A guest post from our Technical Director, Tom Howley
Nearly every production we do at Theater J presents some unique, signature set design challenge. A visual element that the Set Designer and the Director agree is crucial to the concept and execution of the production as envisioned for Theater J. Think: Thousands of Books for MADOFF; or the big oval bench for AFTER THE FALL; or that enormous stove from PICASSO’S CLOSET; or the big, broken roadway from ACCIDENT– really, every show has that one identifying element or piece(at least). APPLES IN THE DESERT has a couple, but the dominant one is a realistic tree that lives upstage.
While knowing that we needed this tree, even as we began to finalize the design and drawings, we hadn’t nailed down exactly how to fabricate or execute it. And how to do so within a pretty strict budget. Try to borrow a tree from a production elsewhere? Fabricate something from scratch? Make it less realistic & more stylized? And there were very tight, logistical size limitations: A maximum height of 18′, a maximum depth of 5′ (!), and a width of roughly 13′– keeping in mind that, not only does it have to fit into a specific footprint onstage, but it also has to fit into a truck, and through our loading door into the theater!
Now, my lovely wife Susan & I had finally come to the conclusion that an ornamental tree in our back yard had indeed photosynthesized for the very last time (the floral equivalent of giving up its last gasp). Cutting it down was on my short list of upcoming household tasks. And as I stood there considering the task, the obvious “AHA!” moment hit me. I did some very rough measurement estimates, using paces and arm-spans, and then pulled out a 4×8 sheet of plywood to get an idea of size and scale. This first photo, which I sent out to the concerned parties, was the result.
The tree is too tall, clearly, and too deep– but certainly in the realm of what we might be able to use. And after some discussion about logistics, it was given the nod by all appropriate artistic participants. So, step one- achieving the “skeleton” was accounted for.