Trez Cole should be holed up inside his shop at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre and sawing away at a platform while wood chips and dust fly past his face.
Instead, he’s standing at the top of several stairs that go down into his lair, where 40 years’ worth of set pieces are jammed together in piles and stacks. The only freestanding object is his worktable.
“You know those Chinese puzzles where you have to move the pieces around to make a picture?” he asks. “That’s what this is. The shop is very small, and other directors can’t believe I put out of the shop what I do — it boggles their minds.”
Twelve years ago, when Cole needed some extra cash, he came to the theater’s owner, Bob Turoff, to help out with set changes. After a few years, he met Turoff’s daughter, Kyle. The two fell in love, and Cole was promoted to a full-time employee and, ultimately, technical director.
Cole’s latest project has been remaking the set for “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off,” which was the theater’s opening-night production 40 years ago and will make a second appearance on the Golden Apple stage this summer. Turoff kept a few photos from the original set, which consisted of several platforms that centered on a circus ring, but he wanted Cole’s creative spin on it.
“I understand how to build things in construction, so I can translate it into being eye-appealing for people who come to see the show,” Cole said. “It was originally built round, so I utilized what I had and took rectangles to accomplish the same thing. The original stairs were solid, but mine are open, translucent stairs, so you can see through each step.”
His most challenging set was “Cats.” The design he received did not fit the small space of the theater’s stage, which is often difficult to design for because of its unique shape and height.
“At the Asolo, you can have two stories,” Cole said. “But to make two stories here and have it work is challenging because we only have 15 feet, and at the opening of the stage, at 12 feet, there’s an eye beam. We had to wrench Grizabella up in a basket that was only 3 feet tall, so she had to sit down as it came up, and as it came back down, she had to stand up. I rode it myself first just to make sure it worked correctly.”
“Urinetown” has been Cole’s favorite set to build so far at Golden Apple. He started out with 3,000 pounds of raw material, which he cut, welded and fabricated into a spiral staircase. He built the whole thing upside down on his work table, and when he went to set it up, he only had to re-drill three holes.
“The fun part is to build something that looks like it’s unstable but is actually stable,” Cole said. “It’s about being a part of something that’s bigger than you. That’s the magic of theater.”w
Cirque Du Soleil’s “O” — “I would love to spend a day with the technical director for ‘O.’ Just the visual effects and how it all works, it’s just phenomenal. ‘O’ is the one with the water, and the whole main curtain just disappears and goes, whoosh! And then it comes back. I just find that fascinating.”
Flying Foys — “I would love to work with the Flying Foys and learn about rigging. They do ‘Peter Pan.’ I was an Eagle Scout, so I took engineering and knot tying and can do a lot on my own and understand the principals. But I would love to learn how they do that.”
IF YOU GO
“Stop the World, I Want to Get Off” runs July 6 through Aug. 7, at the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, 25 N. Pineapple Ave. With a score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, it is the theater’s 40th anniversary production. For information, call 800-652-0920.
“I’ve been blacksmithing for 28 years, so welding and metal work is my love,” Trez Cole says. “I fabricate for people, do custom pieces and restoration of antiques. If somebody has a piece of old wrought-iron fence, I match it and recreate the original design with modern materials.”
Contact Loren Mayo at email@example.com.