Friday, April 20, 2012

Animal Crackers

The end of the academic year is just over the next hill, and those of us who teach are steeling ourselves for the final push.


I had several paragraphs of whining here, which I have deleted. How can I whine about the greatest job in the world!

It is opening night for our final production of the year, and this year it is The Glass Menagerie. It is an unusual choice for a major production in a program such as ours, because there are only four characters. Of course, everybody knows Tennessee Williams' somewhat autobiographical piece. It is heavily taught in classrooms because it has such relevance to personal development and frustration with family constraints and values. There is a huge amount of critical material and curriculum guidance for this piece available online.

Our production is really unusual in an attempt to realize Williams' stated intentions in a technical way. In our production the interior of the apartment is completely behind a white scrim, for which we had to install a separate truss proscenium frame. Text and images are superimposed upon the action in the apartment. Current lighting and projection technology makes it possible to do what it seems Williams had envisioned in writing the work. The action in the apartment appears clear but slightly hazy and distant, as if in memory or a dream, as Tom states. The original production abandoned the scrim and much of the projection because the technology wasn't up to the aesthetic in the 1940s.

For us this means a great deal of light control. There is hallation off the lighting instruments above and behind the scrim that casts a slight haze on it. Even the bright aisle lights are a problem. And there is a really tricky lighting problem in a candelabra scene. How do you light people behind the candelabra and cast their large shadows on the walls, without lighting the candelabra itself and casting its shadow? Our lighting designer did achieve it well.

In addition there are narration scenes on a fire escape outside the apartment, and access to the fire escape is from below, from our orchestra pit. Add the need for powerful equipment for bold enough projection and wireless mics for actors behind the scrim to be heard well in a large hall. It's easy to understand why most productions of this play are more simply realized.


Back to whining.

We always end the year with a major theater production such as this, which means the student work to be graded piles up while I focus on making the show happen well. Sadly, most feedback to the student at this point is moot - it won't be read because it has no future utility - except to argue a poor grade.

Meanwhile, the appeal of large blocks of potentially free time are a magnet for meetings and work groups.

There is little wonder we see commencement come around with mixed feelings.

20 April 2012