It’s not just actors that make a successful theatre production; the stage backdrop and props have an important role in creating the right atmosphere. Stamford Shoestring Theatre’s set construction manager Eric Cullum explains how it all happens
How did you first get involved in set construction?
I’m not an actor but my wife is. She joined the theatre company and we didn’t see much of each other! So I decided to get involved and have loved every minute of it.
The sets always look fantastic. How do they begin life?
The sets evolve through discussion between the director and set designer. A model of the set is then made, which helps the actors to visualise where they’ll be coming on and off stage and so forth. The model then sits in the workshop so the set constructors can refer to it to see what they’re supposed to be doing. The set is assembled on stage just two days before the production starts.
That’s a tight schedule. There’s not much room for error!
Everything has to be constructed in such a way that it can be assembled quickly. Our workshop is essentially underneath the stage. Once we’re ready to go, it all gets moved from there onto the stage via a small staircase or up a long corridor then through the auditorium, so everything has to be manhandle-able! Past performances haven’t been without their challenges. For example, I got a van on stage for The Lady in the Van. It had to be cut into three to get it in there. But I love a challenge – it’s why I do this!
How are the sets made?
We have a number of theatre flats, which are timber frames covered in canvas that we paint on. There are also door flats and window flats, so it’s straightforward enough to produce a standard box set. The more challenging sets are the open sets where we can’t use any of our existing materials and have to start from scratch. Quite a lot of money is spent on timber, though we try and reuse materials as much as possible.
You must be very handy with a hammer and screwdriver!
I’ve always enjoyed a bit of DIY. I’m a chartered structural engineer by profession, which gives me a bit of an insight into the way things can be set up on stage.
How involved are you in the set for Shoestring’s next play, Good People?
For this play I’m just another pair of hands. I’ll be the construction manager for Roots, the following play. Good People is a fairly open set and we’ve got a number of props to build too. We build any props we can’t find on the market. And we do a lot of business through Ebay!
So it’s all hands on stage then!
Everybody’s involved trying to make it the best they can. We all have the same end target in view, which makes for a happy ship. And, of course, it’s all hugely satisfying.
Margie Walsh has lived in a Boston ‘neighbourhood’ all her life. She’s brought up her disabled daughter Joyce while working as a cashier at the dollar store and she’s about to get fired. Dollie rents Margie rooms in her house, she ‘minds’ Joyce while Margie works. Once a week they hang out at bingo with their friend Jean. Jean knows Mikey Dillon – he made it out of the ’hood. Now he’s a doctor in Boston. Can he find Margie a job? Is it strength of character or lucky breaks that determine our fate?
Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire runs from 13-17 September. To book, visit www.stamfordshoestring.com or call the Stamford Arts Centre on 01780 763203