evening two very long tubes with a nice arc appeared in the shop. They will adorn the front of the stage in front of the curtains to keep them from interfering with light bars and teaser curtains and any other number of things above the stage.

While the trunks were being painted, white with brown, the tree tops were also being experimented on. Styrofoam, the kind that comes in sheets that is used in construction for insulation, works well in set construction. It’s light so if a truffula tuft comes unhinged from its moorings, the result may surprise a small Who but probably won’t leave a mark. First the styrofoam was cut into circles and then a few notches were cut in. Scott wasn’t happy with the result so he  tried cutting more arced notches into them so they resembled large circular saw blades.TT 2nd try

Of course then the issue became the best way to cut the thick styrofoam: there was the bandsaw, the jigsaw, the coping saw, and of course the razor knife. The power saws were  the quickest, the band saw, and the coping saw created the smoothest cuts,  the razor knife wasn’t long enough, and the jig saw was fine when the band saw was busy cutting out fish.

Truffela TreesTT BandsawThe tops were painted with a base  of red, orange, or yellow and then colors were streaked over top to give them a sense of depth and shadow.

The tubes were applied to plywood bases that had been painted black to blend with the stage floor and  were large enough to keep them from tipping. Then finally the tops were attached to the trunks with long drywall screws and a large washers to distribute the pressure.

Tree topThe forest of trees finally appeared on the stage and it was discovered that some were too tall and had to be trimmed. The light guy fretted about the shadows they would cast but overall they captured the imagery of the genius Dr. Seuss.TT on stage


11 Nov

Costumes and Candy Canes

Moving the production of A Christmas Story to the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at Evansville High School has been a “two step forward, one step back” transition. We knew that would be the case when we negotiated for the space.

Rick, Lyman, and Scott plan, or conspire.

We started our rehearsals this past week in the PAC on a bare, large stage with only tape on the floor to indicate where the set pieces would go. The stage at the PAC is twice the size of the auditorium where we had been practicing, so the first order of business was to work on the blocking for the large stage.

Alex, who plays Scut Farkus and is making his first appearance on stage, asked, “what’s blocking?”  It’s easy to forget that I’m working with some kids who have never been on stage before and that the odd terms used in the theater can be a bit confusing. “Blocking,” I explained, “is where you need to be and how you need to get there while you’re on stage.”

Construction begins.

Blocking could also refer to our move into the PAC. The second graders have a choir concert there this week so we can’t put any of our set onto the stage. However, the PAC has a scene shop and ample wings that allowed us to move our stuff in. After a couple of loads were delivered from the storage area, the stage was littered with the various wood frames that make up the Parker House, the main set piece. Scott (who designed the original set) and I looked at pictures and deciphered where each piece of the puzzle needed to go, grabbed a couple of screw guns, and went to work.

Clark and Rick, veterans of this set piece, joined us, as well as several others. Many who were new to set building, but not new to building things, pitched in and in an hour the pieces that littered the stage were reassembled. The set piece that takes up the whole Middle School stage looked small on the PAC stage.

Parker house on the move.

We couldn’t leave it there, so a large group lifted the set and put it on mover’s dollies and we wheeled it into the scene shop to wait until next weekend. That’s when the next movement on stage will happen. We’ll bring it back and remove the dollies, re-paint, add flats, and complete our set. Once done, the light crew will come in and start placing and focusing lights, Melissa will start setting up tables in the back to place the props, the set pieces that need to roll on and off for different scenes will be staged in the wings, and the costumes will be hanging in the green room.

The Parker House in its new home. The group discusses ideas  for improvement.

When we return to the PAC in a week, rehearsals will have a different feel — a sense of urgency will creep in. This is becoming a real play, and opening night will be upon us before we know it.

All Hands on Deck!

16 Oct

Early Saturday morning Director Dave and Lightman Lyman spirited off in a borrowed truck (thanks Rich!) to begin moving some of the set from a storage unit to the middle school auditorium. (Okay, in the interest of honesty it wasn’t that early, more like 10 in the morning but that’s plenty early for a couple of middle aged guys.) We brought over the table and chairs and the couch so the actors could get use to the those pieces during rehearsal. Then there was a pile of lumber that needs to be reassembled into “the house on Cleveland Street.”

And there’s where we need help. On Saturday October 22nd and Sunday October 23rd we will be reassembling the house and we need your help. All experience levels are welcome and it’s a great way to get involved in ECT!

We will start Saturday morning at 8 o’clock hauling the rest of the parts from the storage unit to the middle school as well as starting the construction. Because the framing is already done and Master Carpenter Bob will be there, we fully expect that it will all go back together quickly. This part of the process will be done to the symphony of cordless drills so if you have one to bring along and like to use it please do so.

Once that’s done we will move on to the touch up and decorating of the set so we will need people with a lighter touch and the ability to handle a paint brush. Also we will be trying to organize the props and other sundry tasks that come along.

So if you have a few hours free and want to come help contact us, either through ECT’s Facebook page or contact us  and let us know when you will be there. If you want to come for the construction phase of the workday bring along a cordless drill if you have one.

Are ya nuts?

29 Jul

It started three days after the sidewalks of Anatevke were rolled up; a question popped up on the ECT Facebook page asking “OK if we are doing a play next year and not a musical what play are we doing?” Since then the suggestions have rolled in.

I guess I live in an alternate plane from those on Facebook. I’m happy to be reacquainting myself with my home life and my pillow. (I’m really good at sleeping, in fact, it’s the one thing I excel at and these productions really cut into my practice time.) I have a canoe that is still resting in the rafters of my garage, hoping it will get to come down from its winter storage place and get wet. I have a couple of fly rods in the trunk of my car wanting to be released from their cases and waved in the air. I have house projects to catch up on. In short I want some time to go do the other fun things that summer is for.

Also I have enjoyed listening to the people around town and out at the Piggly Wiggly tell me about how wonderful the play was. It was described as “professional” and “amazing” and “my, what talent there was”. “Why would you go to the Fireside [Dinner Theater] when you can see such great shows here?” It validates the work and effort that was put into the production.

One thing that has amazed me during my involvement with ECT, is how quickly we hop from one production to the next, not taking much time to celebrate our achievements. We have strike and our cast party and go our separate ways. The Board will meet in August and the production team for A Christmas Story will get together in September and back into production we go.

The other thing that amazes me is how much energy, effort, and work that goes into doing these shows. It chews people up and eventually spits them out. Sometimes you just need a break.

It is, however, refreshing to see that  so many of those involved with Fiddler on the Roof enjoyed the experience so much that they are willing to go back at it already. Until then they have other choices, Stoughton Village Players will be holding auditions for Annie in August, and other possibilities can be found at Madstage , and, of course there is plenty of backstage help needed for our own production of A Christmas Story.

But for me right now, “to sleep perchance to dream–ay, there is the rub.”

The Meaning of Ephemeral

25 Jul

So I looked up the word ephemeral–it’s one of those words that I hear from time to time but only have a vague idea of what it means. Simply it means fleeting or short lived.

Tevye's house, Sunday morning before strike.

Months of hard work, ideas, designing, rehearsing, singing, choreographing, reworking, building, crafting, sewing, memorizing, tuning, playing, arguing, laughing, teasing, crying, discussing, and finally executing it all. Six shows of actors giving every bit of their soul and the crew sweating every last detail. We had all anticipated those six shows. Finally the audience filled the Performing Arts Center, the pre-show announcement gets played, the stage manager asking the light board operator if the announcement is over–“I can’t hear it back here!” “When the backdrop turns red, open the curtain,” he replies.

Six times that conversation happened.

Six times the lights brought the backdrop to red and the curtain opened.

Six times Tevye told us in one word why it was the way it was–Tradition!

Six times the actors took the stage.

Six times the villagers of Anatevka were evicted.

And six times the audience was ours.

The work in full swing.

The production team had been meeting since February and then on Sunday morning, in three hours, Anatevka was no more. The walls came down, the props were sorted, the spike tape was pulled from the stage floor, the shop was re-organized and the sawdust was swept up, the costumes were hung and sorted to go back to from where they came and the microphones were cleaned and put away.

Lane sorts and hangs the costumes.

All of the disassembled pieces and parts of the set  are stored in the high school shop waiting to become part of another play. They might reappear in the fall high school production, hidden under new paint.

For the last several weeks a large group of dedicated people went from work, to the theater, to bed. And sometimes work and bed got dropped from that cycle. All for six shows! Why, why? As Scott pointed out in an e-mail to me:

 “However, there is another reason we do this, something less ‘giving.’  It’s called addiction.  As Dave says, we all have this disease.  It defies all logic, all sane manner of thought.  It rises above work obligations, family commitments (or becomes a family commitment), church (yup, some of us miss church service during these productions), and displaces our routines.  The sad (or happy) truth is, it keeps bringing us back.  So, we do it, not for anyone particular.  We do it because we can’t not do it.”

The ECT Facebook page was active as soon as the cast party was over. A happy and sad mix of missing each other and celebrating the accomplishment; withdrawal symptoms of this addiction. Now they will all try to resume their normal life–some sort of rehab might be required.

All that remains of Tevye's house.

But the next fix will come and when they all start working on their next play, the memories, both good and bad, will become part of the stories they will tell. That’s where Anatevka will live.

Five and half months of work, hundreds upon hundreds of people hours and in just three short hours it’s all gone. That’s why I looked up the word ephemeral.

From the wings, an empty stage

The Village Makers, or The Final Shingle

16 Jul

Article By Scott Brummond, ECT Set Designer

Photos by Sharon Cybart

Fiddler on the Roof is a big show.  Big in many ways and by now we all understand that very well.

Scott at work

Our journey began in February, when much of the planning started.  A thorough reading of the script revealed just how challenging the scenery alone would be, never mind lights, sound, costumes and, oh yeah, the actors with all that singing, dancing and, well, acting.  From Tevye’s house to Morcha’s Inn, we’d have our work cut out for us building and painting the scenery.  So, we put the call out early for help, hoping to inspire some ownership and build a bond (so to speak) between characters and set pieces.

By and large, this approach was a grand success.  Friday’s opening marked the completion of over 5 months of preparation.  In our show, we have 67 actors.  For the production, we had well over 100 contributors, and dozens of “community sponsors.”  In building our village, 52 actors, artists, self-proclaimed “non-artists,” tradesmen and “general theater rats” cut wood, drove screws, sewed fabric, mixed paint, dabbled brushes, and cut & fastened shingles.  Of those 52 (many were repeat offenders), most were “kids.”

Yup, that’s right, these kids did most of the work.  Pretty amazing!

There is an old saying:  it takes a village to raise a child.

In our case, the children raised a village.

Interior of Tevye's house

The Inn

The Tailor Shop

The Butcher Shop and Bakery

Building a Village

13 Jun

Scott’s idea was simple and brilliant–let the people of Anatevka build their village.

The cover sheet of the audition package was clear, if you got a part, you would be expected to help out with the set construction. Not only that, you would be assigned to help out on one of the major set pieces, specifically the one that the characters would inhabit during the play.

The actors of Tevye’s family would help build and decorate Tevye’s house; Lazar the Butcher, in charge of the Butcher Shop; and so on.

So here’s how it turned out.

A humble stack of lumber.

Master Carpenter Bob and Set Tech Monica build the frames.

Bob, Monica, and Scott bring it together.

The Villagers arrive.

Fiddlin' with the roof.

Zoe, who is afraid of heights.

Chris, Andy, Scott, Justine, and Alex looking perplexed.

Clark on the importance of drywall screws.

Construction Continues this Saturday

18 May

Fiddler on the Roof set construction continues Saturday, May 21, in the morning from 8 until 12 at the Evansville High School PAC shop. Most of the work will involve framing more of the set pieces.

Never tried set construction before? Stop by and see how it’s done and you can try your hand at it. A lot of Saturday’s work will involve driving screws into 2 x 4’s with power drills as well as cutting on the power saws. Don’t worry, though, we don’t want you doing anything you’re uncomfortable with so if a saw isn’t your thing, we’ll keep you busy with other parts of the project.

If you are interested in helping out, stop by and we’ll put you to work. This work isn’t suitable for kids so, please, don’t bring them along. Safer work for the younger set will come later.

We’re always looking for donations of building materials–everything from dimensional lumber to sheeting (plywod), styrofoam, etc., as well as fabrics, paints, nails, screws, tools, etc. Have extra materials laying around? Here’s an opportunity to get them out of the garage and donate them to a good cause!

Stop by on Saturday morning and see what we’re up to! The shop entrance is on the back of the school across from the baseball field by the large dock door.

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