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Theater factotum

May 12, 2015

Spent several hours Wed and Thur at NOVA Theater working with master carpenter Nathan Blanding on the stage in preparation for the musical “A Little Night Music.” Nathan installed overhead tracks for hanging the scenery that can be pushed on and off the stage.
Nathan knows the names of various tools, perhaps all of them. He knows the names of parts of a stage set, the various kinds of lights, the pipes that the lights are clamped to. He knows the names of the various fasteners, screws, bolts, brads, nails, and the power tools that screw them, shoot them into the work. Ladders and scaffolds. Cans bolted to grids. Some lights have names, like “Jill.” Others have numbers, like “31.”
Stage carpentry is different from, say, house construction. On stage, walls are still called flats, and although they can be built several ways, at NOVA they are 1 inch thick, 4 x 10 feet. On the floor the walking surfaces are composed of 4 x 8 by 6-inch platforms. Plus odd-shaped and -sized platforms and flats. Triangles and trapezoids. All are designed to fasten together and easily come apart. Cracks between flats that make up a wall are hidden by muslin glued to the plywood flat with half-strength Elmer’s. As you’d expect, they buy black paint in 5-gal containers.
A minimum number of screws holds components together, designed to take the wear and tear and bumps of a production, then easily come apart at strike. Traditionally, everyone helps strike the set immediately after the final performance. Building is another matter. Nathan does it all himself with whatever helpers he can recruit and train.
I walk through the back: fake log stands on end near red-upholstered queen Anne chair. Door section in frame was built for sound-effect. Fake steel girder and broken concrete made of plastic foam. In prop room swords, spears, telephones, books, clocks. A dressing room has wigs, hats, boots, mustaches, makeup. The fun is endless. Top hats, broad-brimmed, ladies’ hats with veils. Mirrors with bare light bulbs. Elsewhere dishes. Dozens of plastic water bottles, many half-full. Candy wrappers and pop bottles. Half-eaten sandwich. A script on a table, looks like a beat-up phone book. Folding chairs and upholstered chairs. On top of the fridge (“No alcoholic beverages in THIS fridge”) a miniature stage with scenery and furnishings all made of paper and cardboard. A clothesline on the back wall has a lone coat hanger. Two huge trashcans “Brute” are about half filled with more empty water bottles, paper, plastic packaging for cases of water bottles. Wire baskets are filled with crayons and markers that nobody is around to explain to me. Broom, dustpan, foxtail brush.

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