Venus in Fur is busy with putting up sets, hanging lights, and all of the other technical preparation that goes into our shows. A few weeks ago we sat down with Jamie Beemer, the show's technical director, to chat about the show in general and its various technical aspects.
Producers: So the role of the Technical Director really depends on the director and the relationship there, whether it’s more design or implementation. Where does that balance sit with you?
Jamie: It usually depends on the size of the show. The smaller the show — I wouldn’t say that the TD has fewer responsibilities, just more hats. For Venus Ryan [Bassett, the director] and I discussed what would be best: should we find designers, or can we work together and handle it? Ultimately we decided that I should just wear all the hats: I did the set design, I’m doing the lighting design right now, and sound design is ongoing.
Producers: Tell us about the set design. Abstract or naturalistic?
Jamie: Naturalistic. The script calls for an old factory or warehouse setting. So the walls are all brick walls, and that’s the majority of what you see. For lighting we’re putting in actual fluorescent lights in the show, so those are going to be another naturalistic aspect. The set is meant to look a little run-down – If you look at factory settings the older you go the more house brick they are because they hadn’t utilized cinderblocks yet. Like the red house brick—
P: Or like the yellow brick at the old Button Factory on Regina Street.
J: Exactly, yeah. So we’re kind of going with that, hoping to give it more of a weathered look. Everything inside as far as props and set pieces are meant to look like they’ve just been plopped there. The idea behind the show is that they’ve rented this room in an old warehouse to do their auditions for this show. And that’s exactly how it happens: if you go down to Toronto to audition for a show that’s exactly where you end up, in a rented space somewhere. Sometimes it’s a hotel or a banquet hall, but it depends on the budget of the show; usually it’s just off an alley somewhere.
P: Whatever kind of building the director and producer can find.
J: Yes, and the cheaper the better. So this is kind of meant to look like a truck pulled up, and here’s your table, here’s your chairs, here’s you’re coffee machine, and the truck takes off.
P: Are you handling the props for this show?
J: Some of them. Like I say, multiple hats. Ryan’s got a source for the divan, which was going to be the difficult one to find and also the one that he was most particular about: he went and did that. Elizabeth [McFaul, the SM], Nyssa [Tilford, ASM], and I are now sourcing everything else. Thank goodness for technology and email, because we can just shoot pictures back and forth all the time: "I found this thing, does it work for you or not?" We’re always looking for donations of props we need, or borrowing props. Budgets are always tight, especially for shows with small companies, and if you’ve got to go spend $100 on this and $100 on that it eats up your budget really quick. So anything that we can get donated or borrow is good.
P: It’s such a small show, only two actors to costume; are you running into troubles with your budget?
J: No, so far we’re very cost-minded. We do have somebody taking care of wardrobe, Mara, and she’s a phenomenal costumer. The costumes will cost us a little bit, but I believe she’s making a lot of it and from what I've seen they look "magical". That saves us money in the long run, because materials are a lot cheaper than going to buy the actual outfit, especially if you can’t find it at thrift stores or other companys' wardrobe departments.
P: Exactly. And it’s always a crap shoot going to the thrift stores.
J: Sometimes you find what you need and sometimes you don’t. The biggest things are communication and finding sales. Last week a sale came up on some of the more expensive pieces we needed to build the set, and I just happened to catch it. So the next day we’re there, the producer and I picking everything out for the set and making the purchase. In the end it saved us about $400.
So right now here’s what we’re looking at for the set design.
P: I see what you mean about the brick style. Is that all painted or textured bricks?
J: We didn’t buy the regular Masonite, we bought a sheeted material that has bricks stamped into it so it has a 3D effect. That’s part of what was on sale as it's not the cheapest stuff in the world.
P: So you’re going to have a build week without any painting, then.
J: There will be minimal painting. We kind of looked at it, and I thought that we could build it and paint it all, but there are several concerns that came up. One, it’s a lot of brick. If it was just one flat I’d say yeah, OK, but since it’s the entire set it’s harder to make uniform across the whole set. It’s also a matter of getting people skilled enough to paint it, and we don’t have many people in the production. I’ve done brick before, a while ago, and it’s extremely time-consuming. To do it properly, even a third of one of those flats could take an hour and a half. So to actually do an entire set it wasn’t feasible.
The other concern that we had is that this show has a chance to go to the Western Ontario Drama League festival. So then we get into transporting; if it does have to be get transported we don’t want to tape the seams, because then we have to untape the seams, and then put it back up and touch it up at the new theatre. Also, paint tends to get wrecked in transport; as much as you try for it not to—
P: There’s going to be dings, and you only have a few hours in the morning before you have to get to the rehearsing.
J: Exactly. The set’s been designed so that all the panels bolt together. It makes it really easy to put back up if we do go to WODL. Everything’s pre-drilled for the bolts; you just line everything up, throw bolts in, tighten it up, and you’re done. Once everything’s together at the show here, I don’t see it taking more than a day and a half of build to put up. We’ve decided, because it might be transported, we’re just going to glue and staple everything. So it should be a quick put-together once everything’s been cut.
P: So nothing is changing if you end up in festival.
J: We’ve taken a look at the festival stage, it is a bit larger than what we have here.
P: Sarnia’s a traditional proscenium setup, isn’t it?
J: Yes. So the only thing that we’d change is how far back we’d set it. To be honest, anything else wouldn’t be feasible. By the time we find out if we’re going to WODL or not we won’t have the time or resources to do anything different.
P: What kind of challenges are you finding with our space in particular, since you’ve worked in much larger venues? Lighting, I’d imagine.
J: Lighting is particularly a challenge here, but in the end I don’t have any major worries about it. Concerns would be potentially lighting positions and circuit locations, but at the end of the day I think the theatre has enough fixtures and cabling that we can make it work. I’ve designed a fair number of shows in the past in larger spaces, and no matter where you are there’s always going to be challenges. There’s always going to be a circuit that they said was there that isn’t, or doesn’t work.
P: You mentioned fluorescent lights; are you bringing those in or are you just using the work lights?
J: No we’re bringing them in. We’re hoping for two or three fluorescent fixtures that are hung below the grid, just above the set height – maybe 9’ or 10’ up – just to give that effect. The show goes through a couple of lighting looks; one’s with the fluorescent lights on, and the other’s sort of a mood we’re in where we’re practicing, reading. So during that time Vanda goes over to the panel and actually flips breakers. That’s our lighting cue right there: she flips breakers, we bring the fluorescents out and bring in a couple of theatre lights.
P: Let’s talk about the sound design.
J: It’s very small for this show. Because it’s a very small theatre and only two actors there are no microphones; there’s just a couple of sound effects that we have to source, and then obviously your intro music and such.
P: So there’s no intermission, right?
J: Right. Once the house lights go down you’re stuck in there with us for an hour and a half.
P: And there’s no background music or anything during the show?
J: There’s thunder, we might put some rain background in, we’ll see how it sounds.
P: But no music, no soundscape.
J: Right. The original show doesn’t call for it. Ryan is taking some directing liberties with it for certain things, but for the sound effects we’re pretty much just keeping it to the original production.
P: Have you seen the show before?
J: I have not, no. It’s actually a fairly hard show to find. And that’s fine; I think Ryan wants to keep this production our own. The issue with seeing shows is that you design off of them. Which is fair, I’ve done it — I’ve done lighting designs and I’ll sit there with a Broadway copy and I’ll scrutinize it. But sometimes it’s nice to have your own thing. You don’t always want to reinvent the wheel, so you do go to the original production for some things, but other times it is nice to have the original idea of it. In this case this is truly our rendition of the show, which is nice. I’m not sure I’ve done a show that fully is before, where not many people have seen it on stage before. It’s nice to do a show that’s just ours.
So that’s what we’ve done: here’s the script, here’s everything that we need for it. When I go through the script, I take notes on every pages number for set, props, lights, sound… I’d do wardrobe but Mara’s doing that here. For every single part of it I have to go through and make a reference: what scene is it used in, does that affect how it’s used… how is it used in the play? Like, does it have to be functional? Can it just be a prop? Does it get picked up or is it just sitting there? If it is just sitting there, then we can make it a little less realistic if we have to. But if they’re actually picking it up and using it, we have to take other things into consideration.
P: This is your first show with the little theatre. How did you get drawn into it? Did someone recruit you, or did you just find us?
J: I just found you, to be honest. I sent an email saying I was looking to get involved; I was doing it professionally before, took a break to do school, but I still need that theatre aspect in my life. So I looked around, reached out to KWLT, KWMP, and I’ve worked a lot with Page 1 Productions.. In the end, if people are looking to get involved all you have to do is ask. I’m sure you guys are always looking for people—
P: Almost always.
J: So that’s what I did. And then Carolyn [Galvin, the Executive Producer] kind of had my name, and was like “I want to get you in a show”, and then Venus in Fur popped up. So I read probably the first five pages and I was hooked, I decided that I had to be involved in this show. I don’t know what the draw was; it’s a little risqué, which was a nice draw. I like the concept of it, the flow of the show.