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The heart of the stage

Sawdust sprinkles the floor, and students can be heard running up the steps to the stage laughing. Technical director Dan Williams enters the scene shop, coffee in hand, prepared for a full day of dress rehearsals. Matt Satias, set builder, manager and master carpenter with a face strangely reminiscent of Adam Levine, also finds solace in the scene shop. He fits there, among the orderly wood scraps, buckets of paint and plywood. Howard Auditorium is their home, and a place where they can make the stage the audience’s home. The same holds true for the set for “You Can’t Take it With You.”

“It’s like sitting in the living room with the actors,” Satias said.

The piece by Kaufman and Hart has been around since 1936. The story of a rich man from a family of snobs meeting his new fiancee’s well-meaning-but eccentric relatives-in a house to match has been told time and time again through a film and five stage revivals.

The comedy most recently won the 2015 Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play at the Tony Awards.

“I think [the set] shows the eclectic nature of this family,” said Williams. “They are just as eclectic as the Victorian period. The environment in which they live in. They are very unique people, and this is a very unique home.”

The creation of this elaborate, Victorian living room is the collaborative effort of director Courtneay Sanders, Williams, Satias and theatre students in the university work study program. The back of Howard Auditorium houses a scene shop where the students and faculty brainstorm and create the sets that invite the audience into the world of the play.

“I think the set really adds to the story,” said Satias. “Visually, the more of a set you have the more the audience will understand what’s going on.”

The design begins with an initial production meeting between the director, technical director and costume designer to vision cast, making sure all aspects of the show are striving towards the same vision. Williams entered this meeting with a few sample sketches to show to Sanders.

“Then I had a dream,” Williams said. “This is something that happens to me a lot. I call it ‘God Pictures’ because I’ll have a dream, and I’ll dream about the play, and I’ll see it. I sleep with a sketch pad next to my bed because this happens to me a lot. So I immediately get up, and I start drawing while it’s still fresh in my mind. And that’s when I came up with most of this design.”

Satias puts these plans into action as the master carpenter. The scene shop produces all of its own props from inventory or conception. Everything is 100 percent authentic.

“That’s basically how I go about it,” said Satias. “Just looking at the plans and figuring out what material I need, what we have in stock and then just building every piece that we have to build. For instance, the printing press that we have, I just went off a picture and had to build it as close to it. Some pieces or props we buy but a lot of them we have to make them. Like this printing press, because it was from the 1800s.”

“I love that collaborative process and talking with others,” said Williams. “Developing ideas and picking their brain and them picking mine.”

Become a part of the family with evening performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.

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