One day a few years ago, Greg Vinkler turned to all of us gathered around the table and said a few words I’ll never forget. “So, how do we make Karen vomit on cue?” For most people this would have to be some kind of joke. But we were at the first production meeting for “God of Carnage” and this was a trick that was called for in the script. Consequently this question was added to a long line of weird questions I’ve been asked by directors and designers in my 17 seasons at Peninsula Players Theatre.
I have been the Technical Director for the Players for most of that time. A good portion of my job is solving problems. As a result, I get asked a lot of weird questions. Luckily I don’t always have to have the answers. The art we create in theatre is largely done through collaborative effort. We are a collection of artists who get together for the sole purpose of putting a show together. It is usually very exciting when ideas start getting tossed around. Some ideas are better than others but rarely are any outright dismissed without first seeing if there is some workable aspect.
In the case of the “God of Carnage” moment Alden, a stage manager who’d done the show before at the Goodman Theatre, knew of the device they had used. So at least for this affect we didn’t have to start from scratch. Their device ultimately wouldn’t work for our production – which is often the case – but at least we had an idea to work from and that was a great help.
People are often surprised to find that while theatres will do many of the same plays, none of the productions are exactly the same. The director guiding the production is different. The space the play is being performed in is different. The designers and technicians making up the production team are different. And all of these differences add up to new ideas being introduced to the work making each show unique. This is one of the reasons I love doing what I do.
You never know when a solution for a particular problem will strike. Last year for our production of “Opus”, scenic designer Jack Magaw, who designed “Sunday in the Park with George” and “The Game’s Afoot,” had created a space which resembled a recital hall befitting a play about a string quartet. At one point in the play the quartet is asked to perform at the White House for the President. As they leave the space to perform the back wall of the set was supposed to open up like vertical blinds to reveal a light show which would highlight the piece the group was supposedly playing.
Jack had given me the drawing of how he wanted the wall to look in its closed and open states, but how it got that way was totally up to me. I was at a loss for quite a while, until I started playing with my son and his Legos. We were just playing around building different things when I made a replica of the back wall to the “Opus” set. It was then than I came up with the mechanism to make the wall open up. I transferred that to a real life mock up and that was what we used for that effect for that show.
That is just one example of the challenges each of us face in some form or fashion during the mounting of a production at Peninsula Players. How did the actors change costumes in “Once a Ponzi Time” so fast? The costume shop staff have devised many tricks to make it happen. What does the “Chromalume” for “Sunday in the Park with George” look like? It is the magic of theatre through the eyes of the talented people working in the property shop. Ultimately it is all of us working together that make it all happen.
For “The Game’s Afoot,” a madcap whodunit, the show needed a host of tricks including turntable to hide a hidden room, a few gizmos to make knifes pop out of nowhere, a few blood packets … but you should discover all this for yourself by joining us by the bay.
So the next time you come by the theatre to pick up your tickets or partake of a guided tour and you see one of us working on something interesting, don’t be afraid to ask what it is or what it may become. We love to talk about our craft and the magic we create. After all it is theatre – an art form where we paint wood to look like wood, foam to look like stone, make clothes off the rack at JC Penney into elegant eveningwear or water into whiskey.
Scott M. Boyle is the Technical Director at Peninsula Players and has worked on more than 70 shows in the 17 seasons with the company.