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Shedding a light on theater

By Sean Kooger
On February 23, 2012

Whenever I mention working as assistant stage manager for the College of Visual and Performing Arts' upcoming production of Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex," I am often reminded of people's misconception of plays and the multifaceted collaboration of which they consist.

I would like to dispel any misunderstandings that may be floating about campus. While I am never opposed to hearing another individual's opinion and, in fact, revel in the exchange of ideas, possessing a basic understanding of a topic retains more validity than just spouting off nonsense.

With the hopes of introducing a new perspective, I want to provide a basic understanding about the "easiness" of theater. First, I would like to clarify that the following column is not a complaint - rather, it is meant to be informational.

Theater is in no way easy or simplistic. Just because a performance can be viewed in two hours does not mean the production manifested in the same amount of time. The culmination of dedicated work from multiple areas of expertise used to make a production takes numerous months.

Believing a production assembled overnight is like saying a research paper required only ten minutes to write because the paper is only ten pages long. Anyone who's ever pulled an all-nighter can confirm how baseless that statement is.

The same goes for any theater production. It takes months of meticulous, emotionally and physically draining preparation to get everything done before the lights of opening night. In fact, lights are an essential aspect of any production.

Without lights, a majority of productions would fail due to a lack of vision and clarity - unless darkness is part of the concept. The long hours of careful plotting and appropriated placement, however, are rarely mentioned. A light designer wrestles with anywhere from one to a few hundred lights, colors, effects, transitions and intensities when developing the scheme.

Once the schematics have been created, it's time for the accurate placement of the various lights. This may seem easy, but "Oedipus" demanded constant retrieval and delivery of lights, racing up and down four stories of stairs and hooking them all up. Finally, adding an array of gels - different colored light coverings - was necessary. It was at this moment, when a little less than half my body had been hanging off the catwalk more than 40 feet in the air to add a gel, that I discovered I am not necessarily afraid of heights - merely falling from heights.

Moving to ground level - sets, sound and properties - is a bit safer yet equally as important. I find that people usually equate sound with music. While this is spot on, sound also deals with sound effects, including loops that help to conjure a certain emotion.

Properties, otherwise known as props, are the items that actors and actresses interact with onstage. They help to further develop characterization and a play's mood.

Sets also play a huge role in defining a play's world, whether it be a graveyard for a horror-based production or a saloon for westerns. Long hours are dedicated toward the design and construction of sets.

Costumes function in a similar manner. Costumes help set character mood, time period and set conditions. Without costumes, a play's authenticity and overall message can remain lost to the audience, making garb an essential part to any production.

Acting is the final noticeable element consistent amongst any production. Acting is a finely honed craft with numerous intricate techniques. It is more than repetition and regurgitation of written lines as most people believe; it is the mental and physical transformation of oneself into a character. It is a specialized craft requiring years upon years of training in order to deliver a believable, relatable and consuming experience. Typical college level rehearsals consume 25 to 30 hours a week on top of a full class load and work. If after you attend a performance and believe an actor's character portrayal, then the actor has properly executed his or her job.

Next time you walk past a performance flier and think, "That's easy," refer back to this column for a refresher course in your naivety. If you hear anyone spouting off about how there is nothing to a production, at the very least kindly inform them that there is a crap load of work that goes into any production.

If you do attend a future production, keep in mind each element and allow yourself to be transported. Hopefully, a better knowledge of each aspect will mean a better theater experience.

- Sean Koogan is majoring in theatre.

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