By Chester Loeffler Bell
A working day at the Helfaer Theatre Scene Studio starts at 1 p.m. and ends at 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. This is the time where the majority of scene construction, painting, props work, lighting and sound installation happens for Helfaer Theatre Main Stage productions. The labor pool consists of students of varying skill levels, from Theatre Appreciation students with little or no experience, Stagecraft (a required class for theatre majors), students made up of mostly Freshman and paid student assistants with different abilities and talents. Work on the show typically ends between 4:30 and 4:45 in the afternoon so the crew can clean up and make sure the theatre space is usable for rehearsal that evening.
Little Shop of Horrors (the first show of the season) opens on September 29, but the real deadline for the technical and design team is September 22, where everything must be close to being finished prior to ‘Technical Rehearsals’ or ‘tech.’ Tech is where costumes, lights, sound, and scene shifts are integrated for the first time with performers. The process takes places over a Friday afternoon until Sunday night, with Saturday and Sunday being long and grueling days. Then the show will go into dress rehearsal mode Monday through Wednesday nights. Its not over until the show opens on Thursday night.
Much has been accomplished so far on ‘Little Shop.’ Over the summer, a guest contractor working with student technicians, engineered and installed a large moving wagon that will track straight up and down the Helfaer stage with a just the push of a button. All of the major walls have been installed on the wagon. Several of the large ‘Skid Row’ walls that need to fly during the show are either hanging on a baton or almost ready to be hung.
The infamous man-eating plant was delivered on Tuesday, September 6. The plant is actually several plants as it grows larger during the show. It fills an 18 foot truck and is rented from the Skylight Opera Theatre. One of the biggest challenges was backing the truck down a narrow alley to the Skylight loading dock. It is an impressive piece of scenery.
Much still needs to be done. Eighteen foot masking walls need to be built, painted and put in place. Scenery for the small building exterior needs construction. Lighting and sound equipment begins installation this week. A cityscape drop needs to be fabricated. Costumes are an ongoing project as well. And lots and lots details, small, medium and large, need to be dealt with.
Working on Little Shop of Horrors makes for an exciting and rewarding process, while providing an excellent challenge for our students.
Chester Loeffler Bell is an Artistic Assistant Professor in the Performing Arts department at Marquette University. He is currently assisting as the lighting designer for the upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors.