As the beloved bard himself once wrote: "To build or not to build, that is the question". Okay, maybe I'm paraphrasing. My latest theatrical endeavor has had our set design team questioning this very thing. Do we build new flats with arched doors right in them, or do we fasten a couple of flats to both sides of the arched door frame and then build a connecting archway piece for the top? Decisions, decisions. There is so much to consider when designing and building your set.
Theatre productions have the ability to enthrall audiences…to take them out of reality and transport them to a different era, to a whole new world. Now, this is largely due to the skill of the actors onstage, but the other major component is the set design. A stage production with an amazing set has the power to take an audience member completely outside of themselves and put them into the story unfolding before their eyes. Naturally, given the level of importance, it’s no easy undertaking. The requirements and construction needs vary between productions, but there are some components to set design that are relatively universal: design and construction.
Before you can even begin to construct a theatre set, a lot of behind-the-scenes design work must be completed. Every production is different in terms of its setting and time period, so the set needs to properly reflect the production. It’s an important job, too: the set is usually the first part of the show that an audience sees. Set designers will typically begin researching the play and its setting to get inspiration for walls, colour schemes and different furniture items or props that should be present. In terms of colour, it alone can help set the mood of the play: a designer will typically use brighter colors for a comedy and darker colors for a drama.
Along those lines, it’s also suggested that set designers remember the sightlines. Different theatres have different areas of visibility and different blind spots. A designer must know the theatre inside and out in order to properly design a set. Otherwise, when it comes to marking scenes, you risk part of the audience missing an important part of the play. It’s even more effective if you use the set to create strong architectural detail that draws the eye to parts of the stage where action will occur.
The designer must also keep the whole play in mind–including act and scene changes–when they’re drawing up a plan for the set. Perhaps there’s a large piece they really want to use, but the stage crew can’t move it quickly enough between scenes. Some productions elect to use bulkier sets as the backdrop for the entirety of the show, while others will change set pieces between every scene. Either way, ease of motion and how each piece will be moved in and out of set is taken into account before sets are even built. Otherwise there’s the risk of the crew spending time building a set piece that is impossible to use.
Every set has different needs. Some shows will have very minimalist sets and the actors will walk right into the audience. Other shows have elaborate sets, complete with spiral staircases or even a rotating stage ("Noises Off" comes to mind!). It can vary widely, but there are some consistent pieces used in most sets:
Needless to say, it’s incredibly crucial that this piece of set is properly constructed as the failure to do so will result in injury, even if no one utters the Shakespearean play which must not be named (you know which one). Again, before the building actually begins, there’s an element of preparation involved. Designers start by making sure the measurements are proper for the set’s needs. For example, are the treads (the parts you walk on) wide enough (left to right) for the performers when they’re in costume? Is the rise (step to step) reasonable for actors who will likely be singing or speaking as they’re climbing?
The stairs themselves, along with the stringer (the supporting part underneath the stairs) are usually constructed with plywood, while the cleat (piece of wood fastened to the stage floor) can be made of either wood or metal. If the stairs are required to be moved on and off during the performance, try using casters that are easily lockable on the fly. For safety reasons it’s recommended that designers do whatever they can to increase the visibility of stair units. Paint offstage units white, use glow tape to dot the edges…anything to increase the safety for the performers.
Another major set piece is referred to as a “flat”: a flat piece of scenery which is painted and positioned on stage to appear as a building or another backdrop. Usually, the first step for community theatres is determining if they have a sufficient quantity of aptly sized already-built flats. Due to time constraints and ever-increasing material cost, most community theatres re-use their flats over and over again. A good set designer and builder knows when it is time to break these flats down into firewood and start anew. As with every process, this begins with measuring out the proper dimensions of the set i.e. determining the height of the set (typically 8' or 10'), and the placement of doors / windows / alcoves etc. in order to determine how many flats will be required and what widths are needed (4'x8', 2'x10' etc.). Then the builders begin their construction. If you've been tasked with building flats for your theatre, there are several step-by-step tutorials on YouTube, and other websites dedicated to the craft (ex. www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Theatre-Flat.)
Each set designer’s process will somewhat vary, but the final step is securing a rig in the back so the set piece stands upright and can take a bit of wear and tear without moving. Some will use metal pieces with heavy weights while others will construct the back out of leftover plywood. Either way, the goal is both stability and mobility. It is always a little cringy when someone slams a door on set and the whole wall sways.
c) Platforms (or Risers):
I love productions that use multiple levels as it allows for more interesting blocking and creative tableaux. If your set has multiple levels, building platforms is a must. Similar to building flats, this process begins by building the frame, the dimensions of which will vary based on the desired size. The builders will cut pieces of plywood into the appropriate sizes, using two longer pieces on the sides and three smaller pieces as the top, bottom and middle- giving the whole structure a rectangular shape. These pieces are fastened together with wood screws. Again, YouTube is your friend for detailed instructions.
Theatre set design and construction can be both an incredibly difficult and even a dangerous endeavor. It can also be extremely rewarding to see your design come to fruition. A good set design/construction should compliment your performance and not overpower it, however, if you tread carefully and don’t fall flat, any performance should hopefully rise(r) to the occasion.
In December Alexander Galant, WODL’s travelling adjudicator adjudicated Kincardine Theatre Guild’s musical Beauty and the Beast. He was also scheduled to adjudicate Hanover Community Theatre’s Matilda, The Musical. Unfortunately, he was unable to do this as he came down with COVID. This is unfortunate as it means sickness hit a good person. In addition, he probably caught it on the set of Chucky, the popular TV show that is now producing its second season where he is doing continuity and is the second director. He has told me that with the high cost of making TV shows, everybody working on a production is tested several times a week and the TV company pays for all possible precautions. Nevertheless, several people including Alexander caught COVID. While the good news is that Alexander is fully recovered, the incident is scary: Somebody working in a set up where all reasonable precautions are taken still gets COVID.
In January, Alexander adjudicated one show, a musical Little Heaven by Penny and Pound Theatre. Aside from a good adjudication, the audience was treated to music performed by members of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra.
In February, Alexander has 5 adjudications to do: One musical and 4 plays. To find out their dates, please visit the WODL web page: www.wodl.on.ca.
For the latest revision of the adjudications schedule go to www.wodl.on.ca.
There is financial assistance available to member theatre groups who wish to hold a workshop. Perhaps you need updated information on the latest in lighting effects, maybe you are looking for new directors, or what about set building?
The way it works is you apply to WODL and after your workshop is completed, you submit your expenses. If there is a shortfall, you may be eligible for compensation of up to $300.
Is there a needed workshop out there in your Theatre’s future? Check out the criterion on our Workshop page,www.wodl.on.ca/workshops-training, (please note that eligibility has increased from $200 to $300.)
The WODL Festival 2024 Committee is very excited to invite you to attend the WODL Festival 2024.
$159 plus applicable taxes
Breakfast is not included – there are lots of options within easy walking distance of the hotel.
Room booking will be directly with the hotel and will be available in March 2024.
Ticket prices are not yet determined.
Three course plated chicken dinner.
Dietary requirements can be accommodated.
As we did last year, we are able to accommodate those who only wish to attend the Awards presentation.
London Community Players is hosting Gala ticket sales. Tickets will be available in March 2024.
Laurel Gillespie (Workshops) and Kathy and Tom Fahey (Hospitality) are working together to provide us with lots of opportunities to learn, play and visit with some opportunities for restorative “happy nappies”.
PLAYWRIGHTS CANADA PRESS
Playwrights Canada Press are continuing to support our Festival with sponsorship of a Festival playwright and providing discounted plays and theatre books for Anne Mooney and Mona Brennan-Coles to sell during the Festival on their behalf.
Hosted BY Tom and Kathy Fahey in the Premier Suite at the hotel.
Kathy and Tom are planning to continue some traditions e.g., Saturday morning cereal and cartoons and a “Tribute Wall” celebrating WODL people who have left us and/or who have significantly contributed to your group’s activities in the last few years
WODL Festival and Reunion Gala 2023 Committee:
Mona Brennan-Coles, Chair
Peter Busby, Treasurer
Bev Dietrich, Hotel/Gala
Kathy Fahey, co-host Hospitality
Tom Fahey, co-host Hospitality
Laurel Gillespie, Workshops
Ken Menzies, Adjudications
Andre Paradis, Awards
Renata Solski, Hotel/Gala
Community Theatre in the WODL Region
A good place to find out about what other WODL groups are doing is the WODL Facebook page, WODL | Facebook. Most of the announcements are at fairly short notice, so check in often!
If your group is putting on an event that you would like included in the March newsletter, please send the information email@example.com.
What's on this Month in the Waterloo-Wellington Region
Auditions for Lerner and Loewe’s Brigadoon, directed by Michele Di Tomasso will be held on February 15 & 17 with call backs on February 18, 2024. Check out the website for more information https://www.ayrcommunitytheatre.com/
Pearl Gidley by Brian Kirkham, directed by Kathleen Sheehy February 2-11, 2024. Check out ETC’s new space at St. James Lutheran church in Elmira. See the website for more detail http://www.elmiratheatre.com/
Elora Community Theatre
Radium Girls by D.W. Gregory, directed by Catherine Johnson runs February 9-18, 2024 at the Fergus Grand Theatre in Fergus, Ontario. Adjudication night is February 16. See the website for more details http://www.eloracommunitytheatre.com/
Guelph Little Theatre
Almost, Maine by John Cariani, directed by Lisa MacNeil runs February 8-25, 2024.
Script proposals for the 2024 Ward One Acts held July 4-7, 2024 are due February 24, 2024. Check out the website for more information https://guelphlittletheatre.com/
Kitchener Waterloo Little Theatre
Applications for KWLT’s 90th Anniversary Musical to take place in February 2025 are now open. There is a Virtual Director Information Night on February 7 at 8:00 PM.
Scripts are due for March Madness held on March 16 by February 5, 2024.
Tri-City Improv benefit show fundraiser for KWLT is on February 17, 2024. Tickets are $10 at the door.
Auditions for Disney’sNewsies, directed by Piper J. Distel & Lori Robinson Distel are being held February 9-11, 2024, with call backs by invitation on February 12 from 2-9 pm. See the website for more detail https://www.pennyandpoundtheatre.com/.
Rehearsals are ongoing for the April 18-28, 2024, spring production ofMaking God Laugh by Sean Grennan, directed by Rhonda Caldwell & Aidan Tessier. See the website for more information https://theatrewellesley.com/
What's Happening in the Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk-Oxford Region
Theatre Woodstock started January with a SOLD OUT run of Matilda Jr. The Musical! This production through their STAGES program involved 50 children in grades 2 to 9 from across Oxford County and received standing ovations at the end of each of the 6 shows (2 of them were for schools in Oxford County and home-schooled students).
On Saturday, January 20, they had another SOLD OUT event! What if it was Me? is a locally made movie which made its premiere on the Theatre Woodstock screen. Local filmmaker, Matt Power, provided the audience with the profound real life story of Buddy and Jimmy Miley and asked the question, "What if it was me?" Audience members also greatly appreciated the Q & A time after the film, and a fantastic reception held in the lower lobby to celebrate the long awaited sharing of this story. They were honoured that Jimmy Miley was able to join us from Pennsylvania for this special evening and delighted that their very own John R. Smith and Laurel Gillespie had roles in this film.
The next show, Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella opens February 16, and already an an extra matinee performance has been added as the original three matinees (including a special one on Family Day) have nearly sold out! Tickets to the 7:30pm shows are also selling quickly so don't delay in getting your tickets soon. Cinderella runs from February 16 to 25, 2024. The show on Saturday, February 24, at the 7:30pm, is an adjudicated performance and there are still some tickets if you want to join in!
Are you looking for a fun night out in March, Theatre Woodstock just announced a new event - Maggie's Wake On Saturday, March 9, for “a Canadian contemporary folk group creating a new, traditional sound. Blending high twang, classic country with fresh jigs and reels, Cajan twin fiddle and Reggae rhythms, their music is an original, genre hopping adventure that is constantly evolving”.
In this rapid moment of expansion in queer theatre, when everything is exposed, interrogated, and investigated, This is Beyond is a time capsule of where we are now and a map for where we might go next. Co-editors Evan Tsitsias and Bilal Baig strike out to capture the magnitude of this seismic shift, asking: How far have we come? What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? What do we need to do to continue to change things? An anthology that moves like a satellite in the sky, This is Beyond confronts and expands our current perceptions so that we may continue to explore the new and unknown.
Freedom: A Mixtape is a soulful artistic response to recent and historical violence on Black bodies, presented through a collection of original songs, stories, poems, anecdotes, spoken-word pieces, and musical instrumentation from folks living in the Niagara Region. A community conversation about our complicated relationship with emancipation and the human right to be free, Freedom: A Mixtape is a compilation album that is part protest and part celebration. It is history and the present moment all at once, a reminder that this moment is part of a larger, ongoing movement. Familiar pains are felt deeply in moments both bygone and bitingly present, setting the tone—and stage—for action.
Revived from a coma after a traumatic event, Megan’s injuries leave her capable of great violence, forcing her desperate physician Cassandra to recruit Alison, an Indigenous clinician, as her consultant. Alison uses an innovative form of technologically enhanced expressive arts therapy to augment the rehabilitative effects of speaking Lenape, their shared (and almost extinct) language. However, this reminder of cultural expression and identity triggers Megan, putting herself into a life-threatening situation. With Megan’s safety in jeopardy, Alison must internalize a life-changing lesson to save her: pain is often unjust, but it also reminds us that we’re alive.
In 2019, the Collective Encounter—a group of scholar-artists led by Jill Carter—presented Encounters at the 'Edge of the Woods' as part of Hart House Theatre’s 100th anniversary season. The piece acted as survivance intervention: an Indigenous reclamation of territory, using Storyweaving practices rooted in personal connections to the land to restor(y) treaty relationships. Retreating to Re-Treat documents both their collective creation and process, offered in the spirit of creative knowledge-sharing and enriching scholarship around collaborative practices. By revealing their unique and still-developing method for addressing a fraught and tangled (hi)story, the Collective Encounter invites readers to join them as we mediate those sites of profound experiences and renewal—sites in which the project of conciliation might truly begin.