Stage crew brings “The Good Doctor” to life with set, lights


Naomi Yaeger , Staff Writer

“The show doesn’t feel real until the introduction of sets, lights, and costumes,” Etta Singer (11), who acts in “The Good Doctor,” said. While most of the work happens on stage, the Horace Mann Theater Company’s (HMTC) fall production comes to life through the student-produced sets and lighting.

Students enrolled in the Applied Design and Technical Theater class, taught by Technical Director Caitie Miller, are each assigned to either lighting design or set design for one of the HMTC’s productions during the year, Athena Spencer (12) said. While the students each get their own assignment, the class is very collaborative, especially between the two students working on the same show, she said. Spencer was set designer for “The Good Doctor,” meaning they envisioned, designed, and supervised the production of the set. 

On the stage sits overlapping platforms, decorated with an assortment of shapes and colors inspired by paintings created by Wassily Kandinsky, a famous Russian painter from the late 1800s. Since “The Good Doctor” is based on a series of short stories written by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Spencer saw these designs as a way to honor the Russian backstory of the play.

Spencer created the design by collaborating with Manager of the Theatre Department Jonathan Nye, who directed the show. “When we had our first production meeting, he brought these inspirational pictures of Russian paintings and suggested that we incorporate them in some way, which I thought was a great idea,” Spencer said.

Starting in the first week of school, Spencer collected images that encapsulated the set she envisioned. “We start by making a mood board with images and themes that pop into our head,” they said. “It’s a lot of looking up images on Google and Pinterest and putting them together on Google Slides.”

After Spencer finished creating her plan, Miller turned Spencer’s designs into a blueprint that the stage crew could build, Miller said. “My job as technical director is to do all the drawings. Athena had a beautiful rendering of what she wanted the set to look like, and then I figured out exactly what platforms we need to build,” she said.

The stage’s platforms provide a nice centerpiece for the show, Etta said. “It’s really cool that each scene has a platform that it mostly stations on,” they said. “It makes each scene seem separate, but still united by the common set.”

Another member of Miller’s class, Gael Singer (10), was in charge of the lighting design for the show, she said. “I had to decide how many lights were needed, where they had to go, what color they should be, what kind of lighting instrument I needed to use, and how each scene or moment should look.”

The process was very similar for lighting: Gael read the show, drew inspiration, and researched the show. Then, she let her ideas sit for a little bit. “If you proceed without making sure your ideas are decent, it could be pretty difficult to change your mind later on,” she said. Finally, she narrowed down her thoughts into a specific, detailed plan.

Once Gael finalized the lighting plot, a chart displaying where each lamp is hung, she passed it on to light board operator and master electrician Gwendolyn Simon (11), who assembled the plot during stage crew meetings after school on Tuesday and Thursday. “I normally lead a small team of people,” Simon said. “We hang the lights, we focus them, we point them in the right direction.”

Student Technical Directors Bailey Hecht (12) and Juliet Burgess (11) oversaw the stage crew, Hecht said. “‘The Good Doctor’ was a relatively quick build.” Over the course of a month and a half, the stage crew colored the lights with gel to give them their color, painted the sets, and assembled platforms.

Many of the platforms used in the set were repurposed from the HMTC’s Middle Division production of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ last year, Miller said. “All we had to do was put legs back on them, and then we flipped them over and then covered them in what we call facing, the masonite, which is the pretty gray stuff.”

During a work session, the stage crew tends to split into two groups: one works on lighting with Simon and one builds the set, Hecht said. “We’ll have about two-thirds of us building — measuring the wood, cutting the wood, screwing it together, painting, assembling, all that fun stuff.”

Lighting is important not only to convey artistic meaning, but also to serve the necessary, practical purpose of making sure that the audience can understand what’s happening on stage, Simon said. “The main thing about lighting is that their face is lit and illuminated,” she said. “So, sometimes the light needs to be higher so you can see their face, sometimes it needs to be lower, depending on the actor’s height.”

Since the play is composed of many short scenes, the lighting in each scene is unique, Gael said. “There’s one scene in the show that I really adore: it’s called ‘The Audition,’ and it’s pretty close to the middle of the show,” she said. That lighting captures the relationship between the two main characters in the scene — Nina and The Writer, a character present in every scene who represents Chekhov, Gael said. “It captures the energy of Nina, the aesthetic of a theater, and makes the actors visible without compromising on the feeling of isolation or the overall vibe of the show. It also creates a juxtaposition between warmth and cold, which is a subversion of the characterization of The Writer and Nina,” she said.

Since “The Good Doctor” is made up of a series of small scenes, the actors not performing in a scene sit in chairs on stage where they can see the whole set, Etta said. “It’s a very nice time to admire the intricacies of the set,” they said. “My favorite part of the set is the shapes that go up the sides of the platform. They just tie everything together in a way I can’t explain,” Etta said. “I also love the one orangey light on the smallest platform on stage right that represents the ‘writers study.’”

The stage crew built the sets and lighting used by the actors and supported actors during rehearsals, Assistant Stage Manager Charles Ampah (11) said. During a typical rehearsal, Ampah takes notes on what went wrong and what could be improved upon, he said. “I also wrote reports on what we covered in rehearsal that day,” he said. Ampah worked closely with Gael, as she primarily ensured all the lights worked while Ampah assisted in calling missed lines and in ensuring all the actors knew their blocking or their positioning in each scene.

The crew met on one Saturday and stayed late one Friday for a long rehearsal where they worked on specific aspects of the show, such as painting the sets or working on lighting, Simon said. One of these rehearsals was the Saturday paint call, a meeting around two weeks ago where the crew painted set pieces from 10 to five p.m., she said. “We sat together and painted while listening to music, it was such a fun and enjoyable experience.”

At the lighting rehearsal, another specialized rehearsal, actors said their lines as quickly as possible so the crew could practice all the light cues and sound cues, Ampah said. “They were talking at basically 2x speed, which was funny.”

While Miller supervises to make sure everything is safe, the crew is very much student-run, she said. “I think of it like being an editor on a book — they give me their ideas and then I help them refine, I help perfect, and I help them create it,” she said. “One of the things that’s great for me is watching somebody’s joy as their idea comes to life.”

While it can be stressful at times, creating the lighting design for a show is a very fun, creative process, Gael said. “I get to analyze a script in a way I’d never get to in another context,” she said. “It’s really cool to see something I put so much work into come together in a tangible way that other people can see.”