Duluth Playhouse crew sets the stage for a local revolutionWith the Arab Spring still making headlines, Duluthians might be surprised to learn that the spirit of revolution is alive and well in town, at least on the stage.
By: Thomas Vaughn, for the Budgeteer
With the Arab Spring still making headlines, Duluthians might be surprised to learn that the spirit of revolution is alive and well right here in town, at least on the stage.
Playhouse employees and volunteers were finishing construction of the set for “Les Misérables," set to open Thursday, March 15, at the Duluth Playhouse. The musical, which offers a scene of the Paris Uprising of 1832, is part of the Playhouse’s Children’s Theatre Series, and all the performers are between 12 and 19 years of age. Technical director Dean Tschider is in charge of making sure that the stage is ready and safe for the actors. That had Tschider and other Playhouse staff members and volunteers building small occasional tables, as well as touching up scenic painting, trimming set props, and finishing other details.
“The set for the show is amazing complicated,” said Peter Froehlingsdorf, the director. “I asked our designers to come up with a functional set showing 5 different locations, spanning a time period of over 25 years. The crew put together two massive wooden forts that the actors have been having a blast playing on.”
Production manager Jeff Brown guides Playhouse employees and volunteers through the technical challenges that come with every production.
“We’re a community theatre. Without volunteers who lend backstage support as well as design costumes and handle some office tasks, we wouldn’t be able to do the productions that we are doing,” he said, pointing out some unique aspects of the performance that involves so many young people.
“Les Misérables is a big musical for the kids, it’s all music,” he continued. “There’s no dialogue in the production at all so it’s a big production to undertake. The lighting designer has over 300 light cues in the show and there’s a full orchestra in the pit, which isn’t typical for children’s theatre, and that presents some visual challenges for the cast that we needed to overcome.”
Employees and volunteers coordinate their efforts around a progressive set-building method.
“A set will be designed on paper, it will be built halfway, the actors test it out, then we get their feedback, then make it the way they want it so they can perform the action they need to,” said Peter VonGrossmann, a Playhouse carpenter, adding that space to move around is always at the top of the list during the re-design phase.
Master carpenter Joel Moline concurred.
“Most every show, something will change; something small or drastic,” he said. “It definitely drives us into re-draws and re-designs if something’s not fitting properly or an actor is not as tall or as short as we assumed.”
VonGrossmann pointed out that volunteers bring a fresh perspective to the set when they come to help with projects. Having many sets of eyes looking things over helps the staff with troubleshooting and brainstorming.
There are plenty of fun tasks to do as well.
“Last week I cut out Styrofoam that we shaped liked rocks,” said volunteer Norman Rosas.
Les Misérables runs March 15 through 25. Call The Duluth Playhouse at (218) 733-7555 for ticket information or for more information on volunteering with the organization.