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Behind the scenes in the scene shop


By Hallela Hinton-Williams

Director of the scene shop Erik Sanning ’89 got his start with an Introduction to Design class.

“When I was a student here, I took Introduction to Stage Craft, now Design. The staff and faculty of the scene shop needed help and were willing to pay us. At the end of the semester, they hired me. For the next three and a half years, I was a member of the staff,” Sanning said. “When I was trying to figure what to do next, a professor called and said there was an opening at the College. Twenty-six or seven years later, I’m still here.”

With two very friendly dogs, Aiko and Bentli, keeping residence in the office, the staff of the scene shop collaborates with designers on plays and performances, implementing their vision and tweaking sets in order to adhere to safety regulations and practicality.

Sanning and his assistant, Kate Baumgartner ’15, who also got her start in Introduction to Design, are well-versed in set building and design. Each performance presents unique difficulties, and they love to rise up to the challenge.

“The professors are really creative, so we can’t rely on what we already know. We have to reinvent the wheel in some ways,” Baumgartner said. “Which is always a fun challenge. Well, sometimes a fun challenge.”

“The shows I’ve enjoyed the most were the ones that were super involved and nearly killed us or were really unique,” Sanning added.

One of their favorites, “Nobody Gets Hurt,” an amazingly unique and intimate work performed to one person at a time, had very tricky pieces to accomplish. The play “Cabaret” also required a labor-intensive, fully environmental set. These performances are some of the most memorable, but each show requires a lot of creativity and effort.

“Fully environmental sets are very labor intensive, because they’re bigger, but often the simple stuff is just as hard. It has to be perfect because there is that one thing on stage,” Sanning said. “We did a show called ‘Constellations,’ and we worked really hard in making sure that the floor was super smooth and glossy because seeing things reflected in the black floor was important to the design. It wasn’t huge and definitely not environmental, but was equally as complicated.”

The diversity of the projects they complete is part of their daily lives, and a point of pride within the staff.

“One day we’ll be doing heavy construction, like building house kind of stuff, and the next day we’ll be painting, and then the next day we’ll be hanging lights, and then the next day we’ll be soldering LEDs to the ends of wires a hundred times over, or we’ll be down in the costume studio sewing curtains or making a twelve-foot diameter inflatable balloon,” Sanning said. “That’s one of the things I like about the job; for the most part, it’s never the same job twice.”

“A lot of what you’re doing in day to day college life is oh, another paper, oh, another math problem, oh another lab. It’s checkboxes, this is more cumulative. You get to see and touch and interact with the things you’re working on,” Baumgartner said.

While they are integral to the success of a show, the scene shop is only part of the full piece of production. The current show “Nice Fish” has a large number of people working on making sure the play is a success.

“We have a costume designer, a sound designer, a scenic designer, who happens to be the light and video designer, the director, drama liturgical team, folks finding props for us, front of house team and stage management,” Sanning said. 

“We are one cog,” Baumgartner added.

Indeed, the scene shop is a powerhouse in the development and implementation of sets for many different types of performances, but is reflective of an intensive production team that effectively accomplishes meaningful productions.

From top to bottom: Baumgartner in the Roberts theater working on “Nice Fish” set, Sanning (far right) advising student workers in the Scene shop.
Photos by Mahira Faran


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