This Spring, the students at Michigan’s South Lyon East High School will become one of the latest US high schools and colleges to stage their own production of The Phantom of the Opera. In this first in a series of blogs from South Lyon East, the show’s Set Designer, Al Chapin, gives us an insight into how the set for their production is coming together…
Blog 1 – Set Designer Al Chapin
My role as scenic designer for Phantom of the Opera begins by taking the creative visions of the Director and translating those into settings that are functional, practical to construct, and, hopefully, aesthetically pleasing and in keeping with the overall artistic aim of the Director. To achieve these goals, we must overcome many challenges. One obvious challenge is budget. Many people have seen a professional production of Phantom and, thus, have certain expectations. We must do our best to emulate a multi-million dollar production on a very limited high school budget. What we lack in resources we try to make up for with creativity and the talents of our cast, crew and parent support.
Another challenge is the time period – Paris in the 1880’s. This was a time of very ornate decoration – a big challenge to both scenic construction and to props. We are faced with representing both the lavish Paris Opera House and the opera production sets. Not an easy task using only 2×4’s and plywood. Because of cost and storage limitations, all of our set elements must be taken apart when the run of the production is over. We save and reuse as much of the lumber and material as possible for future productions (some 2×4’s in this production are on their eighth show!) Because of this, we can’t use nails or glue for construction – everything is built using drywall screws so it can be disassembled relatively easily.
Related to the construction challenge is the matter of logistics. There are a lot of set elements and scene changes in Phantom. We have limited storage space and a very limited crew of stage hands. The physical challenges of moving these set elements often affects what we build and how we build them. We put as many elements as possible on wheels to facilitate rapid changes. The size of individual set pieces are limited by what will fit through our stage doors and the overall number of pieces is limited by how much we can store off stage. Therefore, whether and how any individual element gets built must be prioritized by its importance to the overall production.
The final challenge is actually primary to all we do: safety. From design to construction, we strive to make everything we build as safe as possible for cast and crew. Our ultimate goal is to provide a safe and professional stage experience for our students.
Check back for more to come from South Lyon East…
PLEASE NOTE, the release of performance rights for The Phantom of the Opera is at this stage restricted to high schools and colleges across the USA and Canada only.