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22 February 2008

New Spinning Stage Makes JSU Productions More Efficient

Jason Bozeman stars at Tevye and Abby Parks as Golde in JSU’s production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ Photo: Jan Rhodes/Special to The Star

By Shawn Ryan
Star Entertainment Editor

Reprinted here in its entirety.

A little after 7 p.m. tonight, the time will come for a scene change in Jacksonville State University’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.

However, instead of having stage hands rush hither and yon, pushing furniture on and off stage, lowering backdrops and wheeling walls back and forth, someone will simply push a button. At that point, a section of the stage will slowly spin, effortlessly bringing the new scene into view while tucking the earlier scene into the stage wings.

They hope.

“I have full confidence that it will work,” says Fiddler director Eric Traynor. “They say it will be ready and I’m going to trust them.”

“They” are David Keefer, technical director for JSU, and his staff. And “they” are pretty much on the hot seat come tonight.

Since November, they’ve been designing and constructing a computer-controlled, 24-foot spinning circle — a turning stage — that will allow new scenes to be put together offstage while the play is going on out front.

“If everything functions properly, it should expediate the scene-changing process,” Traynor says.

A week or so before Fiddler debuts, Keefer and his crew are still working on the device. But he, too, is confident that it will be ready in time.

“This is something we’ve been thinking about for a while,” Keefer says. “Not a whole lot of colleges and community theaters can afford this. It’s more for the big touring shows. But we decided to take the plunge.”

The plunge has cost — at this point — about $9,000, he says. The motors and controls cost about $4,000, he says, while the turntable itself was about $5,000.

“They gave me $8,500 to do it with and I’ve blown the budget,” Keefer says.

The turntable is made up of 14 pie-shaped pieces and a small, circular center section, all of which bolt together, he says. It’s controlled by a computer but is composed of industrial automation parts and software, some of which is used in such work as robotic automaking and industrial heating/air conditioning systems, Keefer says.

The revolving stage weighs about 3,000 pounds, he says, and in order to make it fit they had to build a second level on top of the existing stage. The turntable slips in between the old stage and the new, Keefer says, and the only thing you can see is the thin line of the outside edge of the circle.

“We couldn’t tear a hole in our stage floor, so we had to raise the entire stage about nine inches,” he says.

The turntable and new stage can be broken down and stored, so plans are to use it for upcoming productions around campus. In addition, JSU can make money by renting it to other theater outfits, Keefer says. While at a theater workshop in North Carolina, two other schools approached him about renting the device after it was built, he says.

While dealing with the construction of the turntable has made rehearsals for Fiddler a little more difficult, Traynor says the technical aspects of the device provide a learning experience for students.

“It’s good that we challenge our students,” Traynor says. Putting on a play isn’t just getting up onstage and acting, he says, “it’s a whole lot of elements that come together.”

Fiddler on the Roof

When: 7 p.m. Tonight-Saturday, and Feb. 28-29 & March 1; 2 p.m. Sunday & March 2.

Where: Jacksonville State University Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center, corner of Church and 11th.

How much: $12 adults, $10 seniors & JSU personnel, $8 students/military.

Contact: 782-5648, reservations required.

About Shawn Ryan

Shawn Ryan is the travel editor and entertainment editor for The Anniston Star.

See story at The Anniston Star's website: .

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