As the first official day of set building began, Patch sat down with Jeff Allen, the set designer of this year’s Repertory Theater production of Anything Goes. Although Rep Theater has employed professional set designers in the past, this is the first time that a civil engineer - without a background in theater production - will take on task of setting the stage for one of the community’s most highly anticipated events of the year.
Jeff Allen (husband to musical and choral director, Jan Allen) has nurtured a love of theater for years, while designing local structures, such as the newly renovated McDonalds on Route 22 in Scotch Plains. With the help of about ten parent volunteers, Allen will build the set for Anything Goes over the next five weeks with just one building day a week.
“I have always loved the theater and the arts. I love seeing Broadway productions with my wife. But now, it is very interesting to read a script, and visualize the environment you are creating and then make it happen,” Allen said.
While the SPFHS Rep Theater production of Anything Goes that occurred nearly ten years ago followed the 1930s iteration of the show (originally starring Ethel Merman), this year’s production will follow the 1986 version that appeared at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in 1986 and starred Patti LuPone.
Allen explained that his interest in being a part of the Repertory Theater community began when he attended last year’s production of Hairspray.
“Sitting in the audience, I saw the amount of professional fulfillment and joy that my wife, Jan Allen felt from interacting with the students; it seemed like an amazing experience. I knew that with my background in landscape architecture and construction, skills, and the ability to plan a process, I would be able to contribute to another success for the program.”
Leaning over several detailed blueprints of the set design, Allen explained that the main stage will feature a two tiered ship with stairs on both sides, and will include a top level where the actors will tap dance during the show.
“This is the piece that will be shown during the majority of the show. We also created several wagon set pieces that will be rolled on and off stage for the individual scenes. These include the ‘brig’ or the jail, and individual cabins belonging to passengers on the ship,” Allen said.
Allen explained that the challenge of fitting the size of the constructed set to the high school stage would have been much more cumbersome had it not been for a student who made a large contribution to the school in the form of his senior project.
“One of the students last year completed an AutoCAD dimension drawing of the stage. This means that I had a blueprint of what the stage looks like, so I already had a base map to draw and sketch upon,” he said.
Allen has spent a great deal of time communicating with director, Matt Capodicasa and choreographer, Gisa Dilorio to develop a complete understanding of not only their vision for the show, but also the practical needs and safety of the dancers and performers on stage. Allen stated that this coordination ensures that everything moves smoothly throughout the production.
“Planning is everything. If you don’t forecast ahead you can’t react to any of the changes that will occur. I have had multiple discussions with the director and the choreographer in order to plan out as much as we can to ensure that this is not a fly by the seat of your pants operation. We have even designed where these wagons will be placed when they’re not on stage.”
On the first day of set building (see photo gallery accompanying this article), Allen focused on assessing the vast amount of inventory that has been purchased over the years and has been stored on site.
"Today we will be focusing on painting and building the wagons. I have gone through [the inventory] so that we can reuse as much as we can. Today we are building the wooden bases of all of the moveable pieces and horizontal wagons. There are a lot of students here today that are painting all of the bases black,” Allen explained.
Allen expressed his gratitude for the dedicated parent volunteers as well as the students who are helping create a platform for the magic of Anything Goes. He also noted that in addition to the student volunteers serving on the stage crew, students from Mr. Gutterman’s art class will also be painting the set.
“I had to think about how each individual variable will work for our cast. There are a lot of moving pieces and talented individuals that are making this a reality – especially the parents – because we have a lot of parents who have been involved for years and are a huge asset to the success of this program,” Allen said.
CHECK BACK EACH WEEK FOR A NEW PHOTO GALLERY CHRONICLING THE BUILDING OF THE ANYTHING GOES SET!