Thursday, August 21, 2014

Set Design - Building the Set for 'Fiddler on the Roof'

By Kim Hickey 

It starts with an empty stage. 

Much like a painter starts with a blank canvas or a composer begins from the new page of staff paper, the set design starts with the similarly blank canvas of an empty stage. 

Undeniably, an artist needs the canvas to put forth their artistic endeavors.  Likewise, most music is committed to paper from which to be performed.  Does it follow that a set is necessary for a play?  After all, one could argue that the necessary ingredients are a script and an actor. 

But, imagine for a moment, going to see a play with nothing but a blank stage and a couple of actors.  This might work for some productions – Waiting for Godot and other more intimate shows.  But would this always be the case?

The set, as well as costumes and make up, add to suspension of disbelief.  Imagine seeing Romeo and Juliet without the balcony; Othello without the bedroom; Cats without the junkyard; Phantom without the underground lair and the opera house; or Les Mis without the barricade.  The list goes on and on. 

Now most of those examples are musicals.  And I will admit that most of my theatre-going experiences have been musicals.  While there is something surreal and sublime about going to a darkened theatre to watch actors on a stage perform a beloved play before a crowd of a hundred or a thousand, a musical is that much more.  After all, the actors occasionally burst into song and dance.  This is not normal behavior (for many people).  Therefore, the suspension of disbelief must be greater than for your average play.  For that to happen, to my mind, it's all about the details. 

A well-thought out production, including a detailed set design, authentic costumes, fantastic make up that projects to the back of the theatre, great light design that enhances the production's high notes and subtler moments, sound design that supports the vocals, a great orchestra that is led by a sensitive music director - all of these things, plus of course the actors and director - make suspension of disbelief possible.  But the backbone of the production, the place where it all happens is, of course, the stage.  What do we do with the stage?

There are essentially two options at this point – the director can choose to go with a pre-designed kit or can have a set designer create a new plan for their production. For Slidell Little Theatre’s 2014-2015 season, the opening show is Fiddler on the Roof.  Director Paula Thompson has gone with a kit for her production. 

A kit designed specifically for "Fiddler on the Roof"
contained a series of blueprints for the entire set.
On a traditional show like Fiddler, using a kit lends authenticity to the production as well as saving time in pre-production.  There are also cost considerations as well.  While there are costs involved in purchasing the blue prints to a pre-designed kit, these are generally less than hiring a set designer to create an entirely new design for the production.  And again, with a traditional show such as Fiddler, there is a certain expectation of what the show will look like, so using a "tried and true" version of the set is by no means a compromise.

Fiddler on the Roof chronicles the lives of a Jewish family in Russia in the early years of the twentieth century.  Therefore, the buildings and set pieces reflect this time and place.  There are rough wooden buildings, as well as the furnishings common to the time - important among these are the table for Shabat dinner and Tevye's milk cart. 

The interior of a home in the fictional Anatevka
Photo By Kim Hickey 
Building the set is not the end.  Once the pieces are put together and painted, they must be decorated - props placed to add dimension and detail.  Many of these are small things that the audience may not directly notice, but would notice them for their absence:  plates and cups, a curtain over a window, chairs and stools, candlesticks.  All the items of everyday life, or at least, the everyday life of the characters whose life we are watching for a few hours.

Fred Martinez, board member for SLT, is in charge of the set for Fiddler.  For the last several weekends, Fred and his gang of volunteers have been busy at the theatre, marking, measuring, cutting, nailing and painting the set pieces to help bring life to the opening production of this year's season.  
Dana Anderson (above) transfers the blueprints drawings for a wagon onto
a sheet of plywood divided into a series of grids. Ken Thompson, below,
uses a jigsaw to cut out the wheels to Tevye's cart used in the play.
Photos by Kim Hickey
Cut out wagon pieces await assembly.
Fred, like all the people under his charge and all the people involved with this production, is volunteering his time to the cause of bringing live theatre to Slidell. That is the unique experience that is community theatre – volunteers from all walks of life uniting together to build sets, design costumes, direct, choreograph and of course, act. Since 1963, Slidell Little Theatre (SLT) has been bringing together the entire community for unforgettable performances filled with music, drama and laughter.
“SLT provides an environment that fosters appreciation of and participation in theater for all ages and levels of experience,” says Charlie Barron, PhD – oceanographer and local actor who is appear in "Fiddler" with his daughter Alex. “The shared memories among friends and between parents and kids will last a lifetime.”

It Takes a Village to Build a Village

A salute to some of our many volunteers who helped with set construction

Mike White and Kathy Dalcarpio work on making risers for set pieces.
Blaze D'Amico, a volunteer from Hammond, spent a day painting set pieces.

Charlie Barron adds extra safety features to a rolling staircase.
Jeremy Himel steadies the ladder while Mitch Stubs adds roof tiles. Kathy Delcarpio continues painting other set pieces.

Find out more about Kim Hickey here.

1 comment:

  1. Good post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Appreciate it!
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