Behind the Curtain: “Les Miserables”
Blog readers, welcome to the life of a scenic apprentice at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. My name is Ali Campbell, and I am one of many hard working individuals pushing through the near-final leg of tech week for Les Miserables. When all the production elements come together, it can be easy to forget the amount of time and energy that has been invested in this two and a half hour production. To give you an idea, the scenic department began construction on Les Mis in August with nine-hour days, often working weekends as well. Our scenic team is made up of a Technical Director, an Assistant Technical Director, a Carpenter, one Scenic Charge Artist, and two apprentices. It is our job to create the environment you see before you during each Orlando Shakes production. We keep actors safe, audiences inspired, and we go through a whole lot of coffee, donuts, and tacos.
The wonderful thing about an apprenticeship with Orlando Shakes is that right from the start we are actively learning. Apprentices are given individual projects that require hard work, quick thinking, and ingenuity. Though my efforts have been collaborative and scattered throughout the show, I’m choosing to focus here on three of my favorite projects. My first major task involved the reincarnation of eighteen-foot flats from last season’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Their restructuring was followed by a new texture and paint treatment, courtesy of our Scenic Charge Artist. After stripping, restructuring, texture, and paint, these are no longer the same walls that took you to London last season. Another opportunity I had was to build a fence and working gate, which required welding. This project used a combination of steel, wood, and Homasote, which was painted with multiple layers to look like stone and rusted metal.
As automation operator I’ve also been tasked with the role of programming cues and running the revolving section of our stage during the show. Scenic elements and actors are preset upstage and rotated into place for seamless changes. There is no visual between the automation operator and the actions on stage. This requires constant communication with stage management so that changes occur safely and on time. While the audience is watching the actors, there is an entirely different performance going on backstage as the crew is always in motion. Props and scenery must be set, actors are aided in rapid costume changes, and lights are manually cued every few seconds.
I am backstage for the entirety of this show so I hear much more than I’m able to see. That being said, I still get goose bumps every night. I am jealous of those of you joining us as audience members. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that you’re just watching this production. Les Miserables is an experience. For those of you who have yet to get your tickets, there’s still time! Les Miserables runs through October 12. We’d love to see you there. For tickets and more information on the show, please visit www.orlandoshakes.org.
Ali Campbell is a scenic apprentice at Orlando Shakespeare Theater for the 2014-2015 Season. She graduated from State University of New York College at Brockport with a BFA in painting and minors in Theatre and Art History. In addition to her scenic duties, she makes hand-bound journals using post-production set materials which are sold in the Orlando Shakes gift shop.