A View from Backstage by Peter Carrozzo
The staging of a theatrical production requires an extraordinary number of small, medium and large things to happen over a ridiculously short time. So many of these things seem to occur effortlessly, as if while everyone sleeps, enchanted theatre elves work to ensure each aspect of the show comes together. Sadly, that is not the case. In truth, there are moments when the theatre elves have helped me. Usually this occurs at midnight with opening night less that twenty four hours away while I’m trying to fix a piece of scenery and I need a piece of one by two that is 21.5 inches long but I’m pretty sure there is absolutely no material left. Miraculously, in those moments I find backstage that exact size piece of wood. I am confident the theatre elves feel sympathy for my plight and decide to help me at my lowest moments of despair. (They’re not to be confused with the theatre gremlins who work against me but I’ll save their tales for another issue.) Today I would like to write about one of the things that must occur in order to stage a show: the Home Depot run.
No one has ever gone to see a show and said after the applause and accolades “the material that the scenery was made out of was great, who bought it?” Really, who cares how many two by fours were used to make the sets? Who cares whether the flats were made from luan (light and easy to use) or quarter inch plywood (heavier but sturdier) or half inch plywood (warning may cause hernias). But these decisions and these purchases are vital to a production. Perhaps you readers remember the Broadway Blockbusters’ legendary production of Les Miserables? Well the construction of the scenery for that show began one hot Saturday morning in June with an uncelebrated Home Depot run and several iced coffees.
How do we decide what to purchase? It’s an exact scientific process honed over the course of numerous productions. Sketches are drawn on the backs of half torn envelopes, crumpled Con Edison bills and partially used fast food napkins. On each sketch is a list of material needed for each set piece. When the sketches are complete, we total up all the material needed and write up a list on the back of a CVS receipt (the length of the receipt works well for big productions). Then we overestimate. If the total comes to ten sheets of luan we get 15. If we need 40 two by fours we get 50. Yet we always run out of material or forget something and go back to Home Depot for the inevitable and even less celebrated “Follow Up Home Depot Run for the Material I Forgot to Buy or Underestimated the Amount I Needed.”
With the list complete, the next step is borrowing my father-in-law’s pickup truck, and sometimes my father-in-law. Then we run through Home Depot grabbing stuff, like in a supermarket shopping game show contest to see how much stuff you can fill up in your cart in 60 seconds while fighting to roll a cart with an obligatory broken wheel. The process continues: the pickup truck is loaded, we drive away, we stop because we forgot to tie down the material, we retrieve the items that fell out, we tie down the material, drive to the theatre, and unload the material in a space too small to fit the material. Usually, Advil and a heating pad come into play at some point. With the material in place, construction begins (sprinkle in some injuries, lost hair, stress, and a few requests from Mr. Koslosky for when it will be done) and soon the set is complete. Almost as if choreographed, as the sets come together, the songs, dances and blocking are mastered—and opening night arrives. Just as quickly as the process begins, it ends and it is time for the theatrical production’s final and least heralded step: the “throwing most of the scenery in the dumpster” stage. Maybe it all seems like a sick torturous circle of life when you see the process go from new lumber to scenery to the dumpster in a few weeks. The same can be said for every aspect of a show—months of work for a couple of weekends of shows—but the journey sure is fun.
Scenes from a since forgotten Home Depot run. Circa 2018