Behind Summer and Smoke: Into the Production Meeting

If I thought the effort which went into thinking about character’s mannerisms was overwhelming (see my last installment), then I had another thing coming when I walked into my first production team meeting. The production team meetings are the true “behind the scenes” of a play, involving everyone from the sound designer, to the set designers, to the master builder, to the production manager, and of course, the director. Essentially, everyone that’s not on stage, but is otherwise involved in the production meets to discuss the artistic and “business” (read: money) end of the show.

Sitting in on the production team meeting, I found myself getting lost in even more details – the difficulties of designing a set that has four distinct locations (where do you put all the furniture? How do you create a different ‘mood’ in each location?), the enormity of staging a production entirely put on by volunteers (talk about a time commitment), ensuring that the technology is accurate for the time period… the list goes on.

With no actors present, it felt more like we were talking about “facts”, instead of art. Not so much ‘how would your character feel?’ but things that could be verified, such as: ‘what was appropriate for someone of this position to wear at the time?’ The only comparison I might be able to make is to designing a museum exhibition (although I haven’t sat in on that process either!) – when you take the people, and perhaps even their personalities, out of the equation – what are you left with? A community, where it’s entirely possible for a story like this to take place. A pair of shoes which were quite expensive for the time and would only have been worn by someone who works more with their head than the rest of their body. A soundtrack of popular tunes of the era. For those of us more used to working in the land of black/white or yes/no, it provided a contrast to the types of decisions being made during rehearsals.  Once again, in attending the production team meeting, my eyes have once again been opened to the level of detail that goes into bringing a moment in time back to life onstage.

Read other articles in this series here.

Next up: Back to unit work

–          Jenna Marynowski

Profiles:

As with any show, there are some amazing people behind Summer and Smoke. Moreover, everyone involved in the production is a volunteer! I thought I’d take the next several months and profile a couple members of the crew in the future articles in this series

Actor: Kirk Starkie

1. What character do you play in Summer and Smoke?

I play the “long suffering” Reverend Winemiller.

2. What drew you to Summer and Smoke?

I had actually never heard of the play before, but I do love other plays by Tennessee Williams.  I think all of Tennessee’s characters illustrate that there is a little bit of bad in the best of us and a little bit of good in the worst of us.

3. Why do you act? What are you trying to do every time you go on stage, no matter what role you’re playing?

Good question.  It is a lot of fun and allows me to explore the creative aspect of my personality.

4. You’re a volunteer with Walterdale, what is your “day job”?

I am a child welfare lawyer with Alberta Justice.

5. In a small paragraph, describe the highlights of the last 5 years or so of your life.

I have tried to cross things off my “bucket list”.  I volunteered for 14 months at the Boona Baana Centre for Children’s Rights in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, learned to scuba dive in Zanzibar, went on a mountain gorilla safari in Uganda, and went white water rafting down the Nile. I worked briefly as a criminal defence lawyer and successfully argued part of an appeal in the Supreme Court of Canada.  More recently, I went skydiving to raise money for the Ainembabazi Children’s Project in Uganda and ran my first 10 km race.

6. Wow – it sounds like it’s been quite the adventurous past 5 years – what’s next for you?

For the next 5 years, I definitely want to improve my acting skills through more classes and parts in plays. I also want to travel some more and I hope to go to Antarctica eventually.  I do have a goal of visiting every continent before I die. And I want to become a much better golfer and downhill skier. And that is probably enough for now!

Set Co-Designer and Master Painter: Joan Heys Hawkins

1. Why (and when) did you decide to become involved with Walterdale?

My husband [Alex Hawkins] directed Cyrano de Bergerac at Walterdale in 2004, and invited me to be the Set Designer.  He and I have been involved ever since!

2. What is your role in the production of Summer and Smoke? In layman’s terms, what do you do?

My role in this production is Set Co-Designer (with Alli Ross) and Master Painter.  Alli and I worked together and with the Director to establish the needs for the set.  We then created a scale model and ground plan of the set.  Once we’re in the theatre, the set will be built and painted.  As Master Painter, I’ll work with my paint crew to paint the set pieces and some of the furniture to create the desired effect.

3. Why do you choose to be involved in the production side of the show? How did you get started doing this?

I majored in Art Education in University, and planned to teach art in a high school in Ohio, where I was raised.  At that time, the art teacher was responsible for creating sets for the drama productions that all of the schools did.  I had extra credit hours during my last year of University, so I decided to take an introductory theatre course to learn how to build a flat.  I was lucky to work with an amazing husband-and-wife team who did the set design and technical direction for the theatre department plays.  My involvement that year led to an invitation to do a Master’s Degree in Set Design and Technical Theatre.  How could I turn that down????  I did audition for one play, but the director said he needed me to build the set.  I figured that meant I’d made the right choice to do behind-the-scenes work.  I really have no desire to try to act….

4. What other productions (at Walterdale or elsewhere) have you been a part of? What was your role in those productions?

I’ve designed six previous sets at Walterdale, painted on 21 sets, helped with props for 12 shows, and helped with costumes for 16 shows.  Prior to being involved with Walterdale, I’ve done set design and scene painting at Victoria School and two elementary schools in Edmonton.

5. Most audience members know when an actor has done a good job. What does it mean for the audience when you’ve done well in your portion of the production?

If the set evokes the location and mood of the play for the audience, enables the actors to inhabit the space naturally, and supports the text without distracting from the play, then I’ve done my job.  Oh — and I need to stay within my budget and get everything done on time!

6. You’re a volunteer with Walterdale, what is your “day job”? What else are you involved in?

I’m self-employed, doing some graphic design and editing for a small number of clients.  I spend a lot of time at Walterdale, but I also travel to the States to visit and do projects with my sister in Ohio and a good friend in New Mexico.

7. Anything else you’d like people to know about you…

Can’t think of anything…. Oh — I do have a pet peeve.  It’s “Walterdale,” not “the Walterdale,” even though lots of people call it that…..  sigh…. [Author’s note – good to know!!]

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