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Reality Theater Creates Construction Reality

Our production manager Eric Nottke offers this insider’s perspective on Habit.

I’ve been building scenery for theater professionally since 1990, starting out as a scenic carpenter and welder, moving up to crew foreman, technical director and now production manager. I’ve built things for TV, film, Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway and so far away from Broadway that it’s actually the Hudson River.

All of these projects have had a common thread:  they have all been theatrical representations of spaces, places that look real from your seat or on your television. But if you were able to look closely or behind the walls you’d see the thin wood framing, faux-finishing painting (it’s not really marble, it just looks that way) and the bracing holding the whole thing up. That’s the way of theater; a skillfully presented picture of reality, made to last as long as the show is running and then go away.

Enter David Levine’s Habit.

Actors on a set for 8 hours at a time, never leaving the space. The script calls for someone taking a shower. The audience isn’t sitting in rows of seats, watching the action unfold through a proscenium arch, they walk right up to the set, peer through windows and doorways like a live version of some reality TV show. Clearly, theatrical convention isn’t going to cut it.

So now, 20 years in to my career I’m building the first floor of a house in the Hunter Center for the Performing Arts.  A house.  Someplace people can exist in for 8 hours at a stretch with all of the comforts of home. The walls are aluminum studs and drywall, not  1×3 wood rails and plywood covering. The lights are controlled by the actors with wall switches, not by the light board operator at the back of the theater. There are wall outlets so the TV and refrigerator can be plugged in and the actors can make a snack if they get hungry.

And there is plumbing.

Eight hours and they never leave. Think about that for a minute. Wouldn’t you want plumbing?

Now, water onstage is nothing new, it’s been done in countless productions in a variety of ways, but these things are normally done with garden hose run to a sink and the occasional small pump to increase pressure. Even a working sink can be done pretty easily, provided it doesn’t get a whole lot of use.

But these people are living in this set; living, cooking, sleeping, showering and, yes, using the bathroom in every sense of the phrase.

There is, indeed, a toilet.

So, hoses and pumps go right out the big picture window in the living room and actual plumbing comes in, just like in your house. That is a bit beyond my experience, so the pros come in and do it right, thank you very much.

The experience of making this show happen has been a very interesting and challenging blend of theatrical illusion and hard construction reality unlike anything I’ve been a part of before. But that’s why I love theatre and that’s why working here at MASS MoCA is so much fun. I never know what’s around the corner.

So thank you, David Levine, and designer Marsha Ginsberg for giving us this opportunity to do something none of us has tried in the past, the opportunity to blur the line between real and staged, scenery and house construction. I can’t wait to see it up and running.

Posted February 22, 2011 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Habit, Theater, Work-in-progress
1 Comment »

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One Comment on “Reality Theater Creates Construction Reality”

  1. Molly Says:

    This takes the idea of a theatre happening to a whole new level. I would have had zero idea this kind of thing was happening. Thanks for the post. I will be there.

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