Setting the Scene: Craftsmen Work Hard Back Stage to Set up Shows

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    By Krystin Anderson

    Behind the glittering colors and vibrant sounds of theater productions are weeks of preparation, not only for actors and actresses, but also for painters, welders, carpenters and designers.

    Tucked in the tunnel on the second floor of the Harris Fine Arts Center, the BYU scene shop is the creative center for theater set design and production, cranking out about 15 sets a year to grace the stage of a variety of shows.

    Ward Wright, a professional actor who has worked at the scene shop for five years as the supervisor and assistant technical director, directs the activities of the 12 carpenters, painters and welders, helping them bring to life the director”s vision for a show.

    Wright said creating a set that meets all the requirements for a show is a difficult and obstacle-strewn process. The shop itself, which was built about 45 years ago, is sometimes inadequate. “We”re constantly looking for space, fighting for space,” Wright said. Good quote

    Whereas most sets are built directly onstage, these sets have to be movable because the stage wings – the unseen backstage area on each side of a stage – are so small, he said.

    “We rarely get to build our stuff onstage,” Wright said. “We have to make everything movable, so we end up building things in pieces.”

    He said there are also time constraints. A set could take anywhere from four to eight weeks to build, depending on its design and budget, and as many as three or four sets could be under construction in the shop at one time.

    “If we have the money to do it and the people to do it, but we don”t have the time to do it, then we can”t do it,” Wright said.

    The hectic pace, however, is what employee Matt Walser loves.

    “Every couple of weeks you”re doing something different, which is the beauty of working in film and theater,” said Walser, a manufacturing engineering major from Mapleton, Utah.

    Jennifer Lind, a painter at the scene shop majoring in theater arts studies, also enjoys the variety that comes with working in the scene shop.

    “You”re never required to stick with the same thing over and over again,” Lind said. “[Doing so] can get tedious: ”Here we go again, another one.””

    She said the scene shop is intellectually stimulating, giving her a chance to use her talents creatively.

    “It”s always fun to see,” Lind said. “How am I going to tackle this problem? How am I going to make this work?”

    The set-creating experience is always a complicated process, said set designer Jennifer Mortensen, a theater studies major with an art history minor.

    “It”s a really wonderful art because it”s so collaborative,” Mortensen said. “It”s a really neat process to see how it all comes together.”

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