This week, in continuation with our coverage on “Lysistrata,” I interviewed Jason Sheppard, the technical director for the LMU theatre department and the set and sound designer for “Lysistrata.”
“Lysistrata” is a comedic play adapted by Ellen McLaughlin from the original "Lysistrata" play written by Aristophanes. The play features a woman named Lysistrata who convinces all the women of Athens to help stop the Peloponnesian War in 411 B.C. by having the women of both sides refuse to have sex with their partners until a peace treaty is signed. From Nov. 11-13, “Lysistrata” ran on the theatre arts department’s website and was directed by Katharine Noon, chair and professor of theatre arts.
"Lysistrata" challenged what was feasible for remote plays. The play combined a real-life set created within the theatre department building on-campus as an additional element to accompany the Zoom boxes that the performers were in.
Set and Sound Designer Jason Sheppard said, “I took this idea and ran with it, creating a miniature Acropolis (1/2" scale) to be used for the set. The set which includes over 13 buildings like the Acropolis and the Propylaea was used for three primary location backgrounds, ... some scene transitions .... and a large one-shot credit sequence at the end of the show.”
In terms of inspiration, Sheppard said, “I did a lot of research before designing this set. I tried to incorporate as many of the structures that were standing on the Acropolis in 411 B.C. when the play takes place. I found pictures of many recreations and photos of a few large scale models as well. Ultimately a few structures had to be sacrificed for space - the model does have a 20' by 10' footprint onstage. The model had to be built on our revolve on stage so that it could be turned in any direction for lighting purposes.”
However, tackling this project was a momentous task. In order to bring the 700+ 3-inch-tall clay puppets to life, Sheppard enlisted the help the entire crew and dozens of students.
Sheppard explained, “the Basic Stagecraft Lab, as well as the Theatre 450 crew class were all mailed blocks of clay, toothpicks and instructions on how to build 50 clay figures for the set and then given a date to mail them back to LMU. After that, my work-study students off-campus fabricated and costumed about 750 of those puppets for the production. There was also one student, Logan Phillip, who lives on-campus and was able to help with a great deal of the painting.”
The process became more complicated than expected, as Sheppard usually has many work-study students working alongside him to create sets. Sheppard attributed the success of completing the set to long hours of work, the students' collaborative efforts, and John Burton, the prop master, who was instrumental in the behind-the-scenes process.
During the play, the set was streamed in the background, and the puppets were moved on and off screen to simulate the motion paths of the performers, adding a touch of realism to expand the limitations of Zoom.
To read more of the Loyolan's coverage of Lysistrata, view our Q&A with the cast and stage manager here.