CTC production team responds to evolving ‘Three Sisters’ needs


Jenny Kennedy, assistant stage manager, of Brooklyn, N.Y., moves across the stage organizing the set design for Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of “Three Sisters,” which opens Wednesday at Bratton Theater. Photo by Megan Tan.

Suzi Starheim | Staff Writer

As the opening of Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of “Three Sisters” approaches, the production team finds itself finishing an evolving set of needs for the play.

Production Manager Joe Stoltman said while this is his third time working on a production of “Three Sisters,” each time has presented different challenges. For this production, directed by Brian Mertes, the team has responded to aspects of the show that have changed during rehearsals.

“This ‘Three Sisters’ is a very organic process, and by that we mean a lot of it comes out of rehearsal rather than as a plan the director has,” Stoltman said. “Those are extremely challenging processes for managers, because we need to plan what’s coming down the pike, and oftentimes they don’t know until they are actually going through rehearsal and see what they need.”

Because needs might change based on the decisions made in each rehearsal, the production team began the season with a 35-item prop list that has now grown to approximately 120 items.

Nikki Mills, associate production manager, said these variations in what the production requires are due to Mertes’ style of working with the actors to figure out the play.

“They make discoveries together in the room working together as an artistic unit,” Mills said.

In addition to responding to the changing needs of the production, Mills said the team is working hard to create two “special effect” aspects of “Three Sisters,” which will be revealed to audiences once the play opens.

“It’s always fun to do special effects, break out of the box and do something you don’t do on every play,” Mills said. “It’s also fun for the audience to get to experience something new; when we can, we pull in special effect-type projects. It’s really exciting.”

Mills said it’s fun for the technical team to re-implement techniques that they have already learned or to master a new skill to create aspects of the show.

While the production team is hard at work making sure the play has all the aspects it needs to go smoothly, Chris Soley, technical director, is hard at work constructing the set for the play.

Soley is responsible for turning the set designs into actual structures on the stage, Stoltman said.

To do this for “Three Sisters,” Soley began with a few days of reviewing the drawings to estimate how much lumber would be needed to build each structure. This process began for “Three Sisters” in mid-May.

From there, Soley figured out specifically what materials they would need for each piece of the set and what they already had in stock to use.

The major pieces of the set for this show include three large walls, which can be broken down into approximately 42 individual pieces, called flats, to be moved to Bratton Theater.

One of the major challenges in constructing the set for this show was one of these three walls, which is made of steel and Plexiglas. This 16-by-24 wall is going to weigh approximately 800 to 900 pounds.

Soley said while they are building these pieces, the team needs to consider their size, making sure they fit through the theater doors. They need to remain at a manageable size so that Soley’s crew can safely and efficiently build and load them into the theater.

Soley said the evolving nature of the production has also impacted the general structure of the set of the play as they work to complete it.

“The set for this show is pretty different than what typically goes into Bratton Theater,” Soley said. “It’s a little more out there and a little less concrete, so that’s fun.”

The different design of this production “lends itself to a timeless aspect,” Mills said.

The design may surpise audiences who are expecting a traditional Chekhov production.

“The point of Chekhov’s plays, for a lot of people, is about the internal action,” Stoltman said. “It’s not about what you do on the outside; it’s about the internal monologue and the internal tension between characters, so oftentimes what you see is a very realistic representation. We’re not going that route with this show, so it will be somewhat divergent from what you would normally see if you went to see ‘Three Sisters.’”

Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of “Three Sisters” runs July 6 through July 17 at Bratton Theater.