“Load-in” — the infamous, fear-inspiring marathon of a day when the cast and crew of “Freedomland” will invade the Whitney Humanities Center with all things technical — begins on Sunday at 9 a.m. Between now and then, there isn’t that much left to do.
The cast and crew have only to build a roof, orchestrate some music, hang lights, order gels, memorize those elusive lines, finish the costumes, pick up the props, scare up speakers and a sound board, plaster the campus with posters and teasers, rehearse the play a couple times and — in all likelihood — make a final dash to a hardware store, costume shop or Wal-Mart. Oh, and someone has to construct medieval stocks, find some armpit hair and paint portraits of clowns and a Stanford man with half a chicken.
Basically, that’s it.
There’s so little to do because the crew has already wallpapered boards, conceived a baby, built a hemp dress, found a fridge, raided the actors’ closets and the Salvation Army, composed carnival music, designed the posters and teasers and a lighting scheme and bought bags and bags of the kitsch from T.J. Maxx.
Only a couple times did anyone stop to wonder why.
A moment of doubt seized costume designer Aimee Maliga ’05 recently as she made her way to the Gothic Renaissance sex shop in Greenwich Village with her parents. Playwright Amy Freed’s wacky script calls for Claude, a lascivious and — evidently — kinky psychiatrist, to wear a bondage mask in one scene. (Luckily for props master Dave Peters ’05, Claude’s “Colonial Flogging Stick” never appears on stage). Confronted with an entire wall of masks, Maliga bravely picked the least expensive one. She left quickly, slightly scandalized.
“I think it was traumatic for my parents as well,” she said.
Why do they do it?
“Last year, a friend of mine said that I love clothes and I love shopping so much, why not try costume design?” Maliga said. Plus, it was an opportunity to learn new skills, like sewing, and meet new people. Like many of the crew, Maliga has an affinity for theater but her real interest lies in her technical niche.
Maliga recounted her triumphant bondage mask story over dinner last week at a production meeting in Pierson. All of director Mike Lew’s ’03 cabinet (except for sound designer Seth Schlessinger ’03) was there to report on the status of each technical aspect of the show.
For some, including Maliga, it was the first time they’d met the other members of the team. They had worked with the script and with Lew, but not with each other.
Peters and lighting designer Shannon Foshe ’06 could offer only concepts and a willingness to work, since both had to wait for the production to mature before they could do much. Producer Aaron Lemon-Strauss ’03 informed Foshe that she would load in some of her lighting instruments before Feb. 9, since he had agreed to light the presentation of the Yale Playwrights Festival, in the Whitney Humanities Center Feb. 7 and 8. That will make load-in a little easier.
Set designer Tina Sessions confirmed with Lemon-Strauss and technical director Brian Howard ’04 that they didn’t need to construct much for the set: one platform and possibly a few other small pieces. The walls would simply hang from the lighting grid pipes, and the rest of the furniture would be borrowed from the Drama School. The short to-do list led Lemon-Strauss to call Sessions’ design “genius.”
Maliga spoke with Sessions about “coordinating” their “uncoordinated” color and pattern schemes, and then asked for general help on designing a “pregnancy suit” for Julia Hart ’03, who plays Lori, six months pregnant.
Lew sat back, silently approving, glad that he had so many people to take care of all the details. (Stage manager Ella Smith ’05 even took notes for him.)
Then the conversation drifted away from “Freedomland,” to the other shows that many of the crew were working on — including the Dramat mainstage spring production, “Dangerous Liaisons,” and the Yale College Opera Company’s spring production, Handel’s “Giulio Cesare in Egitto.”
Then Sessions added that she’d wanted to take a welding class in New York City last summer, but after talking with a theater supervisor, she realized that she’d never be allowed to weld anything for a Yale undergraduate production — for many reasons.
“But how cool would that be?” she asked. “Can’t you picture me welding? In a bikini?”
By Wednesday’s first full run, the crew was well on their way to completing their vision, sans metalwork. Lemon-Strauss and Howard started wood construction, Maliga’s costumes were nearly complete, Foshe laid out her lighting scheme, and Sessions, with the help of actor Dave Laufgraben ’04, who accidentally got to rehearsal half an hour early, covered boards with deliberately hideous combinations of wallpaper.
As the crew gets closer to a final product, they must come to terms with their vision, both as a concept and its rendering, usually a satisfying process that is nonetheless often married with compromise. The irony is that as soon as the crew starts realizing its design, they are in the process of letting go of the show, releasing their world into the vacuum of theater and the imaginations of their audience.
Sunday’s schedule for most of the crew — and the actors, in three-hour shifts — looks like this:
9 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Sets. Move risers, use scaffolding to hang wallpaper shards, build roof unit and stocks (in Dramat shop).
12 to 3 p.m.: Lights. Hang, cable, gel.
3 to 6 p.m.: Sets. Position platform, hang beams, load-in roof and stocks.
7 to 10 p.m.: Dark time: Focus the lights.
10 p.m. to whenever: Finish up anything that needs finishing.
In less than a week, they’ll be back to tear the set down.
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