Building the set for this show may have been the most difficult aspect of producing it. I wanted a real set for it, not only to elevate the production values, but because the plot demanded that Mrs. Hawking physically scale it. I got a lot of heat for that when I was writing it in grad school, but it was very necessary for the spectacle of the piece— we should see what a gymnast Mrs. Hawking is –so I stuck to my guns on it. Unfortunately, that meant a pretty demanding standard for the building of the set. But because of our limited budget, getting shop space was unfortunately not possible. That meant we were forced to build the set in my backyard. If it had been May, that might not have been such a big deal, but we had a week in a Boston January.
Because of our time and resource limitations, I tried to design the set to require as little build as possible to stand up and be weight-bearing. That was where my idea to adapt a wooden children’s jungle gym into a structural set. We used the tower section to create a climbable freestanding piece that we attached the flat with the fireplace, and then the monkey bar section to create a window with the wall flat. I was incredibly pleased to see that this idea not only worked but also reduced our workload. It might not have been possible otherwise.
The mantlepiece is particularly special, made by set consultant Carolyn Daitch. She made this gorgeous piece for us out of wood with a special styrofoam panel in the shelf of it, so that Mrs. Hawking can stab it with her knives. The worked BEAUTIFULLY, and allowed for the awesome image of her plunging the Colonel’s Bowie knife into it, leaving it stuck there in mute testament to her rage in that moment. The black and gold color scheme on it was thanks to Samantha LeVangie, who was scenic charge in addition to playing the role of Mary.
We painted everything as the snow was actively falling down. I was terrified that the paint was freezing rather than drying, and would slough off in a torrent when we got it into a warmer space, but thankfully it managed to hold up. It also made it possible to visually incorporate the playground structures into the Victorian parlor look. Add a couple of gas lamps, curtains, and the portrait of the Colonel, and we were there. We chose red and gold for the colors to give it the warm period appearance.
We actually impressed some people with the quality and extensiveness of the set. It came in looking beautiful, and we put it up quickly and efficiently, thanks to our excellent team. Arisia is apparently not used to full sets, and it was gratifying to hear we turned a few heads. Not to mention that we got Mrs. Hawking in the air, just like we set out to!
The set’s existence is primarily thanks to the work of Bernie Gabin, our technical director, my frequent collaborator, and my boyfriend. His experience in all aspects of technical theater, not to mention his fierce determination through adversity, made it possible to have any actual build occur. I am also incredibly grateful for the hard work of Eboracum Richter-Dahl, our stage manager, Frances Kimpel, our Mrs. Hawking, Matthew Kamm, our Sir Walter, and Samantha LeVangie, our Mary and our scenic charge. Their toiling out in the snow and freezing temperatures with this was very much above and beyond the call of duty.
Here is the final product. You’d never think to look at it that it was built in the snow in five days, would you? Next time someone suggests I cannot do something, I will remember this build. It was incredibly grueling at times, but it came out so beautifully that I believe it was worth it.
It was fun, at least in hindsight!
Also, all the images in this post are sideways or upside-down.