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Technical team creates an Illusion

by Lenise Willis

BY LENISE WILLIS | lenise@yesweekly.com

As gray columns arch across the ceiling, almost consuming the front audience, Triad Stage is transformed into a magical realm. The way a world comes alive onstage is truly miraculous, and although Triad Stage has a “sorcerer” onstage this month, it was no wizard that raised the walls and brought the set to life — those details were left in the ever-capable hands of a technical team.

In the case of Tony Kushner’s The Illusion, a comical fantasy that takes place in a sorcerer’s lair, the technical team that helped carry the audience beyond the known is comprised of more than 20 men and women, including Production Manager Ryan Retartha and Technical Director Chad Hain.

“I think this is the most challenging set we’ve done this season,” Retartha said.

The set, based on the stabile “Man” by sculptor Alexander Calder, consists of four grey limbs that reach over the audience, creating arches over the stage. The squared columns hover over center stage, while an arched doorway filled with windowpanes completes the backdrop. The set comes together to create a vast cave-like, but modern and ominous lair for the sorcerer Alcandre.

Alexander Dodge, nationally-renown scenic designer, said he and artistic director Preston Lane wanted the set to be “a suggested environment; A place not fully explained.”

“We approached the environment of the play like an art installation within the four walls of Triad Stage,” Dodge continued.

“It allowed for a more visceral experience for the audience. We wanted the public to enter into the actual space where this story of magic and phantasms would be able to unfold all around them.”

To complete the project by deadline, a technical team worked about six to eight weeks from design meetings to construction, and a final week of 24-hour shifts to load it in and put it all together.

The biggest problem that Hain enjoyed fixing for this show was its absence of a fly system, a system in which counterweights are used to raise and lower set pieces, which had to be built to handle the show’s scenery, particularly the 400-pound steel back wall.

Because Triad Stage’s theater is a long-ago gutted department store, it did not have a fly system installed like many other venues.

“It was very time-consuming,” Hain said. “It was definitely the most technically challenging. But I like problem-solving and figuring things out. I like that the designer presents you with a design and all it is, basically, is a picture, and it’s up to you to bring it to a reality.”

Overall, many considerations are made in technical theater, most of which regard the load-in and onsite construction of the set.

“We build everything in our shop [on Holbrook Street] that then has to be brought over,” Hain said. “So everything that’s built has the doorway kept in mind. We have a doorway that’s only so big, and a truck that’s only so big. Most theaters have a load door or a freight elevator and we don’t have that.

“Essentially everything that comes in here has to be picked up at some point too, so weight, length and width are a big concern.”

Since all of Triad Stage’s performances are local productions, meaning they are not the product of a touring theater, each and every set, costume and prop is created in Greensboro. Triad Stage employs 16 full-time and 16 part-time professionals, and they also hire 257 actors, directors, designers and technicians during the season.

In fact, one thing that Triad Stage prides itself on is that it supports many local actors and artists, and fuels money back into the community. Of its $1.9 million budget, 90 percent is pumped back into the local economy.

“We try to shop locally,” said Retartha. “We try to stay away from companies like Home Depot and go to more local lumberyards, steel yards and manufacturing companies. That’s part of what we do. We’re a local company too, so we try to patronize as many local businesses as we can.”

WANNA go?

The Illusion continues to play at Triad Stage, 232 S. Elm St., through July 1. Tickets are $10-$44. For tickets or more information call 336.272.0160 or visit www.triadstage.org.

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