The Asolo Rep Scenic Studio is an absolute Disneyland of props. There are beautiful accent chairs and sofas fit for the queen’s living room, and there are ratty chairs that should be sold in a neighborhood garage sale. There’s even a metallic gold chair that’s large enough for Sultan Kosen himself.
Hanging from the ceiling are handmade turkeys that could be mistaken for a Thanksgiving feast. There are paintbrushes, paint cans and blueprints everywhere; in every corner of the studio, broken down sets are tucked away. Nearby, one worker sneaks in a few minutes of shut-eye by taking a catnap on top of a table. In the middle of the studio sits stack after stack of Styrofoam books that will soon be prepped for the “Bonnie and Clyde” musical, which runs through Dec. 19, at the Asolo Repertory Theatre.
When the “Bonnie and Clyde” set arrived from the La Jolla Playhouse, in California, huge chunks were missing. The set had been submersed under water during a storm in Texas — where it was being stored at the time and where “Bonnie and Clyde” had its world premiere — and most of the costumes had melted into the cardboard boxes.
Salvaging and reusing everything they could, Bill Atkins, the Asolo Rep studio’s head stage carpenter, and his wife, Joann Waters-Atkins, scenic charge artist, got to work.
“Of the pieces that were existing, it was a lot of aerial stuff, like flying walls,” Atkins said. “The challenge here is structural, making all the angled pieces fit into each other. It’s a big, open, rustic, almost all-wood set. Although we have no determination of where the set will go or when, we’re building it as if it’s going to Broadway.”
For Joann Waters-Atkins, the set became a marathon of painting over the last eight weeks while she mixed up glazes and colors to create a rustic, distressed floor out of new pieces of wood.
“What you’re not seeing, unless upclose, is that she does five-to-six- step processes in faux paint,” Atkins said. “Because the wood is very new, there are glazes for water, moldy splatters and a sealer coat.”
And, because this particular show uses a lot of stage blood — at least 10 gallons — made up of Karo syrup and food dyes, workers have to be able to mop the floor after an actor is shot. And getting the bloody scenes to go off just right is almost as complicated as a space shuttle launch. The blood has to go into a blood pack, into the costume and then is electronically configured down to the second it will burst. Finally, someone has to wash and repack the blood packs for every show.
“There’s a gutter that runs under the stage to collect the blood,” said Victor Meyrich, production manager. “In La Jolla, the blood kept running down and splattering on the orchestra because the stage was on a slope. The orchestra got very upset.”
“We joke that we’re going to make Mason jars for the orchestra here,” Atkins said. “Just a bit of stagehand humor.”
Designers Bill and Joann Waters-Atkins list their favorite sets.
“We built nine dressing rooms, three stories high,” said Bill Watkins. “All of the action takes place in the dressing rooms. It was a challenge to build, paint and dress the rooms, haul them to the theater and raise them like building blocks. They looked like building pre-fabricated condos. We textured the ceiling and cut pieces of plastic to look like metal. They all had to be modular to slide in together. After the first two, it was like, ‘Oh, God, there are nine of these.’”
Chevrolet Corscica national TV ad campaign for Canada
“It was a commercial for Chevy Corsica, but the fun part was the church,” said Joann Waters-Atkins. “We built it in the shop and used crackle paint, then knocked it down, put it on a flat bed and hauled it to Ocala. We parked at a 7-Eleven and put it together.”
‘A Tale of Two Cities’
“It was Tony Walton. There’s not much more we can say,” Joann Waters-Atkins.
“It was the story of Amelia Earhart,” said Joann Waters-Atkins. “The set was raked up like a capsule or hotdog with curved ends. We put this blue carpet on it and had fiber optics all through it in several sizes. At times, it looked like twinkling stars, at times like water. It was a set that was everything, but not really anything. We missed our mark — that would have been one hell of a skateboard thing.”
Contact Loren Mayo at email@example.com.
Watch the Bonnie and Clyde video trailer below.