Let’s Talk About Sets!

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Let’s Talk About Sets!

Creative Content Manager Alicia Coombes talks with some of Cal Shakes’ Scenic Department: Steven Schmidt, Micaela Sinclair, Tenaya Raives, and Charlotte Wheeler.

Alicia C  
Hello everyone, this is another edition of Asides, the Cal Shakes podcast. This is Alicia Coombes. I’m the Creative Content Manager, she/her pronouns. Today I’m talking to Cal Shakes Scenic Department. Let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves and tell us a bit about your role and what you do for Cal Shakes.

Steven Schmidt  
This is Steven Schmidt. I use he/him pronouns and I’m the Technical Director. I tend to sit in a lot of meetings and do other fun things as well, but definitely a lot of meetings, is what I do.

Micaela Sinclair  
Hi, my name is Micaela Sinclair, I use she/her pronouns and I’m a carpenter here. I built a lot of sceneryas well.

Tenaya Raives  
Hi, I’m Tenaya, I use they/them pronouns and I also am a carpenter here, and I build a lot of scenery and a lot of very large flats.

Charlotte Wheeler  
My name is Charlotte, I use she/her pronouns, and I am the Shop Supervisor. So I don’t get to do as much building as I would like to do—because I love building—but I do have an awesome crew. And so basically I take the drawings from the technical direction folks, and I kind of hand it out to the carpenters and decide who does what, in what order.

Alicia C  
Great. So I would love to walk through the process. I don’t think a non-theater person would know. So first— first rehearsal, the set designer shows up with the drawings and rendering correct.

Steven Schmidt  
Yeah, so our process actually starts before first rehearsal. So in our ideal world, the set is actually done by first rehearsal. That’s not really actually like super realistic. But it in some, in some cases, it’s true.

Alicia C  
The actual set on the stage?

Steven Schmidt  
Not on a stage but done in the shop. So the process is, the director and the scenic designer will have a series of meetings. And it really depends, that process really depends on the director and the scenic designer. Once they are on the same page, the scenic designer produces a set of drawings, or a model, which is used to communicate to us (the scene shop) what the set is going to look like. And the set designers job is to is to do just that: “What is this? What is the visual world that we’re going to be living in?” That goes to, to us and specifically to the Technical—to me, the Technical Director, and to the whole team, and we take that and we break it down and come up with a budget. And that budget is how many hours is going to take to build, what materials do we need? And we get down to you know, dollars and cents pretty quickly. And then there’s the budgeting process that we figured out—great, we have the cost of this show and does that fit within our scope of the project? At that point, we work with the director and designer to get the…get on budget. And once we have a show that is on budget, we produce build drawings, which then get passed on to Charlotte, who takes it from there.

Charlotte Wheeler  
So it’s the role that I play in a lot of a lot of theaters that’s generally called the Shop Foreman, Shop Supervisor, it’s the same thing. But what I do is that not only am I, you know, a good steward of the shop, I’m checking materials and hardware levels and doing repair maintenance on tools, but also just managing the crew in general. So I’ll get those technical drawings. Once the technical direction is kind of taking the scenic designer broken it down into little puzzle pieces, how we’re going to build each thing, and then I’ll decide who’s doing what in what order in the scene shop and a lot of that is dependent on how long it’s going to take to paint it, what that paint treatment is going to be. They want to build the things that are going to need the most paint treatment first, so that they have the most time to work with those things. And there’s a lot of different considerations and how you do that in what order. It’s like who’s really good at a thing, or who wants to get better at a thing, and kind of making sure that people get the chance to work on the different types of material, do the different processes. And so that’s, that’s what I do.

Steven Schmidt  
It might be worth just jumping in and saying, folks who are not in the room right now. So we have on our team, Heidi Voelker who’s the Assistant Technical Director, she/her pronouns, and she’s kind of in the office and working closely with me and sometimes takes the lead on shows, sometimes works in conjunction with me and to get those little drawings done. We also have a couple other carpenters who are not in the room, and our scenic painting team. Our paint charge Anya and also Lassen are both key members to this team who are not in the room right now.

Steven Schmidt  
Tenaya or Micaela, do you want to like, talk about so so—Charlotte’s figured out when things are happening, you want to talk about your process?

Tenaya Raives  
Yeah. So then as a carpenter, so Charlotte will talk us through the show and kind of the order that we’re trying to do things in and hand us the specific build drawings that we as carpenters will be building that day or that week, etc. And we then look at the drawings and like, turn the drawings into real things. So we do the building. Sometimes we split things up, someone will be doing a lot of cutting of wood and someone else will be doing building. A lot of hands we split up between the metal like metal work and wood work. But as carpenters that is essentially what we do. So like where we get the information from Charlotte and then produce it into 3-D things.

Micaela Sinclair  
We also take all of those things and move them about 9 million times before they ever touch the stage. We like to call shop Tetris or shop shuffle, and we move it to the paint shop and then we move it to go get stored, and then we bring it back out.

Charlotte Wheeler  
If there’s a whole lot of shop Tetris that needs to go on, sometimes we’ll even put the Tetris theme song on just to, you know, help make sure that we were focused on what we’re doing. And we’re in the right mindset. Exactly, yeah.

Micaela Sinclair  
And then we eventually take all the scenery and put it into a box truck or onto a trailer and strap it down and take it to the theater and load it in.

Steven Schmidt  
Yeah, so the overall process, there’s design, there’s budgeting, there’s drafting and technical design, there’s build, paint, then load in is when it actually ends up at the theater. And then of course, technical rehearsals are when the actors and the scenery first start to really interact and then we have performances.

Alicia C  
And of course, there’s always fun when the actors and the scenery start to interact, and say…. there’s huge rainstorms that make a set explode…

Steven Schmidt  
Rainstorms, that never happen—

Tenaya Raives  
—at an outdoor theater—

Alicia C  
…at an outdoor theater! What are some of your your favorite horror stories from the year or success stories or high fives?

Charlotte Wheeler  
Yeah, cuz it’s it’s not, it is not only just the actors that are also interacting with the scenery for the first time, it’s also all the other departments, the lights are getting shone on to the set for the first time and colors might end up not being what everyone expected. And the actors in the costumes are then interacting with the set and then you realize, “Oh, this giant hat doesn’t fit through this doorway,” or, or things like that. But, um, so there’s, there’s all of those elements coming together for the first time so it’s always, always it ends up changing a little bit, you have to make little modifications. And it’s that’s is, to me is actually one of the most fun parts of like, you know, you’re no longer in your own little department in your own little world and you get to see how it interacts with everyone else and how good a job you’ve done and how you know how, how much thinking ahead you did and whether or not you asked the right questions at the right time until you know, so that’s, that’s a big part of it is just being able to communicate with all of those people. There’s almost always something we forget to ask or something that we didn’t think about. And there are always those things you can’t control such as the rain and the outdoor theater and I think Midsummer does really, you know, take the cake for…

Steven Schmidt  
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Tenaya Raives  
For example, in Midsummer there were about 24 doors, somewhere between 22 and 26 depending on how you counted the doors.

Charlotte Wheeler  
22 of them functioned.

Tenaya Raives  
Yes but we had to make around 26 stores. And I don’t know if everyone knows but when you add water to wood, it gets bigger, and so, like doors in doorframes that get bigger, then the doors no longer function. So we spent a lot of times taking doors down and then cutting them smaller, putting them back, they expand it again. And so that one was yeah, the nature coming and wanting to see the play it definitely was a challenge to continue to overcome. Because it wasn’t just one note that we could do and then move on. Like we didn’t have to make a door bigger and then the actors half-fit through like the rain kept coming in the word kept expanding,

Steven Schmidt  
—like more than you think possibl. Like, for how many times we cut down those doors, I would think there’d be no door left. But yeah, I would say Midsummer for me was like both a success and challenge. Like it was a lot of, an incredibly technically complicated show. Doors are complicated, like I know they seem very simple, but as soon as you put it on something that’s moving outside, they’re very complicated. But also that set was very large, obviously. But it also moved in a lot of different ways, in different ways that… in ways that I haven’t moved scenery before. You know, there was this, the whole unit that like that whole kind of tower unit weighed about—now I’m remembering if it was 2000 pounds for the whole thing or 2000 pounds for each tower and I’m completely blanking.

Charlotte Wheeler  
I think that it was about 2000 pounds for each tower,especially once it got soaked with water.

Steven Schmidt  
 I think it was. I think it was about 2000 pounds to start with, I think our initial estimates were about 2000 pounds each. And then once you added the water, it was significantly more, and it was it was pretty incredible to just see how that impacted the whole system. So and we had the person operating what was a basically a hand winch, which just means somebody’s turning a handle, which was actually driving that entire unit using a whole lot of mechanical advantage, and that water definitely put a damper on the situation.

Tenaya Raives  
No pun intended?

Alicia C  
Were there any problems with that set once it dried out, like did it warp or anything?

Charlotte Wheeler  
It warped considerably. So there were some really fun notes that continued because there were so many doors used at so many different times. And it changed depending on the position of the tower. And those towers were really clever was one of my favorite moving, you know, automated moving bits of scenery I’ve ever done because I thought that it was such a clever idea because it all ran on one track. Usually when you have things move in separate directions. There’s a kind of a different system for it. But Steven and Heidi came up with a very clever design and I thought it was amazing how well it worked. So, but it was, because of the unevenness of the stage and because it’s an outdoor theater… the doors functioned differently in every position of the tower so it was just kind of a constant challenge. And I don’t think we ever stopped having to mess with those doors for the whole run because the temperature and you know, moisture content in the set just constantly was shifting. So I think pretty much every week we were out there messing with one door or another door.

Steven Schmidt  
I have a question for Tenaya and Micaela, do the two you have thoughts/feelings on just the weather in general out at the Bruns? Because we talked a lot about Midsummer and the rain. But there’s other experiences out at the Bruns, do either of you have thoughts?

Micaela Sinclair  
I miss the Bruns. That’s like the biggest thing that I didn’t expect during the offseason is I really want that heat back. It’s really hot when you’re loading sets in or striking them at the Bruns and, I don’t know, I always thought it was a little bit too hot, probably, while we’re at the Bruns loading stuff up in, but then in the winter in the shop it’s freezing cold. And you’re indoors, and it’s dark so… but the Bruns and all of its quirkiness is really, really special. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world but I really do—like I wasn’t here for Midsummer during all of that rain, but I came in for the strike of Midsummer I think. And I…

Steven Schmidt  
And you helped install the lightbox for Midsummer.

Micaela Sinclair  
That’s true. I came in loden and then I came in strike and then I stayed, but my weather thing for the brands this year was the blood in Macbeth. I just—it was everywhere. It was oozing everywhere. The caulk that we used to seal the tiles onto the concrete wall all the way up stage would just never dry. It was bloody. It was pink. That was my weather my weather disaster, but it was fun. I liked going to the Bruns every day even though it was raining.

Alicia C  
So the Macbeth set had, it had Plexiglas walls separating a lot of little smaller like Labyrinth-y, sort of corners that had blood splashed or shmeared or otherwise infected onto the set that then dribbled down.

Steven Schmidt  
The other exciting thing about that set was that that Plexiglas fogged up because we know at the Bruns, there’s a lot of moisture in the air. And so that Plexi would fog up to the point you couldn’t see through it. And so we, after opening actually, or maybe it was during tech week. I can’t even remember at this point,

Charlotte Wheeler  
I think it was during previews,

Steven Schmidt  
During previews, we installed infrared heaters to heat the Plexi, which ultimately I think we used once or twice, but then it like stopped being really humid and wasn’t a problem. So it was interesting.

Alicia C  
That is a weird thing about the Bruns is you have to, you have to adjust so many times—like a Student Matinee will be a million degrees. And that night you’ll do a show and it’s freezing—

Alicia C  
—and the cows! [Steven moos] We are technically in the Cal Shakes “offseason” and I’m putting offseason in heavy quotes because that just means we’re not putting shows on stage but everybody is very, very busy right now—not everybody—a lot of people are very, very busy right now. What does the scenic department do during this offseason for the Bruns?

Charlotte Wheeler  
—and the cows—

Steven Schmidt  
So we don’t—the shop doesn’t have an offseason anymore.

Charlotte Wheeler  
I was about to say what?

Steven Schmidt  
What offseason Remember last Saturday? I don’t remember last Saturday, but I’m sure it was nice.

Alicia C  
So y’all end up—you have been for a few years now, right? Building sets around the Bay Area for other theaters and other events, right? So that’s what you do…

Steven Schmidt  
Yeah, we’ve been a little over two years now. You know, I think it was. I started in 2017, actually, you know, just about three years ago. And one of the conversations, when I was first hired was how do we make a shop sustainable? You know, the Cal Shakes. One of the challenges is, you’ve got, you know, you have people hired for six months of the year, and then they go off and find other exciting work. And then, you know, getting people to come back and rehiring, and all that process takes a lot. And it means that you don’t have like a consistent home, you know. So we put feelers out towards the end of that season in 2017, just to see if anybody in the Bay Area was interested in having sets built and the answer was yes, yes, yes, yes. And yes. So we started by building a show for the magic in San Francisco. And then quickly started building for AC T for the shows that are in the Strand. And then also started building shortly after that, for Berkeley Playhouse. So that was kind of our start. And we very quickly went from kind of a seasonal staff to a full time year round staff, which is kind of the dream for us.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Yeah, I think it’s about the greatest thing that has ever happened to me because building scenery full time is, you know—building scenery in general is my favorite thing in the entire world. But the team that we have here at Cal Shakes and being able to work for a company that I really believe in and really loved the work that they’re doing in general, it’s, it’s, you know, the greatest, the greatest feeling to be able to come to work every day. Because it wasn’t, it wasn’t like you couldn’t find work, you could always freelance and go out and find work other places, but being able to, you know, stay home basically at the place that I want to be, and to be in the shop that I want to be in and working with the team that I want to be working with. It’s been it’s been really, really great.

Steven Schmidt  
I second that, I think it’s, for me, I have experienced it, as you know. You know, at the beginning, I feel like I had just a lot of support from the organization. And it kind of felt like, we got to, like create our own, like, scene shop, but without having to deal with all the like, kind of administrative stuff that you’d have to do to create a business. It was like, you know, it’s all the best things that I, you know, wanted to spend time doing and none of the things I didn’t want to spend time doing. So it’s kind of great from that perspective. But it also has the added benefit that you know, all the work we’re doing. Not only does it mean that we have a full time skilled staff that kind of carries into the Cal Shakes season and means that we have people. We’re going into a summer where currently everyone that is planning to work in the summer has already worked at the Bruns, which is like phenomenal. So there’s that benefit and then we are are able to purchase and supply our shop in a way that makes it more effective. And we have, you know the right tools for the job because we can afford them because we’re building, you know, 40 hours a week in the shop, at least, you know, almost 52 weeks the year, not quite. So it fills out our shop in a way. That’s really helpful, I think beneficial to the organization and also connects us with the other theaters in the Bay Area, which is really exciting. We have a lot of really great relationships with the theaters in the Bay Area and it just opens up opportunities I think for collaboration and just a sense of the Bay Area as a theater team. You know, I love thinking of the of all the theaters in the Bay Area as on one team rather than competing for the work because I think, you know, I don’t know the I don’t know the right statistic, but the percentage of people that come see theater is is smaller than we’d love it to be. I think the more we work as a team, I think the more powerful we are.

Alicia C  
So what are you all working on right now?

Tenaya Raives  
Right now we’re building Gloria for A.C.T. at their Strand theater, which is directed by Eric Ting. So that’s pretty exciting. Since I mean, like we build shows for Eric at least once a year but like now we have one that is at one of the other theaters we build for. But what we’re currently building that and we just finished but haven’t loaded in Memphis for Berkeley Playhouse. So those are two things that we’re doing right now.

Steven Schmidt  
We also are I’m kind of chuckling because, you know, sometimes it’s hard to remember what show we are working on because anytime we’re working on at least three or four shows. So you know we’re in, we’ve been in process for budgeting other shows at the same time. And in fact, I guess we don’t quite we’re not quite working on the next Berkeley Playhouse show yet but we will probably start working on the next one before the current one loads in. So there’s a lot of. like we’re working on Berkeley Playhouse, but which Berkeley Playhouse are we talking about?

Tenaya Raives  
And it’s also true that like, we’re all working on different parts of it. So like Micaela, and I, and like our overhire carpenters are building shows. So like we’re building one or two shows at a time. But then Stephen and Heidi may be drafting one show and budgeting another one and having conversation with designers with another one. Charlotte’s like getting drawings for that show and like answering questions and all of that stuff. So we’re all working on different parts of different shows, all at the same time. And then we’re also building for an escape room as well. We’ve like kind of had to pause for a bit to build these shows because there’s more of a hard deadline with theater. So, yeah, we have quite a lot of projects.

Micaela Sinclair  
We also dropped off a floor for Berkeley Rep this morning that we did. So quite a few shows,

Steven Schmidt  
For GATZ, Gatsby.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Yeah, Elevator Repair Service.

Steven Schmidt  
We painted a floor, so actually the set is already built and has been performed in New York, but the floor is worn and tired. And so they reached out to see if we had capacity to paint it, which we do. Strangely with all the shows we’re building, we still haven’t hit a point that we have a full time painter. So both Anya and Lassen work other places. And it’s an interesting thing where we kind of go through phases where shows—really complicated builds have very little paint—and it just it hit or miss, some shows require really intense paint and some shows require very little paint. So it’s an interesting thing to watch.

Charlotte Wheeler  
But that’s the greatest thing about every set that you do is because even though using a lot of the same skill sets and you’re basically building a lot of the same types of units over and over again, every shows is so different and it just depends on all the things and sometimes shows will have lots of fabric and and then you have to bring in a whole set of new set of skills and you know, approaches so it’s,that’s one of the really fun things about it.

Alicia C  
Tell me more about this escape room.

Tenaya Raives  
Okay, so this escape room’s kind of complicated in the like, it’s not quite like an escape room you’d imagine because normally you like walk in a room and then a creepy voice is like, “you have 60 seconds before the bomb goes off” and you think and you break into things…it’s a little bit more like just sitting in a room. And this one, at least the part that we’re building of it right now is more arcade games and  thinking and completing tasks that are game and team related. So one of the things that we are building is Skeeball. But the biggest challenge for me with that is that the people who are creating this escape room don’t want the Skeeball balls to be able to be removed from the game it wants to be a self contained, which means that we have to make an opening big enough for an arm but smaller than a ball, which is hard because everyone’s a different size, everyone’s a different height. For example, like Stephen and I are a foot—like he is a foot taller than me. And so like just creating something that I can reach that isn’t too short for Steven, or that Steven might be comfortable with that I can’t do anything with because my arm’s too short. But we… we have done extensive research on Skeeball, that is, gone and played Skeeball after work and, and then created a Skeeball game from scratch, which was challenging and fun and frustrating, especially because there’s a bunch of stuff in the way from you actually throwing a ball or like rolling a ball, I guess. But there’s a Skeeball. And then there’s like a ball toss. We’re trying to throw a ball into like a little hole far away. But we kind of set it up in the shop and plan to set it up in our rehearsal space, and like, get all the kinks worked out before we load it into their space in Berkeley.

Alicia C  
Will that be open to the public?

Steven Schmidt  
It will they’re still getting… well, they actually have all the permits now. And then they’re in the process of doing the construction in this space for the, like the building, and then we’ll be starting to load in the actual rooms. Yeah, very exciting.

Alicia C  
Well, what was your—I’m gonna go around the room. What was your favorite production that you’ve worked on here? And why?

Charlotte Wheeler  
Ooh, my favorite production that I’ve worked on here, like ever?

Tenaya Raives  
Or like in the past year?

Alicia C  
I mean, ever. Let’s do ever.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Okay, Steven, you go first.

Steven Schmidt  
Okay, I will go first. So I think it depends on it a little bit more, you know, specificity on the question. So, I think my favorite production, I think I’m gonna have to go with black odyssey as a production. And I did, I did really enjoy how, how beautiful that set was. I think I really get excited about technical challenges. And for me, it might be a little bit of a tie. I really enjoyed the technical challenge of Midsummer that we talked about. I also really enjoyed the technical challenge of Everybody that we did. Not this past season, but the season before that, where we had a wall that had to fall down and then and ultimately come back up after the show. And right it was, the wall had a trapdoor, fell down. I don’t remember what else, it really had like a really interesting three dimensional surface…

Charlotte Wheeler  
It was a weight bearing platform as well.

Steven Schmidt  
Yeah. So all sorts of things. So we got to play with hydraulics during that show, which was a lot of fun. And then there was also a Vietgone at A.C.T., which had some really fun engineering in it. There is a 22 foot span bridge, and there’s turntable that we built that still gets used by multiple theaters in the Bay Area.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Steven, you’re supposed to pick one.

Tenaya Raives  
And just Cal Shakes.

Steven Schmidt  
But I’m not good at picking one.

Alicia C  
That’s good. So since you broke the rules, everybody else can.

Micaela Sinclair  
Um, I would say that my favorite show that I’ve worked on at Cal Shakes so far is House of Joy, because we created a really pretty playground that I got to climb all over. And that was a joy. I stuck my head through that climbing wall, I stuck my feet through the climbing wall. I’ve been all over that set and I just had a great time working on it. And it was also a leg workout going up and down and up and down and all over the place. But that’s probably my favorite show at Cal Shakes.

Tenaya Raives  
And I’d like to add that the Bruns is always a leg workout. I always say “Leg day at the Bruns” like my catchphrase of load ins. But I also have like…this most previous season, 2019, I had the privilege of being the Assistant Technical Director on Good Person. So that was really enjoyable in just that it was different from what I have been doing and I also, I learned a lot and it was also a lot of lights for someone who builds like with wood to like, learn about wiring and and whatnot. So that was a really enjoyable process just because it’s different for what I do every day. But I think my favorite like set piece that I’ve built is the doors from House of Joy. I built like 35 doors in the past year. I’ve managed to build every door in every show, it just like coincidentally worked out and now like kind of, I don’t want to break the streak. But those doors right, these giant castle doors and so there was a lot of like really finicky routing and gluing and stapling. And I was like, this—I’m like never going to finish, it took 10 times longer than I thought it was going to take, but when I finished them I was like, I made castle doors! Like I was very excited by it. And so those were my favorite piece that I built. But I just think I like all, like, in terms of like what show I enjoy doing, I think I in the long run enjoy every show that we work on because I love the people who I’m working with, so even when it’s super frustrating, like you still are you’re frustrated with like your friends and so you get to like be like, okay the day’s over like let’s hang out and like, you know play games in the shop or whatever and and that’s really great. Like, I just love working here. Yeah.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Yeah, I was gonna say like, it wasn’t if I didn’t have to pick a show specifically, I think Shop Croquet which is our newest…

Alicia C  
Oh, Shop Croquet.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Yeah, we made some like steel wickets that we can set set up wherever we want in the shop. It doesn’t, it’s not exactly the same rules as standard croquet because you know, there’s all the obstacles and you’re allowed to build ramps and it gets a little complicated, but then that was that’s been a pretty good shop project. There’s, there are there are three shows that I have really enjoyed working on at Cal Shakes and one is before—because I’ve been here for a while and you know before any of these folks were here we did a production of Spunk based on the works of Zora Neale Hurston and I love that show I thought Patricia McGregor’s direction of that show was great and just that the feeling among the cast and just the the achievement of that show in particular I just really enjoyed working on. Because ultimately, even though we’re building scenery and we see, where we start so much earlier because it started with before rehearsals are in process. It’s so much fun and it feels so good when you come together with everyone else and are part of telling that story or part of actually doing a show and going to like opening night and seeing your scenery in there that setting the setting the scene and taking to a different place is just my favorite thing. And I thought we did a really good show on Spunk, but I really had a lot of the same feelings. about black odyssey It was really, really cool to see that new work happen. See script changes happen, from the you know, because they produced it before but like, but the script changes working with the playwright directly, that was a really really cool show to do. And I thought that the painters just knocked it out of the park with that with that that show, they did such a good job on it. And you know, we put a ginormous gold Cadillac on stage.

Alicia C  
Oh my gosh, I still have video of you pitchforking the Cadillac off the truck.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Yeah, that was that was a very very fun show. But um, any show where it’s a technical challenge that I’m just not sure it’s going to work out, or we’re just doing something really cool and magical with math, like making making the truss for the the bridge that we did for Vietgone that was at A.C.T. that was really cool to do from start to finish. Just you know, just to make something that’s such a large span that could bear so much weight, making that really cool turntable, and that load in especially, because it had this marine grade carpet that was on the stage. So for like three days we’re loading in and there’s like, it looks like there’s no scenery on the stage—

Steven Schmidt  
—no progress.

Charlotte Wheeler  
We’re just like, gluing down carpet for forever. And the production manager’s over there starting like to get really nervous. And then when we finally got the carpet finished, the set just went in.

Steven Schmidt  
—like it was half a day.

Charlotte Wheeler  
—and they were just like, they were just like, oh, there’s a bridge and all these walls and all—oh, crazy. And I just I love it when things come together like that, because it just means that we’ve done our job right?

Steven Schmidt  
Yeah,actually one of my… on that show specifically, like we just talked about the span, the bridge and the turntable, but actually the most technically complicated thing about that whole set was the double sided wall. No, nobody looked at and said Oh, that’s cool. There’s just a wall, that’s all it is. But it was a wall without any support from an audience perspective. And it was basically, supported—sleeved into these seven inch deep sleeves in the turntable, and that supported the 10 foot tall wall.

Charlotte Wheeler  
And it went in so well, like it was so hard to make, but when we loaded it in, it was just amazing to just have them just like—

Steven Schmidt  
—dropped right, boop, done

Charlotte Wheeler  
—in no time it was just amazing.

Tenaya Raives  
Yeah, and just for some perspective, normally, like you see the front of a wall and behind the wall there are jacks holding it up. So… every set that I’ve built, because I was not part of Vietgone, you have support for your walls that the audience cannot see. So it is like a really amazing thing to try to create something that is not being supported from behind.

Alicia C  
Yeah, it’s like standing up a piece of paper and expecting it to just stand straight and be strong.

Micaela Sinclair  
Yeah.

Alicia C  
Wow. Y’all have a job that I think people know what a good set looks like. And they think it’s nice but there’s, there’s so much that has to go right for it to be not noticed. Right?

Steven Schmidt  
It takes it takes a whole team, you know, like I’m a firm believer that one person never has the best idea that a group of people have the best idea and there’s, you know, I certainly don’t always have the best idea. I know that and but you know, it’s what I think is really exciting about this shop is: a) it is a group of friends, you know, building scenery together and b) I really appreciate and enjoy the like, the the collaborative, you know, the way we get to the finished product and and, you know, feedback from from anyone on the shop floor is valuable, as far as I’m concerned.

Micaela Sinclair  
Yeah, we tell Steven he’s wrong all the time.

Steven Schmidt  
Why did we build it so big and heavy? That’s what I hear all the time.

Tenaya Raives  
Our joke in the shop is that we’re trying to build scenery that’s lightweight and portable but we never achieve it because it normally takes at least four people to pick up a piece of scenery that Steven designs.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Well, Steven hates seams.

Steven Schmidt  
I hate seams. And I love steel.

Charlotte Wheeler  
Heavy steel.

Steven Schmidt  
Yes, yes.

Charlotte Wheeler  
But the other thing that is always just such the adventure about scenery is you have to be willing to not know things because every show you have to learn something new, because sometimes they’re like, and then we need a functioning sink in this set. And then you’re like, Oh, now I’m a plumber. You know, they just never know exactly what you’re going to be doing, what kind of material you’re gonna be putting on stage, but that means that they always get to learn something new. So it’s, it’s it’s a pretty it’s a pretty great job.

Alicia C  
Any advice for folks who are interested doing this work and wanting to get started or learn more about how to, how to start?

Charlotte Wheeler  
So I think there are a lot of different ways to go about it going to school for it is hands down one of the greatest ways to do it. There’s some really great theater programs out there. And even if you’re not taking classes in theater, most colleges have some jobs that are available, like on campus jobs, doing theater, and that’s the way I know—a lot of people that I know who got into theater were, you know, in college for business or English and then you know, they just needed an on campus job and ended up working for the theater department. So you can always do it through education and at school. I however, didn’t take that route. I didn’t actually ever go to school for theater but I have been doing it for a very long time. So the other thing I would say is just do it. There’s almost always a local theater somewhere that you know, you can either volunteer or you can just get an entry level job. And there’s always something to learn. Again, there’s so many different processes that go into it. There’s woodworking, there’s fabric, there’s there’s painting, there’s all of, just all the different things that that happen. A lot of theaters are doing more and more metal, work more and more work with LEDs, more and more work with automation and computers and motors. And so there’s so many different aspects to it. So if you just just start. Just put in a resume, there’s a lot of a lot of different jobs to be had.

Steven Schmidt  
It’s always a good time to reach out because even when we don’t have kind of full time positions available, we almost always end up in a situation where like, Oh, we need somebody for a week or a couple days or you know, we always are interested in having more people on our what we call our overhire list, which is people who we call when we need more hands for a load in or whatever. So it’s always a good time to reach out. And if people are listening to this and thinking, that sounds so cool, I have no clue how to get started. Just send me an email. We’ll have a conversation and we’ll get you started. So, because you know, the only thing we like more… well, the only thing we like as near as much as building scenery is talking about building scenery. So I’m so happy to talk to people.

Tenaya Raives  
I think it’s also important to like because I know that doing carpentry or metalworking can be very scary for a lot of people not only because you’re working with, you know, saws, things that can hurt your body. But also, I know that something like when I was starting to get into carpentry, thinking about doing it professionally is I thought of the culture of carpentry, ’cause I am like a queer black gender non conforming person and like going into a white cis male dominated field is terrifying. So I think that it’s important to recognize that there are, especially in theater, there are a lot of safe places to do carpentry and I am happy and proud to work for a company where I do feel safe and supported not just throughout the… not just throughout the theater, but also especially within the scene shop. So I think like, do it, no matter what, like I am also short and that can be very challenging. I constantly yell I wish I had stretchy arms so that I could just reach things that are too big. And so I think that like no matter, like who you are, like what you look like, what your body type is, what like, what you have done in the past. You can always learn a new skill and the theater community is super accepting of people and yeah, and carpentry is just really, it’s a lot of fun and everyone thinks you’re so much more impressive than you are. They’re like, wait, you can just read a tape measure, like how do you do that? And like, it’s just like a really long ruler, you know and so like once you learn, like once you learn it like, you can take off the door in your house and like put a new door in or whatever type of things you want to do around the house. You can remodel your entire house and like have your co workers help you do that.

Alicia C  
Well now I want to start a TV show featuring scenic design, scenic department making like a …what is the channel that

Steven Schmidt  
Like a This Old House

Tenaya Raives  
HGTV

Alicia C  
HGTV!

Tenaya Raives  
We would be great on HGTV.

Alicia C  
Alright, I’ll have my people contact your people. We had talked about having a scenic department Instagram at one point—

Tenaya Raives  
I would like to run a Scenic Department Instagram. I will post pictures of scenery exclusively—

Charlotte Wheeler  
I think that’s a wonderful idea.

Micaela Sinclair  
Maybe some really nice welds.

Tenaya Raives  
Definitely some nice welds.

Alicia C  
Awesome. Well thank you for taking time out of your super busy schedule to talk to us.

Steven Schmidt  
Thank you for organizing this.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Ritual & Memory

by Tatiana Chaterji This is a #ThrowbackThursday post detailing some of the theater-based healing work lead by Tatiana Chaterji as a Cal Shakes artist-investigator in

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