Before the Applause
Before UA student actors ever take the stage, their fellow University classmates are busy getting productions ready behind the scenes.

By Eric Swedlund, University Communications
Oct. 10, 2013


Besides the onstage actors, a number of other UA students, faculty and staff are involved in Arizona Repertory Theatre productions, working on set design, costumes, lighting and sound. Here, during a past production, Kelli Goodson measures UA musical thea
Besides the onstage actors, a number of other UA students, faculty and staff are involved in Arizona Repertory Theatre productions, working on set design, costumes, lighting and sound. Here, during a past production, Kelli Goodson measures UA musical theater student Sydnee Ortiz's garments under the attention of faculty member Brent Gibbs. (Photo by Ed Flores)

Before the curtain rises and the lights are turned on, students working behind the scenes create an entire world for Arizona Repertory Theatre actors.

Lighting, sound, set design, set construction, costumes and more help bring the director's vision to life, and whether the audience ever notices the smaller details, they all work together in service of the production.

Work for "Boeing Boeing," the 1960 Marc Camoletti comedy that kicked off the 2013-2014 season, began during the spring semester. Directed by University of Arizona associate professor and Arizona Repertory Theatre (ART) artistic director Brent Gibbs, "Boeing Boeing" runs through Oct. 13.

Other productions this season, which are better preparing students not only for public performance but professional careers, include "The Fantasticks," "The Glass Menagerie" and "The Man Who Came to Dinner."

Students in the Design and Technology division of the UA School of Theatre, Film & Television are responsible for creating the costumes and sets and they handle the technical aspects of the production.

"We meet at the very beginning of the production process and the director gives us a concept. From there, we start pulling research images of the time period and the aesthetic that we're looking for," said Taryn Wintersteen, the scenic designer. "Then we find ways to incorporate that same aesthetic with the needs of the show."

While the set in "Boeing Boeing" must reflect Paris in the 1960s, with decisions to make about how to balance the era's modern style and the classic Parisian look, it also has to include the necessary inside and outside spaces and the proper number of doors to handle the actors' entrances and exits.

"The most challenging thing was the script called for six doors. So I had to try to compose something on stage that had six doors but was still architecturally possible," Wintersteen said.

Especially with a popular and frequently staged play like "Boeing Boeing," each designer approaches the job differently in order to set each particular production apart, Wintersteen said.

"I personally get an idea of what I want in my head and then I start looking at other productions. You don't want your design to be influenced too much by what you've seen. I decided what I wanted and then looked at research images of apartments in Paris and modern furniture and then I looked at past productions," said Wintersteen, who got into scenic design as a way to combine her high school dreams of being an actress with an interest in architecture.

By April 14, the design for the set was done.

Next, Wintersteen built – in one night – a quarter-inch scale model, fully detailed, of the 19 walls on stage.

Drafting and Photoshop work followed, to give the construction crew the exact specifications. After that, she followed their progress, checking in on details like doorknobs, trim and paint.

"Boeing Boeing" is her first play as scenic designer, but she's worked on previous ART productions as assistant and master prop master and assistant scenic designer, learning and watching how the different production roles work together.

"We have to meet a lot and we really have to collaborate together," she said. "If different people are working too separately, then it isn't cohesive. If I don't talk to lighting, they can't serve the set and make it look like it needs to."

For lighting designer Raulie Martinez, the trick was to create a bright set that could reflect different times of day, while also being able to subtly alter the moods as the play progresses.

"For this show in particular, time is very important. It's all one day," Martinez says. "It was my job to utilize that in lighting and show how time passes."

The result is a complex set of more than 160 lights, with colors and positioning finely tuned by Martinez to serve the needs of the set and the mood of the play.

"With it being a farce and a comedy and constantly moving, that requires a very bright space to work in. So much of the action is very physical, so it’s very important as far lighting that we’re able to see all of that," he said. "There are moments where I subtly dim around some of the actors, very slightly, so it affects the mood and lets the actors carry it."

After getting presentations from other designers and talking with the director about the specific goals for his role, Martinez creates a light plot, showing on the computer each light and color and where they need to be hung. That goes to the master electrician, who is responsible for cabling and hanging the lights and getting them working.

Next is focusing each light precisely where it needs to shine.

"I go in after all the lights are focused and I sit down in the house and set the looks for the show and that's when you start really seeing how it's going to work," Martinez said.

During the show, the board operator controls the lights, responding to the cues step-by-step. For Martinez, who was active in high school theater and came to the UA to study sound before finding his place in lighting, the most enjoyable part of his job is the chance to work on productions with very different needs.

"One of the biggest challenges is how to make the lighting fit the piece," Martinez said. "Really it's about learning how to try different things and go out on a limb. With this show, it was a little difficult because it's a classic piece and it's really about the actors and the humor. With something like 'Dracula,' it's a lot more about the mood and the overall feeling of the show and getting fear across."

Costume designer Sandahl Masson, a third-year graduate student who came to the UA from the University of Evansville, starts with research and rough sketches after meeting with the director.

"With this show, it's fairly easy to find a lot of research, but the air hostesses of the time had a very specific look, so we could only stray so far and still be believable and accurate," Masson said. "We take artistic liberties in theater all the time, but knowing they had such specific rules guides my process."

Some of the clothing is made specifically for the show, while some is taken from the existing wardrobe and altered. But, down to the stitch, everything worn must fit with the director's and costume designer’s vision.

"Every piece of costume is designed in some way. Nothing is thrown haphazardly on anyone," said Masson, who went into her undergraduate studies knowing she wanted to be a costume designer. She said ART is an excellent next step on the way to her goal of working in New York next fall.

"There are a lot of little moments that come into every part of the job," she said. "During research, I often discover little things – a really interesting picture or a specific way they wore a blouse or a tie – and it's really interesting. Sometimes finding the absolute perfect fabric is exciting."

Even the littlest details can be exciting for designers. Though the audience won't be able to see, the lead character in "Boeing Boeing," Bernard, wears cuff links that look like airplane propellers.

"It's important to me to have a good rapport and open relationship with the actors so they know what I'm envisioning for the characters," she said. "We all have to make sure that we are going toward the director's concept. But every element is slightly different. Costume has to communicate with lighting so the color choices don't clash. We have to keep in contact with each other."

While the final rehearsals for "Boeing Boeing" were underway, Masson and the behind-the-scenes team were already holding production meetings for "Oklahoma!," which will be Masson's thesis production.

The power and the joy of the theater, the moments that make it all worthwhile for Masson and others, are when everything – all the months of hard work and all the little details – come together in the end and wow the audience.

"By opening, I've already seen the show about seven times. I'm quite used to it, but even in the rehearsal process, you never have that audience like you do on opening night,” she said.

"For me, it's not really the moment of the curtain opening, but it's the curtain closing at the end and everybody's talking about the show and what they liked, and I crave that open discussion of art in everyday life and seeing people being moved to give you a standing ovation. It's really the ending moment that's it for me."

Extra info

To purchase tickets, contact the UA Fine Arts Box Office at 520-621-1162. Tickets may also be purchased in person. The Marroney Theatre is located at 1025 N. Olive Road.


Resources for the media

Lisa Pierce

School of Theatre, Film & Television