Theatre Series: Build

The camaraderie one feels when working on the set for a show is unlike any other; laughing back and forth, listening to music play over the sound system, and creating the occasional hilarious story that may survive for years to come. Even though the work is hard—as is inevitable when you put your whole being into something—it is rewarding.

Building the set for a play is very different than building a house or a shed. I’ve seen more jerry-rigged set pieces than I can count. The rule of thumb is, generally: If it’s safe to walk under and the audience can’t see how you made it happen, then it’s good. As long as the set looks good from an audience perspective and is functional, it really doesn’t matter what the back of it is like.

One of my favorite things to build was a set of thrones for The Snow Queen by Graham Cooper. They were called the “Seeing Thrones” and each represented one of the four elements—Earth, Water, Fire and Air. Going into it, I had no idea what I was going to make—but it was a challenge, and I rose to it.

I decided that each throne would represent the darker side of its element—after all, they were being controlled by the Snow Queen herself, and were designed to paralyze children forever and allow the Queen to rule the world. So Earth would be a deadly Nightshade plant, Water a frozen waterfall, Fire carved from a chunk of lava rock, and Air a tornado.

After coming up with these ideas, the next step was to decide on what to make them out of. I based each one on something different. A few other builders and I scrounged around the storage space and found three old chairs (one upholstered) and a stump that was not exactly made of wood. I decided these things would do.

The stump eventually became the Water throne, the two wooden chairs Earth & Air, and the upholstered chair was gutted and turned into the Fire throne. These pieces looked great at the end, but the process that went into building them was long and arduous. One night I recall staying in the theatre until 3 o’clock in the morning just to finish one of them.

I think a lot more people should be exposed to building something—anything, really. The satisfaction of seeing a finished product, done properly, and knowing that you made that happen is absolutely glorious. Even if your finished product is only viewable for a few hours over the course of four shows, it is worth it to know that you contributed in such a way.

The problem solving skills I have gained from being a builder in the theatre have been astronomically useful. I rarely flinch from a challenge anymore—I simply stare it in the face and try to think of creative solutions; with the help of others, of course. The community of theatre construction teams I have worked with over the years has taught me this: to never undervalue the ability of someone other than myself to come up with something absolutely brilliant.

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Published in: on October 9, 2013 at 12:41 am  Comments (3)  
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