Wanted: one 14-foot-long alligator that can hold three opera singers. Must be able to fly above stage.
Fulfilling such requests might sound like the stuff of fiction, but it’s all in a day’s – and often night’s – work for the Claire Trevor School of the Arts production team.
“Students dream all this up, and we get to make it come true,” says Keith Bangs, the team’s technical director, who still has that alligator.
The 14 team members who work on costumes, lighting, sets, props, audio and production management for arts performances received the Living Our Values Award for their behind-the-scenes contributions. The awards are given annually by Chancellor Michael Drake to staff, faculty and students whose actions best embody UCI’s values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation and fun.
“Our job is to present other people’s ideas – to take the designs created by students and faculty members and make them come alive on stage,” says Toby Weiner, arts production manager. The team produces more than 10 major drama works, four dance concerts and more than 100 music performances annually, as well as special campus events such as the Medal Awards dinner.
Costume shop manager Vera Bailey – whose past credits include costumer for “American Gladiator” and Laguna Playhouse – has worked with staff and students to create everything from a lobster costume to a tuxedo for the bronze Anteater statute outside the Bren Events Center.
“Measurements had to be taken of the statue, and then there were statue fittings,” Weiner says.
Bailey and her staff teach students to sew, dye fabrics, perform alterations and assist with quick changes backstage. They rent or borrow costumes from other theaters and movie studios, and occasionally buy what they can’t make or dig out from another costume shop.
“Sometimes you just can’t find that pair of size 16 cowboy boots,” Bailey says.
She buys about 800 yards of muslin a year, along with unmentionables like bra cups and boning for corsets. Often, making a costume requires technical sleight-of-hand.
“Once we had to make a birthday cake big enough for a stripper to pop out of, but small enough to fit through a doorway,” Bailey says. The solution? They made the cake out of nylon and boning and decorated it with foam flowers. The costume worked like a collapsible tent, folding sideways when the actress squeezed through the doorway and falling to the floor on cue with a pull of Velcro fasteners.
Unusual requests also are common for artists, carpenters, foremen and others who build the sets and props in the production studio.
“It’s always different. One day we might build a bridge from West Side Story, and the next a fisherman’s wharf for Twelfth Night,” says Bangs, who supervises the studio.
Among the team’s challenging projects: an elevated train track that could withstand the weight of jumping Jets and Sharks inWest Side Story, and a 20-foot span over the orchestra that supported dancing girls.
“There are a lot of interesting engineering problems,” Bangs says.
Production team members work crazy hours to pull off such feats, putting in late nights and weekends for rehearsals and shows. Yet whether they’re setting up lights (Ronald Cargile), stage managing the music events (Sarah Ormsby) or making sure the sound is working (Scott Collins), they say the reward is working with students to bring their vision to life.
“It’s a very dedicated group. They love the arts,” Weiner says. “All of them could work in professional theaters, but they chose UCI because they love to share their knowledge with students.”
Arts Production Team: Vera Bailey, costume shop manager; Keith Bangs, technical director; Ronald Cargile, lighting supervisor; Scott Collins, audio supervisor; Cristin Downs, assistant production manager; Joseph Forehand and Kevin Hale, shop foremen; Aaron Jackson, scenic artist; Shirley Kesler, props supervisor; Erik Lawrence, senior wardrobe technician; Yentrang Le, senior wardrobe technician; Sarah Ormsby, assistant production manager – music; Jeffrey Stube, master carpenter; and Toby Weiner, production manager.