Firestone Theatre Run Continues Thursday-Saturday

Catch More 'Big Fish'
Posted on 03/06/2019
Image of "Big Fish" productionOn Wednesday at Firestone High School, technical director James Welch and his student crew attached rods to the legs of three big elephant puppets hanging from a batten above the stage, just one of many steps in creating dancing elephants for the fantastical musical “Big Fish.”

Students Grant Crawford, Ethan Korvne and Alex Meyer drilled or held the elephants’ hinged legs in place so one rod could join the puppets’ left legs together and another the right legs. When the rods were secured, Welch shifted them to show the elephants doing a merry dance.

The whimsical two-dimensional puppets, seen just from the tail end, are part of a huge circus scene in “Big Fish,″ a technically complex show that has required hundreds of hours of work backstage to create the story’s magical realism onstage.

Scenic and puppet designer Dale Seeds was delighted to see that the physics worked for the dancing elephants: “They’ll probably get applause.”

He was planning to add ostrich feathers to the elephants’ heads that will wiggle while they dance in the show, which will run March 1-9 at Firestone Theatre. They’ll also be lit from behind so they’ll glow.

“In some ways, they’re like Balinese rod puppets,″ said Seeds, a retired theater professor from the College of Wooster. “We figured this was actually easier than making [elephant] costumes.”

They’re just part of the stage magic for “Big Fish,” whose main character, traveling salesman Edward Bloom, is constantly telling tall tales of his youthful adventures in Alabama. They include meeting a witch, a mermaid and a giant.

As Edward is dying, his skeptical son Will sets out to find out whether these larger-than-life stories are true.

Director Mark Zimmerman theorized that the musical’s title points to Edward’s unbelievable, exaggerated tales of his search for his destiny: “When you go off on a fishing expedition, you’re, like, ‘I caught a fish THIS BIG,’ and it’s always so much bigger than the fish you actually caught.”

“He’s the hero of every story,″ Zimmerman said of Edward, illustrated in the opening number, “Be the Hero.″

Special designs
“Big Fish” is a complex show technically, with a lot more scenic and special design elements than in Firestone’s recent shows. That includes a portal scenic design that draws the audience into each element of Edward’s story, and another key puppet creation: a 9-foot giant named Karl.

“I’d say this is more of a beast than ‘Chicago,’ ” the minimalist, concert-style musical the school did last year, said student shop foreman Korvne, a junior.

Actor Christian Douglas, a junior, plays the giant Karl, whom Edward befriends. The giant’s torso is built on what looks like a hiking backpack with a tall frame that Douglas wears on his shoulders.

Seeds designed the giant so Douglas will operate its arms with rods. Karl’s arms, made from PVC pipe, have been papier-mached with paper towel by students in the art department, led by teacher Steve Csejtey. Art teacher Dan Coffield also has worked with students to create the giant’s head from chicken wire and papier-mache.

A very long pair of jeans will reach up to Douglas’ armpits to create the giant’s legs, and the actor’s face will be seen through in opening in what would be the giant’s abdomen. In that way, audiences can see Douglas’ expressiveness as he brings the giant to life.

Giant Karl starts out wearing a huge plaid shirt. Seeds shopped for him again recently at the Salvation Army for more extra-long shirts, one of which will be added to the bottom of the plaid one to lengthen it.

“He really looks like someone who’s lived in the hills for a long time,” Seeds said.

Just to add to the show’s complexity, this giant even has a costume change: He ends up wearing a suit.

Show preparation
Student tech crews have been working since mid-January on set construction, painting, sound and lights while the cast rehearses “Big Fish.” For a sneak peek into preparation for the show, see https://bit.ly/2Iy0GvU.

On Feb. 13, charge artist Brooklyn Andrick, a junior, was contouring the elephant puppets and then spattering their hind ends through a technique called “painting down.” Using a long-handled brush on a bamboo pole, she spattered with first white and then dark gray paint to create dimension.

“This technique goes back to the Renaissance,″ Seeds said.

“I’ve never painted down before till now,” Andrick said.

Seeds himself was painting a 20-foot tree on a fiberglass window screen for a swamp scene, one of a large variety of locales in the musical.

“It has so many scenes, and the trick is how to do so many of these scenes and keep in budget,″ the designer said.

The musical’s set is created as an assemblage of scenic elements built around the stage’s proscenium that represent Edward’s memories. Most of these elements are made of Coroplast, a corrugated plastic, a material that student lighting designer Crawford said he’ll be lighting for the first time.

Each of these scenic story portals lights up as Edward’s tales unfold. They include a large daffodil — the favorite flower of Edward’s love, Sandra. A sign saying “Ashton” lights up when Edward goes to his hometown. And in another scene, a patriotic bunting element lights up for a big USO number during Edward’s military service.

“Everything is set in this magical time as a memory,″ Seeds said.

Details
Musical: “Big Fish”

Where: Firestone High School, 470 Castle Blvd., Akron

When: Opening 7:30 p.m. March 1, continuing through March 9, 7:30 p.m. Saturday and March 7-9, 2:30 p.m. March 3

Onstage: Starring Sarah Craven, John Kraus, Jonathan Green, Elek Kitchen, Presley Linn, Mary Rohrer, Serrin Scrutchings, Morgan Bedilion, Christian Douglas and Oscar Laakso

Offstage: Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and film directed by Tim Burton; John August, book; Andrew Lippa, music/lyrics; Mark Zimmerman, director; Chad Pittman, music director; Kacy Albright, instrumental music director; Rachel McCann, choreographer; John Kraus and Marisa Jones, costume designers; Elynmarie Kazle, production manager; Grant Crawford and Mark Zimmerman, lighting designers; Sarah Sterns, sound designer; Dale Seeds, scenic designer; James Welch, technical director; Parker Thompson, stage manager; eMJay Ross and Lanese Lewis, assistant stage managers; Ethan Korvne, student shop foreman

Cost: $10 in advance, $12 at the door; reserved $15; VIP $17
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