A Day In The Life Of Producing “Beauty Of The Father”

The last of the photos I have for the build and rehearsal set at BLT’s Flickr site are now uploaded, with captions. If you’re interested in what goes on before and while the actors are on stage, you might find it worth a look.

I’d like to focus on three of the photos in that set. All three are from the last day of the build, before the start of Hell Week. While they might all seem to be prosaic subjects, the stories behind them illustrate what it takes to put on a theatre production. When I wrote this the other day:

There hasn’t been much about this show on the BLT (BAT) blog recently, but that’s mainly because most of us have been feeling rather like Jack Bauer in Hour 24, thanks to long nights and days of putting things together.

many folks reading that might have wondered just what the heck I was talking about.

What I was talking about was things like this:

Maggie's rock wall sample board

A sample board showing various trials by set designer Maggie Larrick to find a combination of materials and paints that would look good as part of the set’s rock wall. July 28, 2013. Photo by Craig Orsinger for BLT.

Set design and construction are often an experiment in how to create something that looks like something else, and will last long enough to do a show. Here, Set Designer Maggie Larrick was trying to figure out how to imitate the look of a rock wall. She was using joint compound with various mixes of flour, corn starch, and water to try to imitate the texture of rocks. Even at this resolution, it’s pretty easy to see that some of those mixtures clearly weren’t right. Cracks developed as soon as the water evaporated. One of the requirements for any material used in such work is that it must be flexible enough to remain in one piece after it dries. Conversely, it needs to be able to either withstand actors running into it or hitting it with things, or be easy to repair after a collision.

Plus, of course, she needed to decide what colors to use.

Anyone who has spent time building model trains probably recognizes this process as being like creating models of mountains or road cuts. There are differences, though. A train layout must last for years under comparatively low light, where a set piece needs to last only a month, but under much more stingent conditions. The light is far more intense, and as I already alluded, it’s often at the mercy of actors and stage crew who are working in the dark and in a hurry. Nevertheless, there have been more than a few times when I’ve said something along the lines of “if I were doing this at 1/48th actual size …” when we are discussing how to achieve a particular look. There are a lot of similarities between making something look realistic when it’s much smaller than the original, and making it look good from thirty feet away.

From the fact that we had to see how each material looked after it dried, it’s easy to see that this process took several days. When you consider that we had very little time between the end of the Hi-Liners’ summer show (with whom we share the stage and other facilities), and the beginning of Beauty Of The Father, it’s easy to see why we sometimes spend all night painting, sawing, and hammering.

This photo illustrates another aspect of small theatre production:

Eric paints some set dressing

Set construction assistant (and Artistic Director) Eric Dickman paints one of the shelves used as set pieces on the house. July 28, 2013. Photo by Craig Orsinger for BLT.

As the caption notes, Eric is our Artistic Director, but here he’s painting a shelf, because it’s something that has to be done. Everything that happens at BLT is done by volunteers. Some of it is pretty specialized work, like lighting or costume design, but much of it is the sort of ordinary work many of us know how to do. That work is just as valuable as programming a sound board or repairing the stage, because if it doesn’t happen we can’t do the show.

Speaking of ordinary work, this is what I was doing for much of that day:

The rehearsal room during cleanup, 2013/07/28

During set construction, the rehearsal room served as a set construction site. This is how it looked near the start of cleanup. July 28, 2013. Photo by Craig for BLT.

We had been using the rehearsal room as a place to build and paint set pieces, particularly the imitation tiles on the roof of the set’s house. Naturally, we couldn’t just leave this as it was, since the cast of our next production, Young Frankenstein, is now using the room for rehearsals. I spent the day cleaning it up, and hauling that stack of seats in the upper left corner of the photo over to the storage space, along with some of the stuff in this photo. I’m not really fond of moving heavy objects, but it was something that had to be done.

That’s a pretty typical day before Hell Week. As you can see, it’s a lot of things besides just building sets and lighting them. Like any amateur theatre, we rely on volunteers to help us through these times. That’s why we’re always grateful for the work they do, and always happy when new volunteers come along.

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