Three cohorts of Stagecrafting I have been working on the set for the upcoming play Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl. This play will be the final performance in the Strider Theater. For the last few months, each cohort has met once a week for three hours to advance the building process, ensuring the completion of the set.
“It will all start with the basic frame, the walls, if it’s multiple floors, how they are going to be held up. From there, you start going piece by piece,” Tyler Garvey `26, a student in Stagecrafting I, said. “What we do is completely different in every class. It is fun because every week when you come back to class, three other classes have also worked on the set. It is kind of a surprise to see how much work has been done since the last class you were in.”
Through small class sizes, students learn more about theater and set building and have the opportunity to work with John Ervin, technical director for the Performance, Theater, and Dance Department.
“The stagecraft classes are limited to only four people. It is great in this class because you get a bunch of [time with] John, the professor. He is able to help so much more given the student-to-faculty ratio,” Garvey said. “John is always within yelling distance to ask a question or ask for help lifting something.”
For Ervin, who has taught the class for 34 years, this decision to have smaller class sizes stems from wanting to create a positive learning environment as well as make connections with the students in his class.
“There is a constant need for personalized instruction, which means frequently, students are waiting their turn to think things through with me. More students in each section would mean more time where students are standing around, wasting their time. The side benefit is that we all get to know each other very well and the work environment becomes very personal and enjoyable,” Ervin said.
Specific to the set building for Eurydice, the class built a rake stage and included a thrust into the audience, an extended stage. This process allows the actors to be closer to the audience, creating an immersive experience.
“To build the rake stage, we had to calculate, measure and cut the legs for the entire stage and then build a frame and flats to sit on top of the stage in order to make it seamless and sturdy,” Garvey said.
Over the duration of the semester, the class has learned how to plan, design, and build different pieces ranging from ramps and stairs to walls and a multi-floor set. Through this variety, the students have been able to experiment with different materials.
“There are very specific construction skills that are taught: drilling, measuring, and a couple of common saws are taught each semester, along with an introduction to theatrical fly systems and computer-assisted woodworking (commonly known as CNC),” Ervin said. “Stagecraft is not a tool-training course. The goal is to do whatever it takes to get the scenery, properties, and stage lighting ready for the performances. While we most often work with wood, we occasionally craft with metal, plastics, fabric, and even cardboard — anything that helps us achieve the scenic designer’s vision.”
In addition to constructing the play’s set, the class participates in the final performance, working roles to assist during the show.
“Once we finish the set, or at least we’re coming to a close on it, we’re going to transition into our show jobs… Everyone will get assigned a role for the show so those could be the person manning the lightboard, the soundboard operator, stagehands helping out backstage, and people in charge of costumes,” Garvey said.
From day one to the final performance, Garvey and his classmates witness the progression of the set. After months of hard work, seeing the set come to life is a rewarding experience.
“It feels like you were responsible for helping make this set and get this production done. When it comes to the final show, you are able to recognize every little part of the set that you did. It is a good feeling to know that the show probably would not have happened without the work of every individual,” Garvey said.
To see the play and set designs and bid farewell to the Strider Theater, be sure to reserve tickets for Friday, Apr. 28 at 7:30 p.m. or Saturday, Apr. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
“This is the last-ever play in Strider Theater, [and] we are trying to make a big deal of this moment in Colby’s history, so in addition to the Stagecraft students building the set, we also have a few alums – all of whom took Stagecraft in the past – helping to get things ready to go for opening night,” Ervin said.
~ Annie Goldstein `26