Theatre is one of the most collaborative of all the arts. Writers conceive a world that can take place on a stage, actors give those words voice and depth, directors work up a vision, and audiences watch the finished product and render their judgement. For musicals, add composers who create music that adds to the characters or drives the plot forward and musicians who bring that music to life.
Let’s see, am I forgetting someone?
Oh yeah, you better believe it. I haven’t given proper respect to the designers who flesh out the world of the play with set, costumes, sound, light, and video. Or to the technicians who build, sew, hang lights, and make sure that every patron can hear what’s being presented on the stage.
Many of these artists are not given their due – either in reviews or in discussions, but without their contributions, the play would not be as powerful as it could be. Although I always tried to recognize the designers in my reviews, I rarely had enough time to express my thoughts on the effectiveness of their work.
On a chilly day recently, I stopped by the Firehouse to drop off a thumb drive of our recent podcast and while wandering around the theatre I bumped into director-scenic designer of OEDIPUS / A GOSPEL MYTH Vinnie Gonzales up on a ladder touching up his set with a thin paintbrush, shading some of the smaller details.
His set was beautiful even as it was still being finished. I admired the detail in his work and he gleefully showed off one special effect of which he was particularly proud. I won’t give it away here as I don’t want to spoil your fun. While I was standing on the stage, I looked at the floor he had created and he told me that the boards had been hand painted and each one had a different design.
These were minute details that very few people will ever see, and fewer still will take notice. I don’t know yet how Gonzales will do as a director, but I’ve long been a fan of his designs. He tells me that he has been thinking about all of these little details for a year, ever since Artistic Director Joel Bassin added the play to their upcoming schedule.
Painting sets, sewing costumes, and hanging lights might not seem like the glamorous side of show business, but the people who do these jobs are among the hardest working people I know. Many, most, of these hard working technicians work regular jobs and spend their time at nights and weekends helping to make the magic come alive. Actors and directors may get the lion’s share of recognition, but the really good ones know that they don’t do this alone, there are so many people backing them up.
When you come to see OEDIPUS / A GOSPEL MYTH, or any play for that matter, I hope you will take notice of the little things.
Why am I going on about this? Well, OEDIPUS / A GOSPEL MYTH is our entry in the Acts Of Faith Festival, the largest festival of its kind in the United States. When the festival first started up, I admit that I was reluctant to join the bandwagon. To me, every act of theatre is an act of faith.
Playwrights have faith that someone will want to perform their story. Theatres have faith that audiences will come to see their productions. Audiences have faith that the show they are about to see will be worth their time and money. Critics have faith that people will want to know what they think about the show.
After a couple of years of seeing great shows that I might not have seen otherwise, I gladly climbed up on that bandwagon. The Acts Of Faith Festival has done wonders helping to introduce or reintroduce theatre to audiences who otherwise might not watch a live production.
It’s somehow even more appropriate when you remember theatre history and how theatre was condemned by the church and later used by the church to help teach their parishioners the stories and lessons of their faith. At least, in Western Culture. Theatre became its own religion in a way. It’s the story of creation; fall and redemption; it touches on love, sex, birth, death, and just about every conflict known to humankind.
As I stood on that stage, noticing every little paint line and plaster piece, looking out at an empty theatre, I remembered why theatre has been my religion. I find peace and comfort within the family I’ve created over a 50-plus year career. I’ve heard and repeated the stories that have significance in my life. I’ve cried as a witness to great work and thrilled to monumental events.
There are many great places of worship in our fair city as well as many theatres. They are not exclusive of each other, and I hope you will make it to our production of OEDIPUS. Bring your friends and celebrate together. We’re looking forward to having you in the congregation!
(photos by Bill Sigafoos / set for OEDIPUS A GOSPEL MYTH, Jeremy V. Morris)