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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

March 6, 2008

Tuna, Texas A Scenic Two Step . . First the Floor Plan, Then the Model

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — admin @ 4:55 pm

One of the great things about Charleston Stage is that it is a place to learn. I’ve been given the opportunity (under Resident Designer Stefanie Christensen’s guidance) to design the set for Greater Tuna which will open at the American Theatre on April 3rd.

 I began my work in the theatre as a Charleston Stage TheatreWings  High School Apprentice,  as did Clay Brooks who is designing the lights for this show.   Both of us have graduated  now and are working or going to school but continue to work backstage for Charleston Stage.  We’re both excited about the opportunity to design sets and lights for this clever show (and a little nervous too!)We began with a production meeting last week (that was held backstage at the Sottile Theatre during lunch because most of us were still working to finish Fiddler on the Roof.   The Director, Julian Wiles was there as were the other design and tech team:   Barbara Young (costumes) Clay Brooks (lights), Mike Christensen (props) and Stefanie  Christensen (Resident Designer). It was fascinating to watch us all put all our perspectives into the same place and find a way to make the sets, lights, and costumes help the director find what he wants in the show. One of the many design concepts we talked about is the necessity of having multiple entrances (“I want all those doors so people come and go like a farce”, Julian said.  We also needed ample costume changing areas behind the set to accommodate the nearly 40+ costume changes. (Vic Clark and Brian Bogstag, the two of the actors  who play 27 roles in the show will be joined by 4 dressers backstage helping them fast paced costume changes so I had to find room for all of them.)   This was a challenge since the American Theatre stage is very small and  has NO backstage space!  I think I’ve managed to squeeze everything in though.  I started with a  floor plan, a bird’s eye view of the stage, which shows  all of the walls and set pieces from the show drawn  in scale in order to show a spatial relation between all the pieces.  The set has to incorporate many different locations including a Radio Station, multiple kitchens, a funeral parlor, a Baptist Church, and various outdoor locations (you’d never guess it could all fit on the American stage, huh?)  Once Julian and I have nailed down where all the walls and doors would be positioned. I started working on “elevations”.  These are drawings of scenery that shows what the walls, windows and doors, and other set pieces will look it.   They also show the “set dressing”, those items that add character like an “On Air” sign for the radio station, cactuses and long horned steer horns to adorn the walls, etc. to establish the West Texas look.  We decided to add a giant souvenir Tuna, Texas Post Card to hang over the set and framed it all with Texas flag banners. ( For inspiration I’ve been listening to Patsy Cline at night.  )

From these drawings I created a 1/4-inch scale model of the set (see the photo below). 


  This helps the designers (not to mention the director and actors) visualize what everything will look like.  Our next step of course is to build it.  Want to help?  Come to Volunteer Night at our scene shop at 19 Warren Street downtown.  Call  Stefanie at (843) 577 0868  ( to sign up.

CJ Ohlant, Guest Set Designer for Greater Tuna.

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