Lights, camera, action! While the action begins onstage, backstage comes alive. Props are put into place, a costumer buttons up an actor’s coat, and a stagehand sets up lighting cues. Every fall, the Theater co-curricular puts on a performance. This year, they are performing Neil Simon’s comedy, Rumors. What goes on behind the scenes and prior to the Academy’s students stage performance? The set construction, costume design, and rehearsals have a large impact on the outcome of the show.
First, directors of the Tech, Costume, and Acting departments meet to analyze the play and decide on the era and style of the performance, which determines the direction each department takes to begin preparations.
This year, Rumors takes place in the nineteen-seventies, the “pop-culture” era, meaning the Costume department was able to use previous costumes as the base to begin building specialized looks for each character.
Head of Costume Design Karen St. Pierre shared, “Creating from scratch is taking something from a drawing into a pattern into a full 3D finished piece,” which, unlike pulling pieces from previous plays, “could take as much as forty hours.”
“Depending on the detail, it’s easy to pull a white shirt, but harder to pull a beaded gown,” explained Ms. St. Pierre.
When designing costumes, Ms. St. Pierre studies the script for the location and time period it takes place in, and details about the character. These parts of the script help inform,for example, if the character would wear gloves, or would not wear high heels.
“This year it is so much more involved,” Ms. St. Pierre said. She has a team of Academy students helping with and learning about costume design, even using their gained knowledge to participate directly in the creation of different costumes. In no previous years have students watching the show been able to participate in this costume creation, and to see the process from start to finish.
Abby Tang ’25, a member of the Theater Tech Crew, noted, “You don’t usually think about what they do for costumes, but there is a lot of thought that is put into it.”
Costume design is not just about the clothes. In fact, a large addition to the character is their hair and makeup. Students working within Ms. St. Pierre’s team have been able to gain sewing skills while also learning about makeup and wig design.
In addition to costuming, set design also contributes to the establishment of certain time periods and character development. At the start of the process, students gather in the Black Box to begin building the set. With the help of his student crew, Theater Technical Director Paul Yager creates a new world for the actors to perform in. Students of a variety of skill levels are able to participate and gather building skills, becoming savvy with hand tools such as drills, jigsaws, hammers, and levels. After becoming familiar with the basics, students can also learn how to use the Miter saw which is used to cut boards and materials to build flats for the set. Students will also climb above the stage to hang and test lights. Nearing the end of the process, paint is added, helping the set come to life.
The biggest challenge with building sets is maximizing space.
“We have the delicate balance of trying to create a large, beautiful set and maximizing seating,” noted Mr. Yager.
This year, the set is a two story house, based in the 1980’s.
“In this production,” Mr. Yager said, “we are reusing a set of stairs that were built by the carpentry shop probably fifteen years ago for a production, and they have been used multiple times since and taken apart and put back together.”
Beyond the staircase, the main parts to this set are multiple flats, which are large, lightweight, rectangular pieces made out of plywood and smaller pieces of wood. Flats are mainly used as wall pieces, but heavier wood could be used as a platform for a floor.
Tang said, “Most people have the mentality, ‘Oh, where did you buy that set,’ because they think we just bought it and didn’t really do any work, but we actually built the second floor which I thought was really cool.”
As Rumors is Mr. Yager’s ninety-first production, he is well equipped for the task of building a set. He explained how in the past, he and the tech crew have built a castle, a pool for Metamorphosis, a huge sand pit for Medea, and are now building a house. But what really brings a set to life?
“Certainly lighting will do it, certainly the splatter painting [adding small drops of different color paint to the walls] will take a dull and lifeless flat wall and give it some realism so that it just doesn’t look flat and lifeless, We’ll use that same texture technique on the floor as well,” Mr. Yager explained. “Once you have props,soft goods, and actors bringing all of their energy to the stage, that’s when it’s magic.”