If you get a chance to catch The Dolphin Show’s production of “Matilda the Musical” this month, take a moment between the high-energy musical numbers and the quirky, inspiring story to seek out. You’ll see an intricate faux proscenium, the part of a theater that frames the stage, the product of 100 hours of digital drawing and the manual labor of about 25 people.
This process was designed and led by sophomore Communication student Juan Barrera López, who serves as a member of a multi-faceted team running the program behind the scenes, from design to construction to real-time signals.
Barrera López’s responsibility as technical director is to turn the designers’ ideas into a tangible reality on stage. For “Matilda the Musical,” he said this process required 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of wood just for the hanging pieces.
“An incredibly talented group of artists (give you) their ideas and how they want the show to look and feel,” Barrera Lopez said. “You help them get there and figure out what’s doable with the budget we have, the materials we have, and the skill we have.”
A backstage crew is needed for every campus production, and some students, like Communication sophomore Melanie Ahn, study the discipline academically.
Ahn, who majored in theater and focused on stage design, is an assistant stage designer for the musical The Dolphin Show. She has also been a lighting designer for ReFusionShaka, among other student dance productions.
Ahn said that his childhood experiences influenced his interest in pursuing theater design as a possible career.
“I grew up in a lot of different places and moved around a lot, so I was always in different settings,” Ahn said. “Being very aware of how those different places, floor plans, areas and neighborhoods affected me is what motivates me and makes me so interested in this world of design specifically.”
Designers find their way into the craft through a variety of avenues. Although she started Northwestern primarily involved in the fashion world, Weinberg’s senior Annalize Biesterfeld said she realized she could merge her extracurricular passion for theater through costume design.
This year’s Dolphin Show is Biesterfeld’s biggest project to date. As the lead costume designer, they are responsible for dressing 30 actors with an average of four costumes each.
Biesterfeld said that “Matilda the Musical” provided an opportunity to play with color contrasts: the set is black and white, the lighting is colorful, and the costumes incorporate aspects of both. Schoolchildren wear muted gray and white uniforms accented with brighter custom accessories.
“It’s really fun and kind of a change in uniform, because in this world, kids aren’t given a lot of freedom to dress,” he said. “We saw this as a small symbolic way to bring youth, fun and happiness.”
Biesterfeld’s creative process began with “design inspiration planning” for each character’s look, pulling ideas from Pinterest, paintings, objects, and clothing. Then, along with her assistants, they sourced all the costume pieces from Amazon, Etsy, and the actors’ personal wardrobes.
For Barrera López, technical theater is a rewarding process, especially, in his case, when it comes to guaranteeing the safety of the stage.
“Someone has to make sure the site is secure, and that’s us,” he said. “It’s nice to know you’re doing that in the background. Nobody will see you, nobody will know that you are there. But it has to happen and it’s really gratifying to know it’s working.”
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