Carson students design, build sets for show

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 5, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
CHINA GROVE — When Tyler Graham takes the stage to play a knife during the “Be Our Guest” scene in Carson High School’s production of “Beauty and the Beast,” he’ll be dancing and singing in front of sets that he had a hand in painting.
“It’s pretty neat to actually be in the musical and get to be around sets you helped make,” he said.
Graham, a senior, is one of nearly 250 students who used their talents to design, build and paint sets for the show, which will debut April 26 and wrap up April 29.
Theater, drafting and art classes have been working together to create everything from the village where Belle lives to the books in the beast’s library.
“We couldn’t build at this level if we didn’t get everybody involved,” said Alex Reynolds, Carson’s theater teacher. “A lot of schools have their parents come in and do these big Saturday builds, but this way the students actually get the experience.”
The idea to get drafting and art students involved in the set-making process dawned on Reynolds several years ago when he started working at the school and immediately noticed the need for a larger stage.
Reynolds said he had some set design experience from college, but not enough to pull off constructing an addition to the stage.
“Set design prepares you for what you want it to look like, but it doesn’t prepare you for the intricacies of the building,” he said. “I know all the angles would have to be calculated and that was a level of drafting I just wasn’t prepared for.”
That’s when Reynolds enlisted Jon Casteel and his drafting students for the job.
“Instead of drafting being a class that happens on the computer, they can actually build what they draw,” Reynolds said.
The success of that project sparked a partnerships between the departments to make the sets each year.
“They get hands-on experience and I get builders for my sets, so it’s a win-win,” Reynolds said.
Casteel said Reynolds acts as a client for his students by giving them some insight into what he’s looking for and later tweaking the designs they create.
“We take his basic idea and we do further research on it and we come up with a plan, draw it on the computer and bring it back,” Casteel said. “When he’s happy with it, we start building.”
Casteel said students take pride in being part of the crews that work on the sets.
“They love it because they get to see the whole entire process from start to finish from concept on paper to actual sets,” he said. “We’re trying to teach them the skills of the trade of drafting, the computer part as well as the construction part, they have to realize that someone has to build what they’ve designed.”
The students said they are garnering more than just new skills from the experience.
Senior Will Nollenberger, a drafting student, said he has a better grasp on the value of teamwork.
“In the beginning each person has their own job, but when you pull it all together you see what everybody’s created,” he said. “I can’t do it all by myself so it’s good to know how to work as a cohesive unit.”
Graham said the same goes for the art side. His class might start painting a piece while another class finishes it.
“You have to learn to mold your work to fit what they’ve done,” he said.
Senior Chase Johnson said he’s enjoyed designing and constructing portions of the sets even though his work is behind the scenes.
“A lot of people don’t realize how much work actually goes into it,” he said. “We’re in here working on it every day so it will be exciting to see it all done.”
Junior Kayla Lawter helped paint a large indoor billboard advertising the show.
“It’s been pretty cool,” she said. “It’s fun helping out and actually seeing your work on stage.”
Mark Riley, an art teacher at Carson, said besides the obvious benefits like camaraderie and real world experience, students take away something else.
“This is a whole career possibility for people, they can see if they want to go into set creation,” he said. “I’m just trying to show them there are a lot of possibilities in the art field despite the down economy.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.