"Little Shop of Horrors" plant, lighting prove problematic

"Little Shop of Horrors" plant, lighting prove problematic

April 6th, 2011 by Emily Crisman in Community Signal Mountain

"Little Shop of Horrors" set construction crew member Connor Wilkins, left, and stage manager Alex Kane prepare for the April 28 opening of the SMHS production. Photo by Emily Crisman

"Little Shop of Horrors" set construction crew member...

Signal Mountain High School theater production students are learning firsthand how to handle tough situations behind the scenes as they prepare for their spring production of "Little Shop of Horrors."

Several setbacks and unexpected expenses have been encountered by production crews, which are composed entirely of students.

John Lennon, head of the SMHS theater department and instructor for the production class, said the students were forced to spend $1500 on light rental.

"The lights have been a challenge," said stage manager Alex Kane. "We're not able to change the colors."

He said in order to switch colors, a gel (colored film) is applied to the light, and the lights in the SMHS theater are too weak to shine through the gel.

"The theater was built without adequate lighting," said Lennon. "In order to do a musical, we have to rent them."

"When you get into theater lighting, you really need that extra wash to create that particular mood, and you need to be able to adjust individual lights," said Kane.

The plant featured in "Little Shop" is also causing anxiety for cast and crew. The plant goes through four stages, from a hand puppet to a structure so big it must be controlled by someone inside it using ropes and pulleys.

Kane said the fourth plant is somewhat difficult and expensive to construct, as well as time-consuming. The crew found a plant built at a North Carolina high school available for rent at $1300 for two weeks, plus $1500 for shipping.

Kane said they are considering building their own plant despite the short window of time they have until opening night. The SMHS plant could then be rented out as a fundraiser for the school's theater program.

These troubles have not deterred students from pursuing their interest in production, but have encouraged them to come up with unique ways to remedy various issues that arise.

Kane, who first served as stage manager for the fall production of "Crimes of the Heart," said theater productions at the school are becoming progressively official.

He devised a conflict calendar for each cast member listing various other commitments, which allows him to easily determine where they are when they don't show up for rehearsal.

Another way he helps the production to run smoothly is to be sure everyone is familiar with each aspect of the performance as well as a rough outline of the set.

"Especially since it's our first musical, I wanted to make sure everyone knows every dance and everyone is comfortable working with everyone," said Kane, who has admittedly taken a rougher management approach for "Little Shop of Horrors."

"It's hard when you're the stage manager because you can't have the same friendships [with the actors] as in school," said Kane. "You kind of have to draw the line and can't pay favorites."

To compensate for the school's lack of a Broadway-size stage, the cast and crew have added interactive elements to their version of the play.

"We have skid row tenants mingling in the audience, experimenting with the fourth wall," said Kane, referring to the imaginary barrier between audience and stage. "It's taking a different feel from just watching a play -- it's like you're part of it."

Kane is considering future career options based on his experience in the theater production class at SMHS, which he said teaches skills applicable to occupations outside the realm of theater.


"Little Shop of Horrors" will be presented at the SMHS theater Thursday, Friday and Saturday April 28-30 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 1 at 2 p.m.