From stage left to stage right, set design is imperative to any theatre production. A backdrop is a statement of its own, and some of the most elaborate set designs take weeks of labor to create. ARTS visited the Woodlawn Theatre to learn more about the process behind constructing the set for “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” Executive director of the Woodlawn Theatre, Kurt Wehner and Technical Director, Benjamin Grabill explain logistics to consider when drafting a design.
When it came to designing the set for Sweeney Todd, guidelines from previous productions were considered. “Often times, you will find in a script, notations that spell out certain set perimeters, and so you start with that... then you want put your own spin on it,” said Wehner. The Sweeney Todd set has a lot of kinetic pieces, so drafting designs ahead of time is necessary. “It takes us two or three weeks of solid construction to build the set. It takes us a week or so to deconstruct the set right after the production is done. And then while the production is going, we’re designing the next production coming up,” said Wehhner. Set design without a doubt is time sensitive, but while the visuals are important, safety precautions are always kept in mind.
Safety is a top concern when designing any set, especially when moving pieces are invloved. At times, actors will be suspended in the air, so safety perimeters need to extend not only to the actors, but to the audience as well. “You’re going from one environment to the next, they all have to work together so that you don’t move a huge set piece in front of somebody who is going to be flying across the stage,” said Grabill. Stage rehearsals play an intricate part in testing the set. For the Sweeney Todd production, the barber chair will have a lever that will drop the actors into a trap door built into the stage. It is the intricate designs that add an element of surprise to any production.
Watch this fascinating episode of ARTS on Thursday, October 6 at 8 p.m. on KLRN.