Sunday, July 30, 2006


Junked Set Wars

One of the most entertaining events of the season doesn’t take place onstage, and many patrons have no idea that it exists. Every year, after the shows are built, the properties and carpentry departments face off in Junked Set Wars. Any materials left over from building the sets are fair game for the competition. A new challenge is devised every year and is announced to the teams the morning of the competition. Frantic planning, strategizing and building then begins. An esteemed panel of national and international judges assembles to award the prizes at the end of the competition. One is given for accomplishing the objective of the challenge, and the other for superior aesthetics and style. This year the judges were: John Conklin (associate artistic director), Robert Wierzel (lighting designer, Jenufa), Isabella Bywater (set and costume designer, Jenufa), and Jonathan Miller (director, Jenufa)

This year the goal was to transport twenty water balloons across the pond in front of Glimmerglass’ Alice Bush Opera Theater in five minutes. To complicate things, two riggers were put into the middle of the pond as pirates, trying to capture the balloons before they made it across. It so happened that this year both the carps and the props teams devised the same method of a basket attached to a pulley system, so it came down to whose construction was better. Baskets flew over the pond as the pirate riggers hurled cables at them trying to stop the balloons from reaching their destination. After a harrowing five minutes of yelling, cheering, and the occasional hurling of balloons at the opposing team, the final count was taken and the panel of distinguished judges made their rulings. The carpenters won the award for transporting the most balloons across and the props team won the award for superior aesthetics and style. A third award was given to the riggers for excellence in piracy.

Photos (from top to bottom):
1. David Benetello (Assistant Techincal Director) prepares for the carnage of Junked Set Wars.
2. The distinguished panel of judges confers about the rules of this year’s competition with Matt Kirby-Smith (production manager) and Abigail Rodd (techincal director).
3. The contraptions built for the challenge with the props team on the left and the carpenters on the right.
4. The company staff cheers on the teams.


Preparing the Covers

Michael Shell: Assistant Director

In a festival setting like Glimmerglass, covers are very important. All of these shows run for a little over a month, so the likelihood of one of the principals becoming ill is higher than at a standard opera house. They have to know their music, where they’re going onstage, and what else is happening around them. Although they haven’t had as much rehearsal time with the roles as the principals have, they need to develop a close connection with the character that they are portraying as well.

As assistant director, it is my job to teach the covers their blocking and help them find their characters. This has been a challenge with The Greater Good because not only is the music difficult, but the blocking came out of such individual choices that David Schweitzer (director) guided the singers to make during the rehearsal process. It isn’t simply, “walk over here and stand there for five bars and then cross to stage left.” The moves are always very character driven, so it is challenging to teach that in the very few rehearsals that I have.

We have a total of seven rehearsals with the covers, the second coach/accompanist, and the assistant conductor. This culminates in what is called a cover run. This is a run with an invited audience of other members of the company so that the covers get a chance to see how it feels to run through the show from beginning to end. This is done at the rehearsal space with most of the props, rehearsal costumes, and some mock-ups of set pieces. The carriage, which is so central to the show, will not be used in the cover run because it has already been moved over to the theater for performances. Still, it is the only opportunity that the covers get to dig their teeth into the show. If they end up going on for one of the principals they will have never been on stage in costume before. It is a very challenging thing to do, especially with a piece as difficult as this one, so it is important that I prepare them as best I can.

Photos (from left to right):
1. Michael Shell (assistant director) watches as the covers for The Greater Good run a scene during rehearsal.
2. Michael Shell works with Holli Harrison (cover for Boule de Suif) and Elise Quagliata (cover for Mme. Carré-Lamadon) during a cover rehearsal.

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