Lighting, set, costumes, stage combat training: Behind-the-scenes work helps ensure play’s success

By Amy Huber, Editor –

Theater-goers often never contemplate what goes on behind the scenes to make a production such as

Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” come to life.

While director Sheila Wahamaki and student director Adrianne Lewis make MCC’s spring production

come to life, much behind the scenes work helps that happen.

This includes such elements as set, lighting, costume and hair design, as well as stage combat training for

some plays.

Chris Farrer explains his role as stage combat trainer.

“I approached the show with an open mind,” said Farrer. “I find it’s often much easier to see the scene as it

leads up to the fight, hear what the director wants, and improvise from there. Choreographing a full fight ahead of

time without knowing the actors or exactly what the director wants can lead to a fight scene that just doesn’t fit.”

Farrer, who has studied with the Academy of Performance Combat near Manchester in the U.K., now

works mostly in the Whitehall/Muskegon areas, although working anywhere in West Michigan is well within the

realm of possibility.

“Usually I have to first teach the actors the basics of stage combat and then choreograph a fight for them,”

said Farrer. “If I found some actors who were already trained or willing to put a ton of extra time into it, I would

enjoy choreographing an intense fight with more advanced techniques.”

Farrer is known for a clean record when it comes to injuries.

“I haven’t had any big injuries with my choreography yet, thank goodness,” said Farrer. “It’s important to

emphasize safety with stage combat. You practice and perform fights so many times that it’s easy to get lazy and

cause an injury. Directors tend to get very annoyed if their actors get injured, so I try to avoid it.”

This production includes two MCC instructors, Tom Harryman and Kirk Carlson, both of the arts and

humanities department.

Susan Eyler is designing costumes, and Bill Abbot is the hair designer.

While the set was initially designed by Harryman, Jim Allen, who recently stepping into Brian Gooman’s

position upon his retirement, supervised the building of the set. Allen received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan

State University in theater and his master’s degree from Wayne State University in lighting and sound design. Allen,

whose career spans over 40 years has designed or stage managed more than 300 productions in dance, theater,

television and opera.

Allen is also the lighting designer of this show.

“Lighting is critical as it sets mood, location, time of day, and helps the audience focus where the director

wants them to look during the show,” said Allen. “The challenge was to be able to separate the different acting

areas, as some are elevated playing areas.”

Allen has been a lighting and sound designer all over the U.S. and in parts of Europe. He has worked with

such names as Emmie Lou Harris, Judy Collins, Richie Havens, The Kingston Trio, comedians including Don

Knots, Phyllis Diller, Ruth Buzzi, and Pat Paulson, as well as theater greats George Hearn and Rita Moreno.

The play will be presented at Overbrook Theater starting Wednesday, Feb. 15, and continue through

Sunday, Feb. 19. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are $10 for the public and $5 for students. They are available at the theater box office from noon to

4 p.m. weekdays and one hour before curtain time.


Featured Image: The cast of MCC’s upcoming production of ‘Taming of the Shrew’ practices their introductory bows during a recent dress rehearsal. They include (from left)) Lexi Anderson, Tom Harryman, Kirk Carlson, Gabe Cerchiori, Jarod Peterson, Allison Gilde, Noah Genson, Kendra Irvine, Dustin Day, and Tim Hegedus. The production opens on Wednesday, Feb. 15, and continues through Sunday, Feb. 19. Tickets are available at the theater box office from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays and one hour before curtain times. Cost is $5 for students and MCC employees, $10 for the public. – Bay Window photo.

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