By Meggie Hoegler
At the Ryerson Theatre School, budding actors and actresses get a chance to stand in the spotlight and refine their thespian skills. But what most of us don’t see are the students who work behind the scenes — the theatre production students. From painting four metre high sets to finding the perfect salmon-pink upholstered couch to fit a 1930s living room, these students have been hard at work creating a Broadway-worthy set for the upcoming production of You Can’t Take It With You.
The first winter semester performance from Ryerson’s theatre school is a comedic play that originally premièred on Broadway in 1936. It revolves around the adventures and misadventures of two families: the Vanderhof/Sycamores and the Kirbys.
The backstage team is made up of theatre production students from all years. First- and second-year students take on assistant-like roles, while third- and fourth-year students are assigned managerial roles. Their work on the play will count for 100 per cent of their grade.
For every fourth-year show, Ryerson brings in an industry professional to work as a guest director alongside students — this year, it’s Blair Williams, who previously worked at the Shaw Festival.
“It’s a great way for them to make connections,” said Williams, who has worked with Ryerson, George Brown and Dalhousie theatre students.
Anna Spencer is a third-year theatre production student and the stage manager on You Can’t Take It With You. She said working alongside a role model has been nothing short of inspiring.
“(Williams) can get a performance out of actors with as little as two words,” Spencer said. “Other directors I’ve seen take two minutes of explaining to extract the same performance.”
Spencer describes her job as a bridge between “actor-land” and “production-land.” She orchestrates everything from dress rehearsal schedules to providing Band-Aids for injured actors.
“I’m a bit like a mother figure too,” she said.
Ace Oputu, a third-year theatre production student, was tasked with recreating a living room inspired by something your grandparents may have grown up in.
“It means going to a lot of places to pick up all of these strange items,” Oputu said.
Oputu watched the Broadway version of the play on YouTube to get ideas for the set.
“When I was picking props, I based them off of what I saw in that performance,” he said. “Ryerson has an enormous storage room for props.”
Krista Gorizzan is in charge of painting the set.
“I have been a painter my whole life,” said Gorizzan. She had flecks of paint, in every colour of the rainbow, on her clothes. “This is my passion.”
The set itself consists of separate walls, each between four and five metres high, with a hand-painted wallpaper design. It took Gorizzan and the paint team nearly 100 hours to complete.
“It’s all hand-painted vines, crowns, motifs …. It’s extremely detailed,” Gorizzan said. “At a certain point in the show, you will see a flat covered in tiny silver dots. There are exactly 450 dots, all hand-painted.”
Stage production students “know so much about so many things,” said Marc Blanchard, who will play the character Mr. DiPinna in the production.
“They make the process so smooth. There’s nothing better than if people are positive and bring that energy into the rehearsal room — that’s the best thing you can have,” he said. “Consistently every Ryerson production team I’ve encountered has been so nice and so fun to work with.”
Anthony Perpuse, a fourth-year acting student, will play the role of Paul Sycamore, an eccentric figure whose favourite pastime is building fireworks in the basement. Perpuse said this show is a great way for actors and production students to build connections with each other to use in future endeavours at Ryerson and beyond.
For their next production, a series of short plays titled New Voices, the acting and production students get to choose their own teams for their productions.
“These people will be graduating with us,” said Perpuse. “If I have a production need, I can refer to these same people and vice versa.”
The production runs from Feb. 5 to Feb. 11 at the Ryerson Theatre.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Feb. 3, 2016.