BUT, AUDIENCES LIKE SCENERY . . .
"Hi. Have you got any of that fancy scotch left?"
The Glenlivet? I think so. Yes, here it is. I was just getting ready to quit for the day, so I think I'll have one with you. You've got about a hundred phone messages on your desk. Where have you been?
"Working with the architect. We have problems."
At the theatre?
Have you decided what you're going to name it? Or, whom you are going to name it after?
"That is the least of our worries at the moment."
Here's your drink.
"Thanks. Any ice?"
You're not going to chill or dilute this liquor with ice. Sip it slowly and appreciate the flavor.
"Can't I get some ice, gulp it fast and just get blind drunk?"
That's always an option, I suppose. Things really that bad?
"It won't fit."
What won't fit?
Well, that certainly clears that up, doesn't it? What everything won't fit where?
"Take a look at the preliminary floor plan. Once we cram all 499 seats in, along with the aisles spaced to absolute minimum Fire Code requirements, and if we give each seat decent sight lines, there isn't enough room left for the stage."
Let me take a look. I'm sure it's not all that bad.
"Look all you want to. The architect and I have spent hours going over it. There simply is no way to squeeze out any more room for the stage!"
Okay, we have a 30-foot wide proscenium opening, right?
"Right. We're incorporating the existing support columns as the proscenium frame itself."
And you have 10 feet of wing space on each side.
"The only way to get more wing space is to close in the proscenium opening."
On center line you have a stage depth of 28 feet?
"Take away the crossover and we only have 24. Use an act curtain and we're left with a stage only 22 feet deep!"
So, what's your problem?
"It's too small."
No, it isn't.
"There's no wing space, no fly space, and the stage is only 22 feet deep! It's too small!"
This stage is bigger than half the off Broadway houses in Manhattan. It's not too small. Who told you it was?
"No. Marguerite St. Johns. I met her at that Broadway Cares benefit you sent me to last night. She's beautiful! Strawberry blond hair, lime green eyes, and a voice that sounds like a purring kitten."
Oh dear Lord.
"What are you laughing about?"
Nothing. Go on.
There, is this better?
"It's not funny. She's the most gorgeous woman I've ever met. I thought she was a dancer. She's got one of those dancer's bodies, you know."
And you find her attractive?
"We talked for hours. We ended up having breakfast at some place down in the village. I walked her home. I'm taking her to dinner tomorrow night."
Somewhere in all this talking the two of you did, did she happen to mention what she does for a living?
"Wait a minute! Who do you think you are, my father?"
Right now I'm feeling a bit like your father. What does she do for a living?
"I don't see where that's any business of yours."
Okay, if you won't tell me, I'll tell you. She's a Scenic Designer, isn't she? She either is or wants to design sets for the theatre, right?
And, of course, you told her all about the off Broadway theatre you're building, right?
And you, wanting to keep her interested and talking, ask her how the stage should be configured, right?
And she spent quite some time going into details about how everything should be laid out, correct?
"Were you like sitting at another table listening to our conversation or something?"
No. But I can probably tell you everything that was said - as long as you were talking about theatre anyway.
"Bet you can't."
Let me see. Something along the lines that the wing space on each side of the stage should be at least twice as large as the main performance area? And something about the depth of the stage being at least two and a half to three times the width of the proscenium opening? And something else about the fly tower being almost three times the height of the proscenium opening? I'm guessing that she didn't start talking about hydraulic stage elevators or you wouldn't have made it in to work at all today.
"But, those are the minimum requirements, aren't they? For a real stage?"
For an ideal stage, perhaps, if you have millions of dollars and acres of land to build it on. But no Broadway house meets those specs, except for the Vivian Beaumont and possibly the Gershwin in the right configuration. And remember, several small off Broadway houses only have stages between 16' x 12' and 20' x 22'. Playwright's Horizons', one of the best off Broadway stages, is only 30' x 35'.
"I thought it was bigger than that."
Off Broadway productions tend to use every available inch of free space and not clutter the stage with too much scenery. That's why they usually appear larger than they really are. In reality, overly elaborate or unnecessary scenery is the first thing you can do away with. It's expensive and in most cases harms rather than helps a good play.
"So you're saying that our stage size is fine because we shouldn't plan on filling it with lots of scenery?"
Precisely. We are building an off Broadway theatre. The projects we will present are going to be straight plays and the occasional small musical. Our stage size is perfectly adequate for this purpose.
"But, audiences like scenery."
And some projects need lots of scenery. But most don't. Look at Art at the Royale. All you need is three chairs and a coffee table, everything else is superfluous. Look at Ah, Wilderness up at the Vivian Beaumont, one of the best equipped stages in town. All Thomas Lynch uses are a dozen pieces of furniture and a wagon to change scenes. That massive backdrop is pretty but it isn't necessary.
"We can live with this stage then?"
Easily. My three priorities for a production are lighting, costumes and make-up, and sets, in that specific order. In most cases good lighting and costumes can do anything and everything that elaborate and expensive sets can do, and do it a lot better. Why pay for something you don't need?
"But some plays need big sets."
Yes, they do. And when you're producing one of those projects go out and find the best Scenic Designer you can find. Take a look at this book, American Set Design Two by Ronn Smith. The design work it presents is astonishing. But even the designers represented in this book know when to leave a stage as empty as possible. Just look at the pictures.
"Wow. These sets are incredible."
And almost all of them, except for the designs for Operas, could be installed on our stage as is.
"I still wish we could make the stage a little bigger."
Look at this floor plan. How much room are you allowing for each seat?
"We agreed that we wanted comfortable seating so I specified seats 24 inches wide with a back- to-back of 36 inches."
Reduce that and we should have lots of space left over for the stage. Would you agree that the seating at the new Ford Center is pretty good?
They only use something like 22 inches wide by 34 inches back-to-back. Where is the calculator? Let me work this out. Yes, I thought so. Dropping it down to 22" x 34" gives you an additional seat in each row, which means you need one less row of seats in the orchestra. That, plus taking the additional two inches from each row, reduces the depth of the orchestra seating by just over six feet. That's six extra feet you can add to the stage, giving a total depth of 34 feet.
"Which gives us a depth of 28 feet even after subtracting for the cross-over and curtain!"
"It's better than it was, that's for sure."
So we can call it a day and go home?
Just do me one favor, okay?
Tomorrow evening, at dinner with your Miss St. Johns, don't offer her the job of designing the set for Neverland. At least, not yet.
"Theoretically speaking, what would be your reaction if I admitted I already had?"
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