Musical involves major behind-the-scenes efforts from many

Release Date: February 4, 2009    

PLAINVIEW – Chris Moore is used to building elaborate sets for the Wayland Baptist University theatre productions. He’s good at stretching limited budget dollars and being creative with resources.

But the upcoming Centennial Homecoming production of Man of La Mancha, a full-scale musical set for Feb. 19-22 in Harral Auditorium, has presented extra challenges for Moore, who serves as technical theatre director. It has also pulled resources from throughout the Harral Complex as instrumentalists, artists and others gather for the major event.

Besides just the massive set he’s constructed on the Harral stage – Moore calls it “the beast” – the musical production will also feature a 20-piece orchestra under the direction of Timothy Kelley, director of instrumental studies at Wayland. Add in art students helping design poster art and an adjunct instructor teaching choreography and the result is a massive team effort from the entire university.

“For a university of our size and our faculty numbers, this is a major accomplishment,” Moore said. “It takes longer to do all this, but I’ve got the same number of student workers and their hours that I normally do. So it’s a challenge.”

The fact that Wayland has not tackled a show of this magnitude since 1995’s The Music Man and audiences still remember that show makes Moore admittedly feel a little extra pressure to create a memorable masterpiece with La Mancha. Throw in the university’s centennial and an expected larger Homecoming crowd, and the perspiration gets a bit heavier.

But the challenge has proved rewarding, as Moore has relied on much research to help inspire him in creating the set from a 16th century Spanish prison and literally transform the traditional auditorium space into another world for audiences.

To do this, he removed the stage curtains, built a set nearly as tall as it is wide and incorporated the alcove areas into the set in order to reach into the audience. The seating arrangement in Harral – not in stadium style but basically at the same lower level – means sets have to be elevated to be seen well. His experiences the past few summers with the Sacramento Mountain Theatre Collaborative at Ruidoso’s Spencer Theater have proved valuable in that aspect, as the stage and seating is similar there.

The space itself creates challenges. With no true fly system in the auditorium, traditional painted backdrops can’t just be dropped in with scene changes. Instead, the set must help incorporate that, and creativity comes into play heavily in that aspect.

Moore said after he completed his research, he drew a floor plan and created a scale model of his idea, then presented it to director Jeff Kensmoe, who was excited about the multi-level design. But once the scale model is turned into a large version and actors and dancers climb on board, some tweaking is always involved.

One thing Moore is excited about is a concept for the horses ridden by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

“The script calls for the actors to ‘ride’ on people with horse heads or capes, but while I was researching some of Julie Taymor’s work on Broadway, I got the idea of a marionette for the horses,” Moore explained. “The actors will actually step into the puppet and operate the horse’s legs during those scenes. That’s been a fun challenge to figure out how to make that work.”

A major source of stress at this point is costuming, Moore said. With no real costumer at the university and little resources nearby to recreate the time period, Wayland has relied on costume shops around the nation to pull from their resources. The tricky part is not knowing exactly what those will look like until they arrive on Feb. 9, just 10 days before the show opens.

Since lighting depends heavily on those aspects, Moore said he has to wait to set lighting colors and schemes until the costumes arrive for more than 25 actors. But he’s convinced that things will work out and that through the entire process, students will learn much from the whole experience.

“From an educational standpoint – and we have to remember that we are a university – we have been able to teach the students about working in a bigger space, learning the fly system and how to do things very exaggerated,” he said. “We’ll be doing some special effects on stage and with makeup, some shadow work and using trap doors and such, and those are cool for the students to experience.

“Also, working with some semi-professionals on the set, with Dr. Runnels as an actor and not the director, and with a different director in Jeff Kensmoe have all been valuable for our students.”

The experience has also been an exercise in restraint for Moore, since his imagination and his budget rarely align on a private college campus.

“You really have to watch your money closely on a show like this,” he said, laughing. “You could literally spend $10,000 on a set like this and not think a thing about it. But having the special centennial funds has helped us do some special things.”