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Behind the Scenes at Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre - Set Construction

All sorts of people work “behind the scenes” at the Athenaeum. One group of these people is the set builders.

Our set builders are all volunteers – currently there are six on the team. Although some Directors like to call them “the boys” they are far from it! The youngest is 63 and the oldest is 81. They are led by long-term volunteer Steve Nichols – this is his seventeenth year of set building! During construction, the crew usually comes in at 10 am most weekdays and leaves at 3.30. Unless there is an “emergency”- when they can be called upon at all hours.

The usual procedure is that on the Monday following the last night of a production, set demolition begins. By Wednesday the stage is clear, the flats and other material that can be re-used are stored and the rest goes in the dumpmaster or is donated to a local men’s shed.

For each play there is usually a Set Designer who will provide detailed plans of the set layout and quite often a scale model. The design is outlined on the stage with chalk, checked and adjusted, and then the building process begins.

After the construction is complete, the scenic artists and set dressers move in (also all volunteers) to complete the set to the usual high standard. We like to quote the (unknown) patron who once said to Steve “I’ve seen a couple of crook plays at the Athenaeum – but never a crook set!”.

An added challenge at the Athenaeum is the stage floor which has a hump in the middle as well as sloping downwards. This plays havoc with any set piece mounted on wheels – we have to be very careful with a piano on stage as it may end up in the audience!

It usually takes three or four weeks to complete a set – although some more complicated ones have only just been finished for the final rehearsal! The most complex set in recent times was that built for “Noises Off” in 2010 where the entire set had to revolve 180 degrees, changing from a stage set to a “behind the scenes” view. The set was mounted on more than fifty wheels and was estimated to weigh almost 2 tonnes. It took four people to get it revolving, and once it started moving it was very difficult to stop!

In addition to building sets, the construction crew attends to various maintenance jobs around the theatre (they recently built new noticeboards for the foyer) and they are currently building a small display box to be used in an exhibit at the Museum next door.

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