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A Funny Thing Happened
on the Way to the Forum

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Directed by Karen Panyard
Henry Ford II Highschool

This project came to me through my former undergrad advisor a few months after I finished my degree. The director/theatre teacher had a rough white model of the set, and a book cover that she liked, and I didn’t (it was a photo shopped coliseum in yellow, orange, sea green, and royal blue – painful to look at.) She wanted the different houses in the show to be somewhat distinct from each other, and wanted it to look more traditional than not; beyond that, she didn’t really have much in the way of preconceived ideas about the look of the show. I took her lack of opinion as carte blanche to do whatever I felt like, which essentially what she told me she wanted me to do.

Now it is important to know that when this project started, I was told that I would have several student helper-monkeys at least one of which actually knew how to sew. This was somewhat true, in that she could sew, but untrue in that she was severely immuno-compromised, and switched to an in-home tutor six weeks into the term; thus becoming useless to me. So contrary to my initial grand vision of what I would do with this show, that included screen printed borders on all of the costumes, in custom motifs for the lead characters; I sucked in my desires somewhat, and came up with a simpler, more color driven design, with elemental themes: house of Lycus as fire; Senex as water, Erronia (yes, this one was cast as a woman) as earth, and the chorus as the surrounding air.Incidentally, I also did the color treatments and paint plots, though not the actual painting, for the set. This was useful in that I knew that everything would work with the costumes.

Once I had design approval, and a budget, I proceeded to purchase 5 rolls (about 200 yards) of un-dyed silk in several weights and textures, hack them up, and dye them all sorts of fun colors. On a technical note, by the time I got the fabric I knew I would basically be doing the show by myself, and as such, though it would be in my best interest to go with the period and do most of the show in pure rectangles. Lots of rectangles. Aside from the whole Erronius-Erronia thing, there were a couple of other quirks in the casting. Because this was a High-school production, some bits got split and moved around to allow for more casting opportunities. The simple and expected change was a bunch of extra people playing citizens and soldiers, more tunics, big deal. The interesting changes were that 2 roles, Domina and Phyllia, were double cast, the girls swinging into the chorus on their off nights (The Phyllias were radically different shapes and sizes, by the way.) Oh, and they added another courtesan; Feminea - “daughter of gossamer and silk.” She was decidedly the most ballerina-like of the girls, and somehow a deep, fleshy pink seemed to fit.

And then there was the bodysuit affair… In short, I was told that bare midriffs of the courtesans were OK – until the director actually saw one in a fitting. Two hundred dollars later, all bare bellies were covered in nude spandex. These things happen, I suppose…