If you’ve visited the Dress Up Theatre in the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that the familiar square stage has been replaced by some new sets and platforms of all shapes and sizes. Chris Fitze, Exhibits and Operations Associate, and Shawn Cole, Exhibits and Operations Intern, have created these pieces for the upcoming productions of Cinderella and The Emperor’s New Clothes, running in February and March. (Get your tickets here!)
In addition to working on Exhibits and Operations at the Museum & Theatre, Chris Fitze has done behind-the-scenes work for local theatres. He’s been involved in the design, construction or installation of the sets for every onsite production since the Children’s Theatre merged with the Children’s Museum. I asked him a few questions about how these versatile sets are created, and he gave me some very enlightening answers!
Who comes up with the idea for the set? Is it the playwright? The director? The people who build it?
It’s a little of all three. Every playwright that writes a play has a setting in mind. Even if it’s a general as “the woods” or “in a house,” the playwright needs to know where the characters are, so she can know how they will interact in with their environment. Some playwrights will be very specific and even include a detailed drawing of the set!
The director, having read the play, will also come up with ideas for the set. Some directors may want to pick a different era that the play takes place in. Or they may want to use a particular style. At the Children’s Museum & Theatre, we meet early on with the director (usually before the play is even cast!) to talk about set design.
The people who build the set here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre have much more say in the overall design than at other theaters. Partly because the set needs to be built in such a way that it will hold up to the rigors of day-to-day activity at the Museum & Theatre, and partly because the people building the set probably helped to design it!
When you are starting a new show, do you create the whole set from new parts?
Sometimes. For Emperor’s New Clothes and Cinderella, we are creating several new pieces. But usually we recycle as often as we can. We hope to be able to save some of the new pieces we are building for future productions. For this set we are using wall coverings that were saved from last year’s production of The Sun Shines On: Raggedy Ann and Andy.
What was the hardest part of this set to complete?
This set is based around triangles, and trying to get some of the angles to fit just right was a challenge. We also tend to get bogged down when it comes to painting. This set requires a lot of fun design, but that always takes a long time to paint.
What’s your favorite part of this set – what makes it especially cool?
There is a spinning wall that’s really cool. We haven’t ever used a real turntable before, so I think this will be a fun surprise for our audience. I also really like the throne, because I designed and built it in a day, and I’m hoping it’s a piece we can keep and use over and over again!