Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Artisan Exchange: Matt Wolfe at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

I've come to Ashland Oregon for the A Ha! Artisan Exchange program and it is absolutely beautiful here. There's a mountain that looks over the town; at least I'm calling it a mountain. I'm not sure if it's tall enough to qualify or not, but it had snow on it on a day when the rest of the town was warm and sunny, so I'm calling it a mountain. I can't get a good picture of it. I keep trying, but the camera can't capture the scale. Photos do not show how it's in the background of everything you do in town, or how the light shifts on its hills throughout the day. I need a time lapse high definition video.
Ashland is beautiful, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is right in the heart of it. Everything in this town seems to be based around OSF. Every other store has a name that's taken from a play or a Shakespeare reference: Puck's Donuts, Stratford Inn, Oberon's Tavern. The town is designed to cater to out-of-town theatre patrons. It's a one-themed tourist town, but that doesn't aggravate my anti-touristy buttons the way a normal tourist trap would. I think it's because everyone here is so laid back and isn't constantly trying to sell you something. There is a West Coast, laid back attitude and an abundance of hippies. There are more street musicians here than anywhere I've ever been. Well maybe not La Rambla, but it's certainly close.

Someone told me this statistic: Ashland has a population of 20,000 people and 300,000 people descend upon it each year just to see theater.That's glorious and gratifying for someone working in this industry, but also crazy.

I was able to fit right into the scene shop. There are some things they do differently due to the repping of shows, but the basic premise and tool use is the same. I've been getting to use some of their cool machining tools and have played with some of their automation equipment, but I'll get more into that in a bit.

The biggest difference in the construction of scenery here is that everything is built to be light. The stage operations crew takes apart and reassembles shows up to 120 times during the season. Our shows generally move once, and then sit still for three months. Everything here is designed to be lightweight and easy to install and shift. Platforms are built out of 1x, they use 1/8" Maso to face everything and even the metal pieces are made from an extremely light gauge steel (which is difficult to weld without blowing through when you're used to the thicker stuff.)

I got to watch the shift for A Wrinkle in Time to The Tempest. The OSF stage ops crew is a machine. They went from this:
to this:

to this
 ...in 90 minutes. That was cool to see. A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. I got to do the load-in for this show and am so excited to see it this weekend.

We are working on three shows at once, which is a change for me. The show I've been working on this most is Richard III. It's a fun show and I'm sad I won't be around when it goes up. I'm hoping someone sends me pictures of the finished set. I'd like to see how it changes the Allen Elizabethan Theatre (also known as "The Lizzy"), which is a very cool space:

Some neat things about the Lizzy: The Tudor facade looks like it would impose restrictions on scenic designs, but it is actually very malleable. Most of the trim can be removed and replaced by custom trim designed for a given show. Everything is built to be coffin locked together so it's easy to take apart. Many of the openings have automation built into them. The walls on the sides of the "center below" slide away; the center below arch can track on and off stage separately from a slip stage; the slip stage can track to front of the stage or retract to reveal a trap room beneath. The slip stage even has a track built into it's modular parts, which operate off a push chain. That's all cool, but the coolest thing I saw was a Snowy Owl that lives in the space and hunts pigeons. If there is anything I regret about this trip, it's not getting a good picture of her, she was gorgeous.

The OSF scene shop is cramped, but I got a tour of their awesome new production facility. Most of the shops will move over there this summer. It's huge and will be amazing space to work in.

There is a full-size version of the Angus Bowmer Theatre trap room built into the floor, so they can build and test scenery in the shop without having to load it into the theatre. I was also impressed by the 1/2 ton capacity beam with the chain motor overhead. It can move on x and y axis AND it has wireless remote control. Oh, and there's two of them.

I've been working with the automation team for the last week and their system is very different from ours back home. It's hard to draw parallels because of the major differences in set up, but it is certainly cool to observe. I'm particularly impressed by the modular belt-driven lift towers.

These are built to fit the trap room's specific height, but can be spaced around the room to create different size lift beds as needed. When ganged together, the four tiny motors can provide an impressive amount of force.

The biggest tool I'm learning to work with is the metal lathe in the machine shop.

It requires an intense level of precision, such as measurements of 5/10,000 of an inch. It's a slow process and often messy, but I ended up making some very cool things.

With that, I leave you with a picture of standing stones outside of a gas station:

....because this town is full of hippies. And I love it.

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