Piecing together the world of Forum, one prop at a time

Stepping into a new world is one of the largest appeals of seeing a theatrical production, a movie, etc.  Objects and items the actors use throughout help develop the type of world we’re experiencing. Creating this world to explore and escape into is a crucial part of the prop master’s job. They shape the reality we’re living in for the next two and a half hours.

For our current production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Amber Caras built, borrowed, and gathered all props needed to fill in this world of Ancient Rome.  We were lucky enough to hear all about the props process from Caras herself.

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Amber Caras

Curtis Theatre: Give us some info on your background — how did you get into theatre, & specifically working with props?

Amber Caras: I got into theatre in 8th grade when all of my friends were taking Drama but I was a band geek. I really got into technical theatre at Saddleback College after High School because there are amazing people there. I graduated from CSULB with a BA in Technical Theatre, magna cum laude. I now currently work at South Coast Repertory as  Production Assistant (Non Union ASM) and Entertainment Design Corporation as  Production Assistant. I first got into props at Saddleback during a production of Urinetown when I was asked to build the water filtration device. I was told I could use anything in the shop and I could do what ever I wanted to make it work. I really like the creativity and problem solving that comes with Props and I have tried to do it as much as possible since then.


What is your inspiration/ vision for this particular show?

This show is a Vaudevillian troop that is telling you about Rome. So the props should look like this Troop had these things available to them to tell this story. So we will be using things like a Trunk and Carpet Bags and other thing that we wouldn’t be using if this were a “true to the time period” performance.

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Caras takes us through her creative process, guiding us step-by-step through gathering & building props.

Step 1 – Read the Script & Make a List

“I read the script and make a list with my own notes about the props I found. Like ‘Is it edible?’ ‘Do we need more than one?'”

Step 2 – Vision Meeting with the Director & Scenic Designer

“I take that list to the Director and Scenic Designer and have them tell me what they want to use from that list and what they don’t. They tell me other things they have thought of for their vision and I add it to the list. Then I ask a million questions about each item on my list and try to get the best description I can of what they want to see.”

Step 3 – Gather from Producing Theatre’s Prop Storage

“I then would look through the prop storage at the theatre and pull out everything I already have that will work.”

Step 4 – Ask Friends & other Theaters

“I call up friends at other theaters and schools and see if I can look through their prop storage. Saddleback has been a huge help in this respect for this show. Most of our “normal” props came from there.”

Step 5 – Create Plans

“After I found everything I can, I start making Buying plans and Building Plans to complete the list. As I find things, I will try to show them to the director or the designer to get approved so I know that I am 100% done with that item.”

Step 6 – Give Props to Stage Management

“I make sure that Stage Management gets all of the props I have acquired and help them in the maintenance of all items throughout the shows.”

Step 7 – Return Props

“After the show is over, I put everything away where it came from, and make sure all borrowed items are returned.”


lets-playA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs March 25-April 9, 2017.  Friday & Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! Let us know your thoughts.

From concept to creation: the Design of Dance in Forum

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In musical theatre, the movement has many functions and effects: it attracts the eye, expands on intricacies heard in the music, and shows us the inner life of the characters’ emotions and thoughts. So how do we go from the page to the stage? Following the words in the script, the choreographers are able to write in their own way — the actors on stage are the pens that compose meaning through movement. The beauty of the language of movement is that it is universal and this marks the true craft of a choreographer.

For our upcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the choreography is imagined and crafted by Tanya Thompson and Tara Pitt. We jumped at the opportunity to catch up with them and hear their process & journey from concept to creation.

Curtis Theatre: Give us some info on your background — how did you get into theatre, & specifically choreography.

FullSizeRenderTanya Thompson: I have actually been dancing since I was 5 years old. My parents recognized pretty early on that I was an entertainer and I was fortunate enough that they enrolled me in dance and in a local baton twirling organization called the Saco Jets. It was twirling that gave me my first experience with choreography when I was a coach and creating routines for competitive teams. My mentor, Linda Ladakakos, was a huge musical theater fan (hence the West Side Story reference in the organization’s name) and she was a large part of shaping and influencing my love of the art as well. Once I realized in middle school that Theater was something I could pursue as a viable career, I was pretty much inseparable from all things music, theater and dance.

 

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The choreography team – Tanya Thompson (left) & Tara Pitt (right)

Tara Pitt:  I grew up performing. My dad was a singer and made sure we sang as well. My
family was always performing. I started dance lessons when I was three and loved that as well. I was mainly performing in church productions growing up. We had no drama program at my high school so I was on the dance/drill team. That helped to really shape my dance and leadership skills. After high school I began doing a lot of theater. When an actor friend of mine decided to start directing he asked if I’d be interested in choreographing for him. It sounded like a fun, new experience so I jumped on board. I’ve been choreographing ever since.

 

What is your inspiration/ vision for the style of movement for this particular show?

TTForum is an old school, classic musical in many ways. Choreographically, we don’t think of it as a huge “dance show” but it definitely has its share of larger scale dance numbers. Some numbers require more pedestrian movements, while others have more jazz and some modern influences. Jon’s ideas for some of the numbers allow Tara and I to really have some fun with scenes that aren’t typically choreographed too. I don’t want to give too much away, but there are certainly a wide variety of influences.

TPThe style of this show is a great throwback to vaudeville. We all wanted to stay true to the show’s intent so our vision is aligned to that. It’s a very fun style to work with and allows for a lot of humor within the movement.

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Inspiration images for Forum choreography

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Thompson and Pitt take us inside their creative process, showing us step-by-step how they choreograph a show.

Step 1: Read the Script

TT: I want to make sure I understand the story and nuance that the piece will require on a basic level.

TP: I make sure to get familiar with the material.  I’ll read the script, listen to cast recordings, etc.

Step 2Conversation on Vision

TT: There is always a conversation between myself and the director and other members of the creative team to understand what the director’s vision for the piece is. This allows me to really lock into where the director sees the piece going, where the characters are emotionally at the moment when the choreography is taking place, what purpose the choreography serves to move the show forward at that moment, and the style and aesthetic of the show and individual scenes.

TP: I’ll talk to the director and creative team about the vision of the show.

Step 3: Research

TT: If I’m unfamiliar with the show I’ll try to get my hands on a copy to view to see if there are any iconic moments that should/could be utilized. (I usually enjoy throwing in a movement or small combination as a nod to productions past if possible.) I also usually will research popular dance of the time periods that the show takes place, and when the show was written/first produced.

TP:  Once the vision is in place, I’ll start researching dance in that style/era. This may be one of my favorite things about the prepping for a show. I love getting more familiar with different styles of dance.

Step 4: Work on Movement & Solidify

20170305_222053TT:  It is time to really get to work. My process is strange for creating. I usually have to be in a quiet space, with no distractions (if I’m working at home and my apartment isn’t clean or my laundry isn’t done, its hard for me to focus.) I will play a recording of the music for the particular number I’m tackling on repeat and lay on the floor and close my eyes. After a few times, I begin to visualize the movement. Then I get up, and move to solidify it and clean transitions and record it on paper (and sometimes on video) so it’s ready to teach!

TP: I start putting all the elements together. I listen to the music and start brainstorming ideas using the research I’ve done to put everything together.


lets-playA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs March 25-April 9, 2017. Half-off Preview Friday, March 24 at 8PM; Opening with Pre-show Reception & Post-show Toast Saturday, March 25. Runs Friday & Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! Let us know your thoughts.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Rehearsal: An Interview with Jonathan Infante

What do you get when you combine Ancient Rome + mistake identity + togas? Comedy tonight! Southgate Productions & the Curtis are bringing just that to the stage this March with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Stephen Sondheim delivers again with this witty & riotous farce filled with plot twists at every turn. 

Our team got together with Southgate Productions’ Artistic Director as well as Producer, Set Designer, and Director of the upcoming production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Jonathan Infante, to chat about the show and his many roles in the creative process.

Curtis Theatre: To start off, tell us a little about yourself and give some background on your work as a director.

Jonathan Infante:  I started directing for theater fairly early. Around my junior year of high school, I got the bug to be in control of a show.  I was also still really interested in being a performer, but I knew I wanted to do both.  In 2000 at age 19, STAGEStheatre in Fullerton gave me a shot to direct a show in their season. It was Picasso at The Lapin Agile.  I had done some shows as an actor and they took a chance on me and helped me achieve an amazing show that we were all proud of. Throughout my career, I have jumped back and forth as a designer and director. I spend most of the year as a designer, but the two shows a year I get to direct really help me get even more creativity out.

 

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Jonathan Infante of Southgate

What inspired you to direct Forum?I was inspired to come back to this show because it was the first LEAD role I ever played. I got to play Pseudolous twice in my early acting career and it has always been one of my favorite roles.  I truly believe that it is one of the most perfect Books for a musical and if you listen carefully to Sondheim’s lyrics, they’re not only brilliant but there is so much hidden comedy in it. Truly, the show has so many layers and I wanted to do something closer to a classic show.

 

Can you explain your overall vision/concept for this production of Forum?

My vision for this show is to remain as true to it as I can be.  This show has been produced many times and directors often take a lot of creative license with it and add and remove scenes. Again, I think the book is flawless and I want to stay true to it.

What do think will be the biggest challenge in this process?

The biggest challenge for this show will be time. It’s a lot of running around and dancing on top of a lot of words. We only rehearse for three weeks. This is something Southgate has always adopted because we know it’s hard to give up a lot of time for rehearsal when you’re not being paid large amounts of money. The chase scene is 25 pages of non-stop movement and dialogue. That will definitely be a challenge for all!

Sounds like fun! How does your role as Artistic Director of Southgate tie into your work on Forum? With this show, you’re juggling a lot of different roles –how do they all fit together?

My main job as Artistic Director of Southgate is to ensure that our productions meet a certain standard.  My job as director is to deliver a solid show.  These two jobs can go hand in hand at many times.  I fit it all together by surrounding myself with amazingly talented staff that help me meet the expectations of both jobs.  

 

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Set drawings & inspiration

You also did the set design; give us some insight on what the space will look like and the meaning behind it.

We always try to reimagine shows when we mount them. For this show, we’re going the classic way. Three houses on a street in Rome. The entire show takes place on a single standing set. Tall structures with columns, wacky angles, and vivid colors. The whole show is a nod to vaudeville and our set will be as well.

What do you hope the audience walks away from this production with? What’s the main takeaway?

I have one goal with this show. That the everyone remembers that we need to laugh and this show is a great way to remember that.


lets-play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum runs March 25-April 9, 2017. Half-off Preview Friday, March 24 at 8PM; Opening with Pre-show Reception & Post-show Toast Saturday, March 25. Runs Friday & Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 3PM. Tickets are on sale now. Visit our website or call the Box Office at 714-990-7722 Tues-Fri 12PM-3PM. Have questions? Contact us! Let us know your thoughts.