Behind the scenes at Our Town
August 27, 2008 · Updated 5:34 PM
by Safa Pinkens
for The Arlington Times
ARLINGTON The work of technical crews on stage plays often goes unnoticed, yet they are essential to the success of a show. Not only does stagecraft require special technical skills, it also requires an artistic mind.
You have to be able to manipulate the visual elements of the production, said Scott Moberly, the director for the schools current high school play, Our Town, and teacher of the stagecraft class at Arlington High School.
It requires the ability to create certain moods and enhance costumes and sets, said Bob Nydegger, the technical director for the play.
The sets of this Thornton Wilder play are meant to be simple and few, which makes the lighting even more important. The lighting crew of the stagecraft class at Arlington High School is in charge of many things, including light cues which control what lights go on and where. Blue or yellow gels are put over lights to pull out the color and give it a glow. A syc covers the back wall of the stage and disperses light evenly. In the third act the stage is divided into living and dead, where the living are the ones that suffer while the dead are content. So blue light covers those that live and yellow tones bring out the relative happiness of the dead.
I had a lot of fun with lighting cues because we made it look like [Emily] was walking off into the light, said Eden Moss, a junior in the stagecraft class.
You have to know how to focus [light] on the ground so it is right in the air, she said.
Even the floor had to be designed. It is brown with black lines, but splattered with gray, yellow and black in a pattern designed by Moberly so the other spots of colors are added to make the color in the floor visible to the audience.
The lights diffuse any color, Moberly explained.
Brittany Baugh, an AHS senior who is stage manager for Our Town, explained the symbolism behind the pattern. The straight lines represent the homes of the two families in the play while the diagonal lines separate the homes from the rest of the set. The diagonals converge at the cemetery arch, which is modeled after the arch at Arlington Cemetery. The arch symbolizes the transition between life and death.
Everyone goes through the arch at some point, Baugh said.
Steven White, a senior, helped design and build the sets. He said that some sets, like the staircases in Our Town, are a challenge because the crew has to make sure they are sturdy enough to walk on.
White said he prefers stagecraft to woodshop.
You get to learn more of the concepts, he explained.
Moss said that sometimes the correct instruments were not available and they had to come up with a new way to get the same effect.
Even then, there can be problems during performances as well as during construction.
One of the actors, senior Robert Peiffle who plays Dr. Gibbs in the play, said sometimes you have to improvise.
If something goes wrong you have to roll with it, Peiffle said.
Moberly has been using the Byrnes Performing Arts Center for less than a year. The first high school play in the new PAC was the musical, South Pacific, last fall.
It is still a new space for me, Moberly said.
The Byrnes Performing Arts Center is not reserved for high school plays, which left the stagecraft class with only one and a half weeks to prepare the theater for the show. Despite the challenges, the people behind the scenes of Our Town still managed to enjoy themselves and help make the production a joy to watch.
Although we are all really passionate about what we are doing, we have a lot of fun, too, Baugh said.
Our Town, runs one more weekend at Byrnes Performing Arts Center, 18821 Crown Ridge Blvd., in Arlington, with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. on May 2 and 3. For information call AHS at 360-618-6300.
Safa Pinkens is a sophomore at Arlington High School who has a part in the chorus of the AHS play, Our Town. She is working as an intern for The Arlington Times with periodic columns on events and activities at AHS during this spring quarter.