Believability is paramount in theater. If an audience has trouble buying in to what is happening on the stage, the production becomes a distraction. Several elements factor into the equation, the most important being an actor's performance. Adding to the ambiance are tangible creations such as costumes and the set, the latter of which can help transform a space into an entirely different setting.
Consider a pair of recent productions at Stage 9 in downtown Hutchinson:
"In 'Fox on the Fairway,' it was supposed to be in a (golf course) clubhouse and there are certain things that can and cannot be in a clubhouse," said Charles Johnston, Stage 9's producing artistic director, the visionary for the organization's aesthetics. "Likewise, when we're thinking about 'The Odd Couple,' for example, there are things that should and should not be in an apartment, and so you're kind of bound by the conceptual nature of that realistic play."
Johnston didn't face
those same confinements with Stage 9's current show, an updated version of "Godspell." The religious musical, which mixes modern music and Biblical parables told by Jesus and a community of followers, does not specify what kind of environment the story should take place in. Still, he had to come up a concept and stick with it, although even that came with a challenge.
His first idea was to place the production on a playground, but as rehearsals progressed and actors came into their roles, he realized that world was all wrong.
"The thing about 'Godspell' is it's about building community," Johnston said. "And if the community that's being built doesn't make sense in the place that you're having them live, the community's not going to live there."
So he went back to the drawing board, settling on a design with a more rustic feel, evoking images of an abandoned warehouse or car factory.
From there, Johnston went about acquiring the sundry items that make up the run-down set – procuring worn out rubber treads from Cooper Tire, assorted faux grass and plants from Hobby Lobby and borrowing other aged odds and ends from Necessities – and placing them around the stage in an appealing yet functional way while considering questions such as "What should have been here in a real situation?" and "What should be here since I need this to happen in the play?"
"I think one of the successful things about the 'Godspell' set is that it has a mesh of things that feels like there's a lot to look at, but it's all connected in this visual field that allows the audience to believe that it could all be in the same spots and be from the same thing," he said.
"It's a great compliment to the work that's been written that can inspire something like this to happen," Johnston said.