Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

DHS drama class builds set apart

March 15, 2007

As a first-year theatre teacher at De Soto High School, Bryan Hileman knew he had a senior class good enough to take on one of his favorite plays, even though the set is bigger and more difficult than any in recent memory.

Next month's spring play production will feature the farce "Noises Off." Hileman said he knew this would be the last year in a long time he would have a senior class experienced enough to put on a play this difficult.

"It's been a long time since the high school has had a play with a two-story set, if ever," Hileman said. "It's so much harder to direct than anything I had ever imagined."

Besides being two stories, the set for "Noises Off "needs doors, windows, stairs and the entire set rotates twice during the play. The plot follows a troupe of actors performing a farce through their process of building the show. The first and third acts show a rehearsal and performance of the show, while the second act turns the set around to show what happens backstage at a performance. Hileman said the set design is similar to most productions of "Noises Off."

"The main difference for us is that I added a second staircase on the opposite side," Hileman said. "That helped even it out aesthetically and because our stage is so shallow, we had to have something on that side."

Senior Gabby Mullins said building the stairs was difficult because the measurements had to be exact. Mullins is one of the cast members who turn the stage during the performance.

"The stage is split into three pieces and everything is on casters so that it moves easy," Mullins said. "We knew going in it would be a challenge."

Between acts, cast and crew separate the three parts of the stage, turn them around and move the ends to opposite sides of the stage. The small stage means the set comes close to hitting the top of the proscenium and the curtain must stay open during the process. Mullins said moving the set takes about 10 minutes, though the cast would like to shorten that time for the production.

"Moving the set is pretty difficult, but it's going to be worth it in the end because the set contributes a lot to the plot," Mullins said.

It was her idea to make windows on the set out of sugar glass. Mullins said there are four pains of glass that get broken during the show and Hileman put her in charge of making it work. Mullins got the idea to use sugar glass from the Internet.

"You just boil sugar and water and corn syrup," Mullins said. "The difficulty is shaping it and placing it in the windows without breaking it."

By definition, a farce uses lots of broad physical humor, but Hileman said this show is exceptional.

"For this show, actors have to crawl through windows and even fall down stairs," Hileman said. "Safety has to be a major consideration on this set. You can't skimp."

Senior Peter Peterson said that is why the set had to be constructed solidly, a task he worked on in the high school's new advanced drama class. He said his main job was designing and mounting the set's five doors.

"I didn't know we were building the set in class," Peterson said. "But I've come to enjoy it because I like working with my hands."

Peterson said pieces of the set were built separately then assembled together "like a puzzle" to make it easier to build two stories.

Fundamentals of stagecraft are an important part of the new advanced drama class, Hileman said.

"You have to do a lot of math and drafting to be successful in set design," Hileman said. "But for advanced drama, the class will do research projects on acting techniques and the history of drama."

The production of "Noises Off" will take place at 7 p.m. April 4, and April 6 and April 7 at the De Soto High School theatre.

Students from the advanced drama class will also perform a series of one-act plays later in the semester.

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