When the Audience is Part of the Crew

An Interactive Set Change

stage-1248769_640 by MustangJoe from Pixabay.jpg

After we finished the Christmas float project we started working on the set for the Christmas program to be held at the local theatre.

It was complicated. The director wanted three separate scenes built and he wanted them placed on a huge turntable that we could use to change the sets. The plan was that there would be a wheel that you would turn, like a steering wheel in a car.

One set was for the journey, where the couple would be travelling to Jesus’ home town for the census.

The whole play was set in the sixties in the states, so we were using the front end of a Chev Nova as the major part of the journey set.

The idea was that the audience would be able to see the two lead characters through the windshield of the car and they would see the scenery change behind them as the car moved through the Midwest. The images were going to be projected on a screen behind them, and it was tricky to get it just right, so the images didn’t touch the actors.

In the end, we mounted the projector in the back of the car, aiming at the screen.

Photo by Frederick Tubiermont on Unsplash

The second set we had to create was the stable where most of the action would happen. It wasn’t really a stable; I just think of it that way because of my early catechism classes with Father Peters. We learned all about how there was no where to stay, no rooms at the inn, so they had to stay in the stable. That was where the baby was born. Right there, without a doctor or a hospital or anything.

So, this director wants the stable to be set inside a garage.

We’ve decided to make it a mechanic’s garage, not just a single car garage in a home. It makes it a bit more interesting and there’s more room to move around, room to have the people come and visit and stay to look at the baby once he is born.

We’ve got a workbench all set up at one side of the set, one of the ones with those large red tool boxes, with all the drawers. There’s a pegboard with lots of hooks and tools hanging on them, and for fun I left a couple of tools on the workbench but the pegboard shows an outline of where they are supposed to go. All organized and everything.

The cradle is going to be one of the deeper drawers in the centre tool box. We’ve decided to pull it out and set it on the workbench, so it is easier for movement of the actors.

The third set is the strangest one.

For some reason we have to make a scene out in a cornfield, with rows of corn and a clearing where the action takes place.

It’s going to be a naming ceremony, like the one in Roots where the father takes the baby out and shows it to the stars and names it out loud. Kunta Kinte, that was the name of the baby. It’s a mash up of styles and its supposed to be ironic, but I think it’s confusing but whatever the director wants is what we do.

The hardest part of the whole thing was to figure out how to make the turntable move without starting up a loud generator. There’s no electricity, did I say that?

The whole theater is set up at an outside gathering, like Woodstock, or Burning Man, you know. Out in the middle of nowhere, but a lot of people will come to see it.

Anyhow, we decided to build long poles that come out of the sides of the set, and when it is time to change the set, some of us guys will go down and push it around.

At first it was hard to see how we were going to move it — the car and everything made it pretty heavy, but the first time we did it, people from the audience came up and helped us. They thought it was great, being able to be a part of it and all, it made it for them.

So, the director was happy and the audience loved it.

The play was a hit and now they are talking about bringing it back to the city and putting it on in a real theatre.

They said we’d have to recreate most of the set though, it’s too much to move it now that we built it. I was thinking that it would be good to take it apart, and number the parts so we could put it back together when we get there.

The others said it was too big for the stage where we are going so we will have to miniaturize it somehow, and there won’t be poles to push that turntable around, we’ll have power so we’ll be able to do it with a motor.

Somehow that doesn’t seem right to me, like it’s not going to be authentic, not the same.

I think something will be lost if the audience isn’t involved.

I guess we’ll see.

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