by Jenifer Coté, Theater Director
About the Production & Design Studio Class
Trying something new is always an adventure, so last year when we decided to add a new course to the theater offerings at SA—one that would conclude with a second theater production—I was both excited and apprehensive. It has always been part of my vision as Director of Theater at SA to increase the technical theater and design program and to give more students real leadership experience behind the scenes on our productions. Adding a spring performance also allows us to incorporate fall and winter athletes into our cast and crew. With the addition of the Production & Design Studio class, which meets during the academic school day, I think we have taken great strides toward making these two visions a reality.
Under some wonderful and skilled adult guidance (Ryan Severt, Sean Freese, Pamela Johnson, and Robin DeLuca), the technical theater students did a tremendous amount of work in helping to design and create the set, lights, props, costumes, and poster. While the actors rehearsed, the “crew” would head to the shop each class period to build. We also had our first student lighting designer on a main stage show (go MacKenzie!). The actors used class time to re-write the text as a group, which was both an enormous undertaking and ultimately a fulfilling challenge, as we debated additions to the text and made the adaptation our own. It was truly a collaborative environment with everyone working towards a common goal and enjoying the ensemble nature of the creative process of staging a full production!
I chose The Servant of Two Masters because of the fantastic adaptation I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival years ago. That performance paid homage to the classical 1700s text, but added a modern and irreverent twist. I also liked the challenge this material created for the students in exploring a new genre and introducing them to the improvisational and “over the top” stock character work required for Commedia Dell'Arte. In keeping with the true Commedia tradition, our actors have added current social and political commentary to the text—references drawn from contemporary culture and recognizable to the community where the production itself takes place. You may notice a lot of “inside jokes” that feel very Sonoma Academy, but that is how the troupes of the 1700s would engage their audiences as they moved from town to town, seeking out information about the social climate and creating jokes about their current audience and community. And considering some of the darker and more provocative material we have addressed over the past few years, the timing felt right for a light and fun period comedy.
Acknowledgments and Deep Appreciation
With the amount of time we actually had to both teach and learn to build in the course of one block period per day—and under the pressure of getting the set and costumes completed in time for the opening—we could not have been more blessed with the parent support that appeared on this production. Just when we needed it most, Krista Cobbold’s parents, Robert and Nina, dropped in like angels from above (a real Deus ex Machina moment) and spent countless hours pulling everything together, often with personal items from their “magical barn.” I am so grateful for their expertise
and skill and the tremendous amount of time they dedicated to helping us with the set, props, and costumes—all with great warmth and a true educational spirit. I would also like to thank our very own Sean Freese for taking it upon himself to help me with this course, not only for helping to redesign and reconstruct our shop space to make it more user friendly for building, but for the countless hours he dedicated to our class this semester.
I would also like to thank the other adult leadership on this production: my dear friend Kate Brickley, who helped with voice/speech and dialect; Pamela Johnson, who came in to lecture on Costume Design; and Larry Williams, who organized a Commedia workshop for the actors. We were also fortunate to have very strong student leadership on this production. Sarah and Stacey were an outstanding team in the roles of Assistant Director and Stage Manager. Stacey also took on a huge role in construction (wielding power tools like a boss), and I appreciate all the hours she dedicated to building the set.
And as always, I am particularly grateful to YASA for their tireless help throughout this process with meals, concessions, ticketing, and house management. The Arts at SA rely on YASA heavily and we so appreciate their presence and nurturing support! Also a final thanks to the parents, staff, and students at Sonoma Academy for helping the arts to flourish on our campus, and for always supporting and championing our productions!