Philosophical Musings on Set Construction

One of the least glamorous parts of community theatre is set construction. The set is just something that is there; no one considers the hours of planning and manual labor that goes into most sets. The greatest set I have ever seen was one that I did not help construct, but it is nevertheless worth mentioning. It was for a British farce entitled “Noises Off!”, in which two sides of a “stage” had to be seen; so the front of the stage had to be seen, and then the stage had to somehow reverse and turn into the ‘backstage’ of the stage. The scene change in which the set turned around took the stage crew several minutes to complete, but it was so impressive that no one in the audience minded. Somehow the set had been constructed in pieces in a way in which it could be rearranged and shuffled around, manipulated so that it would finally coalesce into the reverse- image of the original stage. It was so impressive that at the end of the set change the stage crew was given a round of applause.
Most of the time, the set is not put in the limelight in such a way; the set is in the background; not many people take it in to consideration, but if it is not there, or if it is of poor quality, people begin to notice. The set is something that is not really noticed unless it is not doing its job.
Nevertheless, I have thoroughly enjoyed every Saturday that I have spent constructing sets. From complex, two-storied sets painted brilliantly to resemble a tropical jungle to simple but elegant platform sets that are versatile enough to accommodate many different scenes in one play, I have always enjoyed the challenge of helping construct and paint a set. Undoubtedly my favorite part was learning and using the theater painting techniques taught to me by the set designer. With the many techniques he showed me, I have been able to paint a plain wooden wall to make it look, from the view of the audience, a paneled wall, a cart to look like an antique, and to add many different textures to a set. With a few simple strokes of a brush, which seem to paint nothing in particular, I have been able to create for an audience a lush forest backdrop.
Set construction may not be something for which people will come up to you after a show and say, “Wow, that set you created was amazing!”, but it is nevertheless vital. Set construction can be rewarding even if there is no communicated audience appreciation of it. Reward doesn’t have to come from the approval or appreciation of someone else; what you’ve created that is good, whether others notice it or not, is still good, and is its own reward if you enjoyed creating it and are pleased with the final creation. What is truly good is good whether or not it is lauded as good. That is why set construction is worth doing.

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