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Misery - The Show That Brought Nothing Short of Joy

Avery Johnson's Neptune Chrysalis Experience

Hello, Dalhousie Fountain School of Arts community! I am thrilled to be able to share the incredible experiences and knowledge I gained working at Neptune Theatre as the RBC Chrysalis 2022 Apprentice Set Designer! This was a fantastic opportunity, and I am also working as an Assistant Set Designer on the upcoming Production of Elf the Musical so stay tuned for my experience and stories!

Avery Johnson outside Neptune Theatre

For some background, working as an Assistant Set Designer is a super cool and fun job. I get to sit in on the meetings in the preliminary design phase and follow the production during the rehearsal, construction, and installation phases. It gives you a great sense of everything and everyone involved in each stage of the process and evolution of the show. You also get to collaborate with all the incredible departments that make theatre shows possible like lighting, sound, props, costumes which is my favourite part!

My role and responsibilities

My role in this production was assisting our incredible set designer Andrew Cull in any remaining design tasks and follow-ups. I joined the process in late August, so the set was already designed, leaving much room for exciting conversations about pyro techniques and special effect props. For those who don’t know, the play Misery is based on the Stephen King novel and involves lots of suspense, gore and intricate special effects throughout several critical moments in the play. It was super valuable to get to be a part of these conversations and learn about all technicalities that an audience member doesn’t think about when they come to see a show. I learned so much about licensing and the proper licenses and processes involved when real firearms are onstage. Other things, such as any smoke or fire used onstage, must be approved by the fire marshal, and have a fire plan. Understanding these behind-the-scenes elements is super valuable as it gives a designer a great sense of timelines and budgeting. You understand how certain effects can add money and time. So having a grasp on these factors is essential when you are choosing the pyro/props you wish to have so they can be realized on time and on budget.

Photo from the set install of Misery

What I learned It was also exciting to watch the construction of the set evolve and be a part of helping and suggesting solutions to set changes as they arose. I got to be a part of conversations and make suggestions to solve design and construction problems which taught me a lot about any last- minute editions that a designer may request. Each piece of scenery (which refers to any walls or furniture) needs their own technical drawings. Technical drawings are the blueprints that the shop needs to build the object. They include all the measurements, angles and details around paint finishes and textures.

These drawings take time to create and must be accurate as the shop copies precisely what’s on these documents when they are building, so if you’re drawing is wrong, the piece will be off in real life! Understanding this is critical when requesting any additions, adjustments, or modifications because it affects numerous people. The director must make and approve the decision, and then new drawings must be created and sent to the shop.

Only then can the shop start to build, which can delay the set installation in the theatre Learning how each team works together and how these steps get coordinated was extremely valuable to watch and be a part of. Seeing the installation of the revolve was also a super unique experience! Not many shows have a revolving set and learning how a revolve gets installed and the physics around how it works were super cool. As an audience member it gives off the “wow” factor but learning about the details around a set being built on top of a moving object with actors learning how to interact with it opened my eyes to the incredible things you can do with staging and design.

Dress Rehearsal for Misery

And now, for the best part... TECH WEEK!

This is always the most exciting part of a show opening for me because you see all the elements come together, the set, costumes, and incredible actors onstage. Watching the dress rehearsal and hearing the notes was eye-opening because it showed me how amazing the entire creative team is and how many last-minute sound and lighting cues/looks got completely transformed less than 24 hours before preview night! Seeing how adaptable the team is and how collaborative each department is during the final hours is really cool. The stage manager controls and manages the stage but watching sound and lighting teams collaborate and timing the sequences as the actors adapt to these changes in real-time was incredible. The Neptune Theatre professionals are truly unbelievable, and this was such a wonderful experience. Everyone on the Misery team was so friendly, kind, encouraging as I learned the ropes and the space.

I truly loved every second I got working and being a part of the evolution of this show and seeing it realized on the stage, and I cannot wait for what’s to come on Elf the Musical, so thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more!

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