Behind the Scenes at Fairfax High School

Behind the Scenes at Fairfax High School

It takes massive amounts of preparation to put together a demanding show like "Blithe Spirit." Not only must the actors and actresses master the timing of playwright Noel Coward's linguistic wit, but also the technical aspects of the show must be honed to perfection. The designers and technicians have been working since December on creating a concise show. Everything from the layout of the set to special effects and costumes are designed and created by Fairfax High School students. Bob Smith, the theater director at FHS, has always made it his policy to give his students control over the creative process. Because of this, his students are able to familiarize themselves with multiple facets of a show. Often the cast and production crew lists are almost duplicates of each other.

"Blithe Spirit" is not unique in this regard, however what does make it different is the level of technical planning needed. "We're essentially building a house," Smith said of the one room set at an early production meeting. Usually, a theatrical set at FHS is built close to the show's opening and is really only stable enough to last through a week or two of dress rehearsal and performances. This set on the other hand, has to withstand slamming doors, flying furniture and other various and sundry supernatural happenings all the while maintaining aesthetic qualities of a 1940's English country living room. This is the job of Grace Weik, set designer, and Beth Goodell, props mistress. Together they are creating an image of placid British living to contrast with the strange occurrences of the show.

The person behind destroying Weik and Goodell's vision each night is Grace Royer, special effects coordinator. She is charged with making the impossible, possible. Royer is working out ways to make the audience believe they are actually seeing vases hurl themselves across the room and pianos play independent of human manipulation. She is also working on the integration of a variety of new technologies into the special effects.

The cast's costumes also present a challenge. Despite the small cast, costume designer Meredith Jones finds herself making multiple costumes for single characters, which they must be able to change into and out of relatively quickly. She, make-up designer Gabriella Adler and hair designer Sierra Salman have spent hours researching the fashions and restrictions of the era to develop a realistic interpretation of people in the 1940s. They must also make people appear to be mere spectral presences. Without the luxury of film technology their basic tool is color. "By countering the colorful costumes of the living characters with the completely gray ghosts, we can show the audience that these characters have died," says Jones of the color choice.

A skilled, creative production team does more than just paint a pretty picture for an audience. It is their job to create the world the in which characters come to life. Without sets, lighting, sound, costumes etc. it doesn't matter how talented an actor or actress is, they're just someone on a bare stage, in the dark, that no one can hear.