art design stage production

School Musical : Les Misérables

Final Rehearsal
Student performers during a dress rehearsal

2022, Spring.

Planning started shortly after the Spring 2021 high school performance, the administration and the producer encouraged this show to be a large production; beyond itself, the show took place in a year as the pandemic restrictions were released, and this would be the reemergence of performing before a live audience. Since this was expected to be of a high caliber for a school performance, the director added an additional stage designer that previously constructed a Les Mis set for regional youth theater. After our first meeting working from his initial draft, we developed a platform layout fitting with the stage dimensions. We also designed additional structures to the downstage at the proscenium arch. The reality of this production did not seem concrete until after I rendered a more detailed blueprint for the student backstage crew. This definitely became a large production and for good reasons: schools had reopened; optional masking encouraged a sense of normalcy; the district had invested in auditorium upgrades for lights and sound; and air-conditioning finally installed. This accumulated moment needed a highlight and the show would be the christening act.

Along with celebrating these moments, this show was also the pilot for the backstage club. We organized a group of students with a mission “to maintain a committed group of designers and production artists to design and build sets and props for school theatre performances. The group will develop plans and produce a production based on director’s expectations with heavy consideration for economical use of materials and the safety of all involved.”

The greatest feat was the students growth in design, production and building skills. They overcame any hesitation from being overwhelmed with the plan, the use of power tools and the mindset to construct something large that people will stand on. Before starting this set, the students learned the basics of using a tape measure, a square, marking on wood and other materials, the use of a drill and power saws. With these guidelines, they learned the most important feature of working in production—safety. We reviewed clean shop, a safe space but not crowding, communicating your arrival if a peer was focused on their task, and healthy approaches to moving large/heavy objects. The most important safety requirements were goggles and knowing where your digits were while using a drill and especially with the chop saw. With time, they grew more confident and I became less worried. We had a good team but without a co-design director/lead builder, we built and produced to the last minute. Without a partner, we would still have completed it, but the tasks would have been more daunting. I had gained more stage knowledge through this collaboration; plus another adult with building skills provided stress management.

We had a good show. The performers shined and captured the audience. The stage was simply another player in that performance, but definitely supported them to feel confident and empowered to be their best.

My team, the Backstage Crew, bonded well and could manage quick commands and high expectations. They delivered their best and seemed to enjoy doing it.

Three of the four 4×8 platforms, eight feet off the stage.