Reflections on building a set and tearing it down
by Kristin Stelter, Apprentice
There is nothing more satisfying than whacking something with a hammer. Not to create, but to destroy. The creating is all numbers and measurements, but the destruction is all chaos. To tear down a set at the Purple Rose Theatre is to be a part of the never ending cycle of production. A set goes up, painstakingly made perfect, and then dismantled to make way for the new.
Shop rotation for A Stone Carver was, from what I’ve been told, not that difficult. It was my first real experience in a shop, though, so I have nothing to compare it to. Sure, I “helped” back in college, putting in my tech hours mainly in our Costume Shop where I worked. I have taken the basic classes necessary for my degree in Theatre Arts, but not once had I sat down, looked at a drawing and been told to “go build that.” Luckily, my partner in crime had prior experience. I believe I proved my mettle, especially at hefting large objects into and out of our truck (we lovingly call it the Hostess truck because it looks like we could deliver Twinkies in it), which I thoroughly enjoy driving (see picture). I learned to measure and chop wood using different tools and machines that, frankly, scared me before being taught how to use them properly. I even grew to enjoy the feel of a spinning blade going through wood, and the smell of sawdust.
We build as much as we can before we have to put up the set, and whatever we can’t store at our facility underneath the stage, we move over to our rehearsal space at the Chelsea Center for the Arts (CCA). Usually this gives the actors a sense of what the final set will be like. Once the set of the previous show is taken down during a long day we call “strike,” we begin building our new set. Load-in usually begins the next day and is when we “load in” all of the set pieces we’ve previously built from the CCA, putting them together with whatever we have stored!
A Stone Carver’s set came together beautifully. The other seven apprentices and I worked for the first time on a show together as a group, and we bonded. I also got tendinitis in both of my wrists and had to wear wrist braces! Up until working at the Purple Rose, I maybe used power tools once or twice in my life, and not for more than five minutes; I think my wrists were like ‘what in the world are we doing?!?’ They have since healed, and didn’t give me any trouble during our most recent strike and load in. We all usually get scrapes and bruises during this time, so I wore my braces like a badge of honor.
I worked in the box office throughout the run of the show. If you came to see A Stone Carver, you probably were handed your tickets by me or the other apprentice who I worked with! It was fun getting to meet all of our patrons and hearing their reactions to the show. Interacting with people is what makes this job interesting, be it our loyal patrons, the other apprentices, or the central staff that run this operation. Meeting the people who support our theatre meant a lot to me. They are the reason I am here – why we are all here – because there is a demand for quality theatre in and around the Chelsea area, and I am so grateful to be a part of that.
I learned a lot about myself and the work involved in building a set and working the box office throughout the run of A Stone Carver. The most important lesson was believing in my own strength both physically and mentally. Apprentices do a lot at the Purple Rose. More than I believe I fully understand right now. It’s taxing at times, and we have learned to depend upon each other and ourselves to bear this load together. If I’m making it sound like a burden, it’s not. Believe me. Each day I walk through the doors, I am blessed. The loving, supportive environment we are invited into is unlike anything else I have experienced. The Purple Rose is my true home right now, and I am more than happy to keep its appearances up, to be one of the many heartbeats that make this theatre come to life.
The thing I love most about this theatre is the people I get to work with. My apprentice class is amazing, and each one of us brings something unique to the table. We treat each other as equals, and respect one another for their individual talents – talents that we utilize everyday. My second favorite thing is tearing the set down. I really, really enjoy that for some reason! Precision is not a necessity, we bring in a giant dumpster that we get to chuck things out a two story opening into, and there is a sense of letting go. Making way for the new. We are all a part of this process, this creation and destruction. We get to help make magic happen. And I, for one, am thankful.