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Constructing Toad Hall

Courtesy photo
This panoramic view of the Alban Arts Center's set for "The Wind in the Willows" shows how it extends out into the theater, immersing the audience in action on three sides.

WANT TO GO?

"The Wind in the Willows"

WHERE: Alban Arts Center, 65 Olde Main St., St. Albans

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: Adults $15, seniors and children $10

INFO: 304-721-8896 or www.albanartscenter.com NOTE: Limited seating; reservations suggested.

_____

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Alban Arts Center isn't the biggest theater space in the county. In fact, Alban Arts Center director Adam Bryan figures it's one of the smallest.

He said, "We probably have the least amount of space [of any local theater group]. We have the least amount of wing space, the least amount of space for equipment."

And with a production like "The Wind in the Willows," which continues this weekend at the Alban and features a cast of 45, the actors really need to have some room to move.

"Not having enough space forced me to get creative, to think outside the box a little bit," Bryan said. "I didn't have enough space, so I just built more stage."

The theater group added space along the right and left walls.

Bryan said the play, based on the classic children's book by Kenneth Grahame, didn't specifically call for the extra staging. He just felt the theater needed it to complete his vision of the play.

Adding more stage to the theater was a huge undertaking, more than he was prepared to take on alone. So, he asked his friend, Tom Wasilewski, to come lend a hand.

"He's my best friend from high school," Bryan said. "We spent the weekend just building the set. It was a good time, like when we were teenagers."

The director said he and Wasilewski just sat down and hashed out what Bryant wanted to do informally.

"We didn't have a lot of stuff drawn or written out on paper. It was more like we discussed things, let it evolve to the best idea possible and then we just started building it."

Wasilewski was a natural resource for Bryan to tap, not just because the pair worked together in high school, but also because Wasilewski has been doing a lot of set and stage construction lately. 

"Tom is on medical leave from the military," Bryan said. "He did two tours in Iraq and was actually pretty injured while he was there."

Wasilewski, he explained, injured his back and ankle after an improvised explosive device attack on a vehicle he was traveling in.

Bryan added, "He's not allowed to work without losing his benefits, but he's not the kind of guy who can sit around and not do anything."

So, while he's recuperating, Wasilewski has been helping construct sets for community theater groups and school drama departments near his home in upstate Pennsylvania to keep busy.

Between the two of them, Bryan said, they got the superstructure done over a weekend. The rest, Bryan and his crew finished slowly during the first month of rehearsals.

"We didn't do any set blocking," Bryan said. "That's usually the first step after the read-through. Instead, I gave everybody the general idea of 'I think this is going to happen. We think you might be over here. We think you might be over there.'"

Bryan said he told his actors to focus on their characters, listen to the other actors and memorize their lines.

"I think that made some of the actors nervous, but it really paid off in the end," he said.

Bryan was pleased with how the production has turned out. Even with the extra work on the stage and the large cast (most of them under age 16), he said it really wasn't work.

"It was probably the easiest show to put on."

Mostly, because the cast of 45 is really four main characters and 41 auxiliary characters, most of whom are only seen somewhere on stage for a moment or two.

"So really, it's sort of a small show."

With a very big set in a little theater.  

However, the extra stage isn't permanent. After the show has its final performance Sunday afternoon, most of the stage will be torn down and painted over.

"We have to get ready for the next show," Bryan said. Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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