Susannah In The Shops

by:  Allie Herryman at 04/05/2010

In the shops on Huntington Ave everyone is busy preparing for the upcoming production of Susannah, which will play at the Boston University Theatre April 15 – 18, 2010. The musical drama in two acts, with music and text by Carlisle Floyd, is an Americanized version of the "Susanna and the Elders" story from the Book of Daniel in the Apocrypha. Written in 1955, Susannah received the New York Music Critics Circle award for the Best New Opera in 1956 and was chosen to represent American Music and Culture at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1956. It is now one of the most performed and beloved American operas, ranked second only to Gershwin's Porgy and Bess

But for us, Susanna is this year’s iteration of an annual collaboration between the Huntington Theatre Company, the BU School of Theatre, the BU School of Music, and the BU Opera Institute. Those of us hard at work on the production are aware of just how much hard work and communication are required to pull off such an endeavor. 

In the costume shop, Becky (left) cuts apart a old and worn dress to use the fabric for quilt squares, which will appear as props. “This is what they (the characters) would have done, too,” she said of the project. 

Meanwhile, in the paint shop, student Stephanie Huck (right) applies a coating of texture to the walls of the set. Charge Scenic Artist Corey Shipler described the texture as a mixture of “potters clay, liquid latex adhesive, sand and sil.” Sil, he said, is a product similar to talcum powder, which is added to the clay to help make it less heavy. “It’s all about the texture,” he added, describing the way future coats of paint on the walls will settle into the cracks of the texture, creating a surface that the lights can play off of. “It will look like there’s about a million coats of paint on here,” he said. 

Both the paint shop and the scene shop have been working on several trees for the stage, complete with brightly colored fall leaves. The bark of the trees is created with a variation of the same texture mixture used on the walls, then painted. Shipler said that at the beginning of the season it took the shop almost two weeks to make one tree. For Susannah, they turned out seven in just one week! 

Stage direction for the production is undertaken by Sharon Daniels, Director of the Opera Institute, while William Lumpkin, Music Director for the Opera Institute, handles the conducting. The designers are all BU School of Theatre students (Design and Production): Scenic design by John Traub, Lighting Design by Mary Ellen Stebbins, Sound Design by Andrew Will, and Costume Design by Liz McLinn. Construction of the designs is the responsibility of the Huntington Theatre Company shops, providing the exciting opportunity for students to collaborate with local professionals. The cast is made up of Opera Institute students, and the 37-piece chamber orchestra members are students of the School of Music. 

Allie Herryman is a graduate student in Production Management/Technical Production at BU’s School of Theatre, and works part time in the Huntington’s Production department. 


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