STAGE TUBE: Load-In of Tennessee Rep's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Guest Blogger: Tenessee Repertory Theatre
So what happens next? We've built and painted the set pieces and props. We've constructed and fit the costumes. And all the while the actors and director have been shaping and refining a fabulous performance in rehearsal. Tennessee Rep's production of The Importance of Being Earnest looks like it's close to being ready to open on October 12th, right?
Well, there is just one small, teeny, tiny step in the production process you may be overlooking. It's called Load-in. You may be familiar with this term, but if not, it is exactly what it sounds like. Everything for the show has to be loaded in to the theater and put where it belongs. EVERYTHING. From the steel platforms that make up the stage to the doorknobs in Algernon's flat. Tennessee Rep's offices, scene shop, costume shop, and rehearsal space are housed at the Nashville Public Television station, but we perform in the Andrew Johnson Theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. This means it is roughly three miles from where we collect and build everything to where we perform our productions. So, although we aren't a touring company we kind of build everything with the same thing in mind as one: it has to fit in a truck. While props and costumes are not generally too terribly difficult to transport and put where they need to be in the theater, the set is usually a different story.
You see, being in the basement of TPAC, Johnson Theater offers us a unique challenge. There are only a couple ways to load into this space and none of them are exactly direct. The main way is through the TPAC loading dock, down the service elevator, and through the Johnson Theater lobby. The other is through the Tennessee State Museum's loading dock, down an elevator the size a room, through some of the museum's exhibits, around a corner, and in the giant door in the back wall of the theater you have probably never seen. This route is good for the bigger and oversized pieces of the set, but in order to use it we have to load in early in the morning before the museum opens and be very careful not to bump in to anything. There is another way that involves lowering down set pieces through the orchestra pit of Jackson Hall into Johnson, but that just sounds like more trouble than it's worth. As a result of the journeys all of our sets have to take to get to the theater, they are all built in pieces. The set for The Importance of Being Earnest was built in a bunch of pieces, almost two trucks full of pieces. Our scene shop was so full by the end of the build that there was hardly a path to walk through it.
Remember that mention in our recent set blog of how building a theatre set is like building a house? Well, the set for The Importance of Being Earnest is actually three sets on a revolving stage: Algernon's flat, the garden, and the morning room of the manor house (which makes it bigger than some New York City apartments). And if you have ever moved you know what an arduous task packing a whole house of stuff in to a moving van is. Now imagine you have to pack the house itself: the walls, the doors, the windows, the flooring, even the subflooring. Oh, by the way, you only have one day to do it. That's how long the crew in our scene shop had to load two trucks with our entire set and the tools needed to put it all together, including our scene shop and props road boxes affectionately called the "War Cart" and "Prop Boy" respectively.
At 7 AM the next morning those two trucks left out scene shop with a crew lead by our Technical Director, Tyler Axt, and headed to TPAC for our four day load-in. It took three hours that first morning just to unload everything off the trucks, onto carts, and into the theater. Then the real fun began. Bolt by bolt and screw by screw the set for The Importance of Being Earnest rose. Starting with the steel structure of the revolving stage, the plywood for the floor was laid, and then the Masonite flooring, and finally the first of the walls on that first day made all those pieces we had hauled off the trucks earlier start to really look like a set. As Thursday turned in to Friday and Friday in to Saturday and at last Saturday in to Sunday all the little details of this amazing playing space for our actors came together in time for the start of tech rehearsals on Monday. All that molding Gary made from countless tubes of caulk now adorns the walls and the books painstakingly constructed by our Props Master, Evelyn Pearson, and her Professional Intern, Katherine Gering, sit snugly in the bookcases built by our scene shop crew: Technical Director, Tyler Axt, Master Carpenter, Kristen Rosengren, and Professional Intern, Jonesia Smith.
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