Design and Production: What Goes On in the Background of Our Plays?

Gisella Brok

It’s definitely a commitment, but they wouldn’t sign up if they didn’t love it.

On the weekend of February 11th, Lovett showcased this year’s spring musical, Willy Wonka! The theater was transformed into a chocolate factory filled with oompa loompas and sweet treats, and the actors made the play come alive. 

But of course, none of this would have been possible without our incredible production team. 

Before the play was even announced to anyone else, Mr. Decker and Mr. Forlines had met up to come up with ideas and share their visions of what the play should look like. Then, Mr. Forlines designed the sets based on of these conversations. 

Because they were finally able to present a major play, Mr. Decker decided that he wanted an ensemble-focused play, and Willy Wonka fit that perfectly. For this musical, they based it on the movie, and the attention to detail was fascinating. They decided that the set outside of the factory would be set in the modern day with drab colors while inside the factory would feel more vibrant with old technology. They also had to consider how they would go about each depicting kid’s outcome. Almost everybody in the audience walked into the play knowing what would happen to each kid, but they had no idea how it would be carried out, and that’s what the surprise had to be.

After coming up with how the play would be set up, the real work began. The building didn’t start until winter break ended, but thankfully, everything went smoothly. According to Ms. McCluskey, the Assistant Director of Fine Arts, there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be carried out, and it was fortunate that the “set pieces were easy to construct” so that they could get them early on. She also explained that “how stuff happens is what evolves.” So, for example, how they would get Augustus Gloop (played by Slater Nalley) across the stage changed from scooting on the floor to being dragged on a towel to being carried in a cart. 

Even though it went smoothly, it still took a lot of effort. The five stage managers had to be at every single rehearsal, and each day they needed to take notes about props or costume ideas which went to the rest of the production team. 

Thankfully, the students taking the Design and Production classes, with the exception of design craft, leant a helping hand. Since there are different categories of classes, they work on things that relate to their classes. For example, the students in stagecraft are the builders. Sophie Hatfield, a freshman who was a stage manager for the play, is in the D&P Tech class, meaning that she’s involved with lighting and the more technical side of the play. In their class, their work is “either project based or working on a production.” 

Even though it seems like the work is separated into different groups, Sophie mentioned that “whatever needs to be done will be done.” Ms. McCluskey also talked about the fact that “very rarely are [the groups] compartmentalized,” and they are more focused on the team aspect. Sometimes, the actors even had to help with some things such as set changes. Even though the adults have specific focus areas, they also help each other and the students with other jobs. 

Even with all of this help, there are still some challenges to being part of the production team. 

For the adults, the most challenging part is deciding how to get set pieces on and off stage. Nowadays, it’s not that common to just do a fade to black and then scene change, and instead it usually happens in front of the audience (“like a dance” as Ms. McCluskey would say). She also mentioned how it’s a “fun challenge” because they want it to feel like part of the play. Luckily, they decided that making the oompa loompas do the scene changes was the best decision, and it definitely felt like part of the play! 

For the students, it really “depends what you’re doing.” For Sophie, even though it was stressful at first, knowing what she was doing helped things run smoothly. 

When I asked Sophie if the end was super emotional, she said “Oh yeah” and that there are “tears everywhere.” Because the tech and cast became very close, it was hard to say goodbye (even if they weren’t leaving the school). They only had a month and a half to get the show running, so they were there until 6:30 on school nights and weekends. It was definitely a commitment, but they “wouldn’t sign up if they didn’t love it.” 

So what now? Well, they just go straight to their next play, which will be “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen. For the few weeks they have between the two productions, the classes do personal projects. And since the upcoming play is in the blackbox theater, which is a smaller room, they have more time to work on these projects. 

Now that you know what goes on behind the scenes, make sure to go support our team on April 21-23 for the next play!
The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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