Monday, February 16, 2009

Set Design 101

In this new commitment I've made to participate in all parts of production when it comes to movies (and plays, for that matter), I offered to help Interplayers, our local professional theater, break down the set of their most recent play "Cowgirls." I'm thinking that set breakdown is easier to do than set buildup. Because of the quick turnaround time for the next play - a one-woman act about Emily Dickinson called "The Belle of Amherst," performed by a wonderful actress and friend of mine Ellen Crawford - the set needed immediate breakdown last night, after the "Cowgirls" final performance. so I told Maynard (set designer, ofttime actor and director, and all-around theater person extraordinaire) that I'd be there to help.

In the meantime, I got sick. Probably the flu. Achiness, sore throat - you know the routine. And my day yesterday was filled with appointments. So by 5 p.m., the last thing I felt like doing was breaking down a set. But I drove back into Spokane from Sandpoint, Idaho at exactly - you guessed it - 5 p.m., so I figured I needed to follow through with my commitment.

Already at the set breakdown scene were several young people who are involved and integrated with the theater. "Cowgirls" had done so well that there is talk of a summer revival, so we needed to keep the set pieces intact and move them to the basement floor that way.

What I noticed more than anything else (even more than the heavy lifting and subsequent sweating - boy, I sure didn't feel good) was the precision by which all these theater people managed the tasks at hand. It was disorganized organization, like a symphony in the middle of its last movement - the musicians all know the end result and the rest of us are all gifted with the opportunity to watch it unfold.

Kudos go out to all who helped. There was Maynard, of course. We argued over who was older (he is, but not by much) as the punctuation to the fact that I claimed elderly status when I couldn't successfully help him bring the chaise lounge up from the basement. There was Chris - new to me but not to Interplayers, someone who works long and hard behind the scenes to make sure that things go smoothly there. And then there were the "youngsters," as I call them: Gracie, who is in a play down at the local community college but thinks her part might get cut; Ginny, who will be stage manager for "Belle"; Jeremy, who had the unfortunate luck - like Maynard - of carrying furniture with me as his partner, and who even was willing to suffer through the experience more than once; Damon, who (it turns out) performed as one of the customers in a restaurant scene in a movie on autism called "Mozart and the Whale" that was filmed in Spokane using North by Northwest production company; and Brian, who out of the blue asked me about my baseball novel, taking me by surprise that he knew about it in the first place.

There were funny moments - like when I hovered around the baby grand piano as all the men took sides and lifted it from the stage to the floor, and then I asked for acknowledgement of how I "supervised" their work. Maynard and Chris simultaneously said that it appeared I was taking over Maynard's job. But overall, it really was just a lot of grunt work - moving set, sweeping floor, moving on. And not too many people outside of the eight of us will even know what we did, or realize the numer of splinters we got from moving a rustic set in the first place.

In the end, "Cowgirls" will become "The Belle" in part because a small troupe of industrious people chose to help move the view. And I'm glad I was there. Being a part of that group last night gives me new appreciation for what takes place, literally, "behind the scenes." In theater. In general. In life. I should have taken a picture.

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