The Evolution of a Set
To begin the design process, the designer looks for photographic representations of the main physical elements in the set. In this case the landscape of a city with its high rise buildings, billboards and bright, exotic lighting, plus bars, cafes and newsstands; then the underground sense of being in a sewer with it’s dark tunnels and pipes and finally the foliage and landscape of Havana and the arched doors into the café.
The large canvas Oleo painted during the summer Melodrama camp proved a fine backdrop for the Havana café scene and neatly separated it from the rest of the set.
Research to Drawings: Cityscapes and Sewer Shapes
Following are some of the preparatory drawings done by students and by our set designer.
From all of this research and sketching, finished drawings are made and a three dimensional model is constructed to guide the way to the building of the live set.
Drafting, Preparing the “Canvas” and Drawing Large
The designer then transfers the drawings onto graph paper so that a large scale drawing can be made. Giant pieces of plywood are based in black paint and then the small graphed drawing is transferred to the plywood with the use of proportionately scaled squares (like an enlargement of the graph paper). This allows each square to be copied accurately from the small to the large with white chalk over the black paint.
Meanwhile the shop crew builds the platforms, the walls, the arches and the street lamps. The shop is busy with measuring and the sound of electric tools of all kinds. Students are instructed in building the set and in the use of the tools by Rick Barron, an experienced carpenter and set builder. Our shop is well equipped with a chop saw, table saw, pneumatic staple guns, electric drills and many hand tools as well.
Artist John Gurney, a parent of two NEYT actors, painted the luminous orange sewer pipes. Larry Lawler, our set designer painted the city scene and supervised the tech crew as they painted the foliage, the mission, the newsstand, the Havana arches, the “Hot Box”, and the cafe.
Putting it Together
Slowly the set gets glued, stapled and bolted together. The large plywood panels of the cityscape and cinema are pinned at one corner so that, like double doors, they can swing open to reveal the sewer. Other large pieces of the set have rollers attached to them so they can be pushed, in an arcing motion, across the stage to reveal the inside action of the exterior building. The stage left set of buildings open to create the space for the Hot Box where the dancers perform. The stage right façade of the Mission rolls back for the interior mission scenes.
The long heavy roll of painted canvas that is the Oleo gets raised into place with ladders and pulleys and the help of most of the crew.
The lighting instruments are hung, cabled and focused from high ladders, fitted with filters and attached to dimmers to create the atmosphere desired for each scene.
A “tech through” of the whole show is run to place, check and practice the timing of the lights and sound, as well as the movement of the set pieces.
This was NEYT’s most complex and technical set ever. Many hours of work and planning went into creating it. Yet, a big part of the tech crew’s job is still to come.
Running the Show
The stage managers come to every show to roll, swing and manhandle the set pieces into place as required by the script. The props have been meticulously prepared by the Prop Master and set out on the designated prop table in the “greenroom” where the actors wait to go on.
As the actors finish dressing and applying make up and the stage managers prepare to await their cues, the lighting and sound operators take their places in the lighting booth, the spot light operator perches on his stool at the top of the risers, and when all is at ready and the audience has settled, the band strikes up the prelude, the director speaks and the show begins.
At the end of the show as the actors take their bows, it is traditional to acknowledge the tech crew in the lighting booth. It is more than a customary gesture. Everyone knows that the show would not have run so smoothly or looked so spectacular without the support and hard work of the people the audience rarely sees.
The Principal Technical Players
Larry Lawler -Set and Lighting Designer
Rick Barron- Tech Director
The following technical theater students helped design, build and paint many of the scenic units in the show.
Daphne Kinney-Landis: Lighting board operator. Painted the Havana arch and wall and also lettered the Hot Box.
Isaiah Palmeri: Sound and follow spot operator. Designed, built and painted the street lights.
Jack Maples: Running crew. Designed, built and painted the Havana double arch unit.
Max Peyton: Stage Right Assistant Stage Manager, shop crew
Sam Grubinger: Prop Master. Designed, built and painted two Havana foliage units.
Ian McBean: Stage left Assistant Stage Manager. Designed, built and painted the newstand.