The making of ‘How the Other Half Loves’

Arthur Tagg, Property/Scenic Crew, mops the stage floor before the first dress rehearsal at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 22, 2012. Photo: Danny Duarte

 

At first glance the red and green walls of the set for “How the Other Half Loves” by Alan Ayckbourn, seem off putting and strange.

It’s not until the lights are lowered and the play begins that the audience realizes that they have been transported into not one but two different residences.

Creating both homes was one the main challenges for scenic designer and adjunct instructor of theater Michael Gend.

His solution “was to take both worlds and instead of doing a 50/50 even split across the stage, was to weave elements of both house in all locations on stage.”

However, with almost two completely different sets on the same stage Gend and his crew had to create six feet of additional stage.

Arthur Tagg, is one of many that make up the backstage crew and had a hand in creating the fantasy world.

With a feather in his hat, he took a quick break from his many duties long before curtain call.

“I get everything organized, mop the floor, and get the props ready in the order that they are going to be used,” Tagg said.

For him and the rest of the crew, production started Aug 28. and since then no detail has been too small.

The wallpaper that is seen on the walls, which are technically called flats, was hung by hand and the unique wallpaper design was individually stenciled, according to Tagg

Also done by hand was the painting of the wood floor on the stage.

It’s painted in two different wood stains to mark the corresponding set pieces.

Michael Chandler, who becomes Frank Foster, is one of the six actors that will us the guidelines created by the stain.

As an actor, Chandler has certain rituals before every show which include “saying a prayer on the stage.”

For the next two hours, he is Foster, a “big boss” who “forgets the little things”.

This becomes more challenging once Chandler steps off the stage and changes into a one of the different costumes that Foster wears.

“It’s madness,” Chandler said.

Sometimes he only has 15 lines or a minute and a half to change “and you have to keep your character.”

Helping him and all of the other actors change into different outfits are members of the costume crew.

Eileen Gizienski, the costume designer and an adjunct professor for the theater department, took into consideration the limited time that some actors would have to change.

“You have to try and make it so that maybe [the actor] doesn’t change all their pieces of clothing or maybe it’s simple where everything drops, and you can pull everything on,” Gizienski said.

However, students practice changing quickly, and there are also four dress rehearsals were the actors are able to time the change more accurately.

“How the Other Half Loves” is set in 1969 in the suburbs of London and one of the obstacles that Gizienski encountered “was making it so that the pieces that were pulled were wearable, and not pulled off the pages of a magazine.”

The costumes were pulled from different sources.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” Gizienski said. “Used out of stock items at Pierce, thrift store, vintage shops, and we built about 12 pieces.”

She, as well as students, bring all the aspects of the actors’ costumes together as part of lab.

Everything from sewing, to pulling shoes, and finding jewelry is done by students, according to Gizienski.

Also working closely with the costume crew are students that are responsible for the actors make-up.

This allows for  cohesiveness in order to keep the 1960’s feel for the character as strong as possible.

The make-up artists work together with the costume designer and the director so that the different departments have the same idea when it comes to how the character  should look.

“Actors usually have had some experience with putting on stage make-up and the ones that haven’t get help from either students or the other actors in the show,” Gizienski said. “It’s sort of a community effort between hair and make-up.”

Traditionally, costumes along with hair and make-up are done backstage, but  because of construction they are located in a classroom right next to the theater tent.

It is 10 minutes until curtain and the voice of 21-year-old Bree Cardenas can be heard throughout the costume shop waring actors that dress rehearsal will start at 7:30p.m.

She then heads back to the tent and passes through the set to take her place in the audience.

As the stage manager, she will follow along with the script to make sure that the actors know all their lines, and that transitions are smooth.

Everything both on and off the stage is her responsibility, and before the final curtain she as well as the entire cast and crew would have put in approximately 80 hours of work, according Cardenas.

“There is a connection between us,” Cardenas said regarding working with the same group of people every other day.

“It’s like a quick marriage and a happy divorce.”

By those standards this would be her fourth marriage, already having worked on three previous productions at Pierce College.

“How the Other Half Loves” opens Friday Oct. 26 and runs through Nov. 4. Friday and Saturday shows are 8:00p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2:00p.m.  Tickets are $12 for students and seniors, while general admission is $15.

“That’s less than the price of a 3D movie,” Gend said. “And we’re in 4D.”