Off-Stage Team Helps ‘Shape’ Play Into ‘Collaborative Art Form’

In the SUNY Oswego theatre department's "The Shape of Things" -- opening at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7, for a five-performance run on Waterman Theatre's stage -- Phillip and Jenny (right, played by Alex Forrest and Natalie Griffin) witness the transformation of Adam (left, Adam Sommer) at the hands of the manipulative Evelyn (Cassandra Slough).
In the SUNY Oswego theatre department's "The Shape of Things" -- opening at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7, for a five-performance run on Waterman Theatre's stage -- Phillip and Jenny (right, played by Alex Forrest and Natalie Griffin) witness the transformation of Adam (left, Adam Sommer) at the hands of the manipulative Evelyn (Cassandra Slough).

OSWEGO — As the SUNY Oswego theatre department approaches opening night Nov. 7, for Neil Labute’s “The Shape of Things,” the students on the production team help mold a play that emphasizes the power of manipulation in relationships.

In the SUNY Oswego theatre department's "The Shape of Things" -- opening at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7, for a five-performance run on Waterman Theatre's stage -- Phillip and Jenny (right, played by Alex Forrest and Natalie Griffin) witness the transformation of Adam (left, Adam Sommer) at the hands of the manipulative Evelyn (Cassandra Slough).
In the SUNY Oswego theatre department’s “The Shape of Things” — opening at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7, for a five-performance run on Waterman Theatre’s stage — Phillip and Jenny (right, played by Alex Forrest and Natalie Griffin) witness the transformation of Adam (left, Adam Sommer) at the hands of the manipulative Evelyn (Cassandra Slough).

As the team winds up its preparations, the play’s “game-day” crew and cast will count down to curtain at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 to 9, as well as at 2 p.m. matinees on Nov. 10 and 11.

All five performances are in Waterman Theatre of Tyler Hall.

A shy and awkward young man, Adam (SUNY Oswego junior Adam Sommer) suddenly meets his love-to-be, the artist Evelyn (sophomore Cassandra Slough), who subtly works to alter the young man’s physical traits — his appearance, mannerisms, clothes and, ultimately, his moral character — so he can become someone she thinks is more appealing to society.

The show’s director, Mya Brown of the theatre faculty, stresses that “all of the sets are custom-made by the students. They’re supervised by our faculty and staff — there’s a mentor for each area.”

She added, “It’s important that our students are recognized for the work that they do.”

As a theatre major with a design/technical focus, senior Maria-Ray Ossino works on the play’s construction tasks as a master carpenter.

“I’m here two to three hours every day, Monday through Friday, teaching people how to weld, how to use a nail gun, just use basic things in the shop and teaching them in general what to build,” Ossino said.

Technical theatre includes lighting, costuming, scenery and sound, among other vital jobs.

With all of these areas operating together, it helps to establish the play’s time frame in the early 2000s, a California setting and the overall mood visually of the production.

Ossino explained how the production aspects of a show start months ahead of casting.

“In the spring semester, our team leaders meet to get general ideas down and to get scenic designs ready; over the summer they start drafting so we can build the set by fall,” Ossino said.

Responsible roles

SUNY Oswego’s theatre department prepares its students for life after graduation by encouraging students to play responsible roles in the crew and the entire production team, not just the cast.

Students serve, for example, as scenic designer (Shelby Gilbert), light board operator (Ryan Benson Smith), assistant stage manager (Dorcas Afolayan), lighting designer (Patrick Mathis), and many more.

As assistant director, junior theatre major Ryan Pacheco encourages others to “always look out for positions that (students) can have,” he explained. “People don’t typically know that students can hold positions like this.”

Stage manager Nicole Caroselli, a junior theatre major in the design/technical track, describes her role as “in charge of everything that isn’t artistic.”

“So, basically, all of the technical elements and taming all of the actors during rehearsal,” Caroselli joked.

Behind the scenes

Ossino describes how the production team works as a ripple effect: “It’s a very collaborative art form. We can’t get our job done until we find out what the scenic director wants, and the scenic director can’t get their job done until they find out what the director wants.”

Gregory West is the play’s technical director and a senior dual major in theatre and broadcasting/mass communications, with a concentration in carpentry in the theatre design/technology track.

He directed how the set was built.

West also makes sure the set is safe for actors and crew. The sets must be “strong enough and rigged properly,” he said.

A skill he hadn’t learned before the show, how to weld with aluminum, requires particular care, West said. The prop also needs to be structurally sound enough for actors to stand on.

West says this experience as a technical director allows him to master the field by doing it the “educational way” — first-hand “learning how to budget out material and how to draft it.”

Ossino said, “Even the struggling parts, where you’re tired and you’re working overtime on the set trying to get it done, you still have fun.”

All of the behind-the-scenes work helps feed the play’s theme.

Caroselli says LaBute’s play is a lot about “accepting yourself” in relation to “how someone will dedicate themself to their partner.” American critic and author Daniel Kimmel says the playwright has a dark view: “Neil LaBute assumes that only… evil people, who use and abuse others, can survive this world.”

The cast for the play is just four characters, with four understudies who may take the stage for any performance.

Slough’s understudy as Evelyn is Michaela Buckley, Sommer’s as Adam is Trey Thomas. Witnessing Adam’s transformation and the price it exacts are Jenny (Natalie Griffin; understudy Mackenzie VanHorn) and Phillip (Alex Forrest; understudy Philip Jones).

Tickets for “The Shape of Things ” are $15 ($7 for students with a current SUNY Oswego ID) and are available at all SUNY Oswego box offices, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-3073.

Parking is included in the price of a ticket and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of Culkin Hall and behind Hart and Funnelle residence halls.

People with disabilities needing assistance should call 315-312-3073 in advance of a performance.