A View from Backstage – Peter Carrozzo
We rarely hear the voices of those who work backstage. Before the show, we’re too busy to talk, during the show, we’re not allowed, and after the show, we’re too tired. I’m one of those voices. I’ve been addicted to set design for years. Except, I don’t call it set design because that would make me a set designer and that sounds pompous. Especially since the majority of my work involves digging splinters out of my hands and sweeping the stage. But set construction is something that I love. When I go to see a show I can’t help but focus on the scenery. For example, when I saw Hamilton on Broadway, my favorite performance was by the blue trunk. The blue trunk appeared in as many scenes as Jefferson—it was a box for people to stand on and give speeches, it acted as furniture, as a suitcase. The blue trunk was the unsung hero of that show. Of course, I don’t want to snub the two rolling lampposts which were beautiful pieces that depicted the streets scenes expertly. I try my best to build these types of pieces.
This issue I’d like to spotlight (attempt to use theatre lingo) the all important shower from South Pacific, specifically the one featured in the St. Mary’s High School 2018 production. When Mr. Koslosky asked me to build it, a number of thoughts cascaded (attempt to use shower lingo) through my brain. Did it have to work? How would the water come out if it? What would catch the water? Can I keep it after the show and turn it into a backyard fountain? If so, how would I get it home? If I put it in my backyard, will animals turn it into their nest and will I need to hire an exterminator?
After day dreaming for hours, I realized opening night was near so I rolled up my sleeves. The process usually begins by Googling something like “image of the shower in South Pacific” and then drawing a sketch on a napkin. Then construction begins. For the base, I built a box made of 2 by 6s around a hot water heater overflow pan and added a plywood bottom to hold it all together. Two by four legs attached by 2 by 3s, some for support and some just for show, made up the body. Luan worked well for the sides, as it does for most everything. For the shower itself I used a solar shower for camping that works on gravity. That makes it simple to use and not dependent on a power source. Extension cords aren’t practical on a moving piece of scenery and batteries are notorious for failing during performances leaving the actress playing Nelly singing “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outta My Hair” with a head full of shampoo and burning eyes. As for the appearance of the structure, this would be an item built by Navy engineers from excess material. It should look as such. But should it look poorly made or well-constructed? I figure Navy engineers would build it well—they had nothing but time on their hands and they were engineers. If poorly done, will the audience just think I don’t know what I’m doing, which is partly true, or understand that I’m going for a “look.” Will the audience think about it this much? Will they care? It doesn’t matter—I will. Ideally, military type material (corrugated metal) looks the part, if available. The wood should look distressed. Funny messages such as “Billis’ Hot Showers: 25 cents” should decorate it. How will I hide the solar shower? An old wooden bucket last featured in Fiddler on the Roof works well. But wouldn’t Billis use an oil drum? Maybe I can go on eBay and find one. But how much time do I have to wait for it to be delivered? Am I cutting it too close to opening night? Wait, I’m late to pick up one of the kids from soccer practice–let me finish this piece of scenery and start the next one. Those are some of the thoughts that go through my mind when building scenery. If you’d like to hear more, please read our next issue, or better yet, come down to build the next piece of scenery with me.
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