With the introduction of the Visual and Performing Arts Center (VPAC) come new advantages, and challenges, to putting on a show. Ever since construction began on the building, the University Theatre has been using the black-box Rafter’s Theatre for productions. Now, with the VPAC, the theatre department has much more space available to work with.
One obvious implication of the VPAC’s size is that sets for plays and musicals must be much bigger. The upcoming musical, opening in November, is the “Pirates of Penzance.” Not only is this University Theatre’s first musical since “Hair” in 2009, but it is also the first musical in the VPAC.
Victor Capecce is the scenic designer for “Pirates of Penzance.” His experience in the entertainment industry is considerable. Before coming to Millersville University, Capecce worked in New York, both on Broadway and in the television and film industries. “Saturday Night Live” and “Ghostbusters” were a few of the many projects he was involved in. At Millersville University, Capecce has been the scenic designer for a number of University Theater shows.
For “Pirates of Penzance,” Capecce says he needed to think about the set differently than he did for other productions that were done in the Rafter’s Theatre. One of the most obvious differences is the size of the VPAC’s stage, as opposed to the Rafter’s. To put things in perspective, Capecce said that Dutcher Hall, the building where the Rafter’s is located, could probably be placed onto the stage at the VPAC.
This being the case, the set had to accomplish a few things. One of these things, Capecce explained, was to make sure that the audience did not feel withdrawn from the play. Another issue he mentioned was that the stage was so large it would be easy for members of the cast to seem tiny in the vast amount of space.
To minimize this, Capecce explained the importance of what he called “focusing” the design. In this particular case, Capecce designed what he describes as a “platform” which he says “extends over the edge of the stage to the audience…” This, Capecce adds, brings the play closer to the audience in a literal sense. The look of the set itself is meant to be what Capecce describes as a “contemporary look.”
Capecce also added that the platform, which will be supported by a steel structure and also be used for future productions. Capecce explained that another important aspect of the set was that it was not supposed to look like actuality. Part of the point, he explained, was to be exaggerated. Capecce also remarked on another aspect of the design, in this case the island motif. The set itself principally represents an island, where much of the action of the show takes place. In this play, the island is very tiny, with a ubiquitous pirate ship that seems to be able to appear all around the island.
One of the high points of “Pirates of Penzance,” in terms of the set, Capecce says, is that there is a large amount of freedom involved. Unlike other plays, which sometimes require designers to have very precise components in the set,“Pirates of Penzance,” allows the designer to be very imaginative.
Of course, even so, there are still things that must be taken into consideration. Capecce discussed some of the other ramifications of set design that apply not just to “Pirates of Penzance” but to all productions. The set, for instance, needs to fit the stage exactly and it must be correctly placed so that it is properly lit. What kind of matter the sets are made out of must also be taken into consideration.
All in all, however, Capecce sums the objective of the set up this way: “The goal is to give a fresh, contemporary look to the musical as well as to the auditorium.”
“Pirates of Penzance” opens on November 1 and runs until November 4. Nightly performances are on November 1, 2 and 3. A matinee will be held on November 4. Tickets are available in the Student Memorial Center.