The Magic of Theatre

From the HSJI Newsroom: Noah Chaplin (Greenwood Community HS), Tanazia Deloney (Richmond HS), Gabriel Fields (Gary Comer College Prep), Ricky Jiang Ouyang (Gilmer HS), Donald Kane (St. Theodore Guerin Catholic), Allie Kaylor (Turpin HS), Calvin Prenkert (Bloomington HS South)

Theatre is an art that many enjoy but few understand.

Think of everyone involved in a theatre production. Your first thought is likely the actors, the director and maybe stage hands. However, there is a whole world off the stage.

The IU Summer Theatre program involves both graduate and undergraduate students to put on three productions. This summer, they are performing “Our Town,” “The Foreigner” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Each show poses an interesting challenge to everyone involved.

The entire crew spends months preparing for a show, starting even before the actors show up. These people all have individual backgrounds and stories and rarely receive the credit they deserve. HSJI Newsroom goes backstage to meet the people that make the program what it is.

Paths to Theatre

Abby Tauber, an assistant production manager for the Summer Theatre, has been involved in the backstage crew since she was in middle school. Tauber explained that her sister was an actress, and although she herself loved acting, she didn’t love being the center of attention.

“They were having openings for backstage crew for middle school and then just continued through high school,” Tauber said.

Now, poised to start her senior year at Indiana University this fall, Tauber has continued to stay immersed in theatre culture, pursuing an arts management degree from SPEA and working on stage management crews for shows throughout IU’s theatre and dance season.

Tauber  is not the only crew member with a story to tell, as at the Indiana University Summer Theatre Program, many different professionals work together to help put on three full scale productions during the month of July. The three shows are performed by IU students and professional equity actors.

Chris Mueller, props master for the IU summer theatre program, first ignited his passion for theatre in elementary school.

“I never really liked getting up in front of people very much though, and I kind of saw there was a backstage aspect to it.” Mueller said. “So I started going into that and building the scenery and painting the set and that really spoke to me.”

At IU, Mueller is a rising second year graduate student studying scenic design and is tasked with creating and making the designs that the actors live in and the audience observes. “I’ve just kind of been doing it since elementary school,”  Mueller said. “[I] just slowly found the technical aspect is what really intrigued me. I love looking at things and figuring out how it’s made and how to make it myself.”

Other members of the Summer Theatre team, such as costume studio supervisor Robbie Stanton, took a more unorthodox path to find his calling. Stanton recalled that although he was always interested in theatre growing up, citing his experience as a chorus boy as particularly influential. However, Stanton said that when he arrived at college, he chose a pre-med track because “theatre was not the viable thing.”

Stanton would reconnect with the theatre later in his college years, as “halfway through I just got more interested,” Stanton said. “I started working in the theatre, learning how to sew, working in the costume shop.”

Eventually, Stanton made the decision to stay for an extra year in college and obtain a bachelor of arts degree in theatre, and he has been working in the costuming and design field since he finished college. He noted that his pre-med background can often still come in handy when fitting actors for costumes and dealing with different body compositions.

These are just some of the people who have found a lifelong profession in the theatre world. While each person’s path that lead them to working at the Wells-Metz theatre this summer is  different, they all work hard to help create a successful summer showcase.

Creating a New World

As audience file into their seats they see how the seats are placed around the stage as if it were an arena. Along with the stage placement they witness the props and costumes designs transport them into the world of theatre. In this new world there are certain aspects that can take a plain black box and change it into something spectacular.

Rising senior Abby Tauber explains the different set arrangements. By having different stage placements, it makes the production look different from any other.

“When working on stage settings, we try to set it up to where the spacing becomes interesting,” she said. “During one of our productions of ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ we have it set up in a theatre in-the round and rotate the set  so the audience can view each character from every angle.”

There are four different types of stage placements such as; proscenium (a traditional stage setting), thrust (audience on three sides) and theatre in-the rounds (also called arena style). Stage placement is one aspect in creating different realities within the industry. Other aspects include the arts of costume and set designs.

Chris Mueller smiles as he talks about his role behind the scenes. Chris Mueller is the prop master at the IU summer theatre program. Calvin Prenkert Photo

The creation of props and sets can take up to five days which depends on what is needed for a certain scene, set, and/or production.

“Either materials are in stock or can be easily be purchased,” Mueller said.

For  certain products that are needed for a certain scene or production could be easily found in our everyday lives instead of creating anew, which helps the prop manufactures stay within  the budget.

For a production called ‘The Foreigner,’ the cast has to tear apart napkins which can be easily be replaced by purchasing another package from the store,” Mueller said.Some props can be manufactured and then later stored for another use or production.

“For ‘The Foreigner,’ I made a chandelier that can be used in later productions instead of making a new one,” Mueller said.

Both set and costumes designs are similar in more than one way. Like Mueller, Costume Supervisor Robbie Stanton must work within budgets and tight scheduling. Without both set and costume designs the transformations aren’t possible and a production would not be to open on opening night.

Robbie Stanton, the costume studio supervisor is making petticoats for the actresses while he explains his role in the IU theatre productions. Robbie manages the designs at Wells-Metz Theater. Noah Chaplin Photo​​.

“This summer was difficult with three productions having the same opening night,” Stanton said. “By splitting up the work, we were able to get all the costumes and fittings done in a three to four week timespan.”

Without communication actors/actresses may get a costume that makes them uncomfortable or may not even fit and it would fall back on the designers. By having communication, deadlines are met, and both the designer and actor are happy with the final pieces.

“The actors were able to lend a hand,” Stanton said. “By telling how their roles were portrayed they were able to give the designers an image of the characters and their clothing.”

At times, actors are able to help come up with costume designs that will fit the roles, show how the characters are being portrayed, sometimes are able work hands-on with the designer in creating their costume.

“When creating the outfit for Coneybear, a character from ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,’ we actually had the actor help in creating his shirt and made him draw on his shoes to make sure it looks like he actually made his own clothing,” Stanton said.

Bows and fabric cover the wall in the costume studio closet. The design board is made of old fabric and previously used accessories. Tanazia Deloney​​ Photo

Stage placement, set design and clothing design collectively create a new world within each production making the audience feel as if they were in the same place and time as the characters. This brings a new meaning to the world of creativity.