Tim Wisgerhof felt a bit like a mad scientist as he set the scene for the Venice Theater’s Summer Stock production of “Young Frankenstein”, the Mel Brooks musical which opens this week.
He took railings from one set, walls from another, and a variety of other pieces previously used to create the right look for an aging castle in Transylvania.
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“We put all these random pieces together like Dr. Frankenstein did to create his monster,” said Wisgerhof, the theater’s resident stage designer.
After a pandemic that has squeezed incomes and squeezed budgets as the costs of wood and other materials rose, Wisgerhof is still looking for ways to save money. But he is also a promoter of recycling when possible, to avoid unnecessary waste.
In total, pieces from 10 other different productions were used to create the “Young Frankenstein” ensemble.
“The doors above the castle courtyard were going to be balcony entrances for ‘Chicago.’ They were painted red with gold leaf trim and were all ready to go into production when this show was canceled, ”he said. “We already had them, so we repainted and rearranged them to make sense.”
The front balcony ledge was from an earlier “Cabaret” production and was turned sideways.
In another example, he said the set of uniforms used for stage concerts during the pandemic had been dismantled, shortened and moved to the most intimate Yvonne pinkerton Theater for the next summer cabaret festival.
Of course, he would love to design and build from scratch, but “sometimes limitations create opportunities for us. If you’re a cake in the sky and just have a blank canvas and can do whatever you want, it can be overwhelming. Limitations can force your brain to think in a more creative and inspiring way.
His latest set is for the 2007 comedy musical based on the 1974 Brooks film about Frederick Frankenstein, who inherited everything from his mad scientist grandfather, Victor. Frederick wants nothing to do with his family’s troubled legacy until he arrives at Transylvanian Castle and begins to learn more about his grandfather’s experiences.
Brad Wages directs and choreographs the production of the theater’s Summer Stock series, designed for high school and college students during their break between school years.
Casey Berkery, who recently starred with his sister in the musical “john and jen”, plays Frederick, the role from Gene Wilder’s film. Charlie Kollar, who grew up playing in the theater, plays the Monster, with Lauren Wickerson as eccentric servant, Igor (whose name is pronounced Eye-gor); Belle Babcock as laboratory assistant, Inga; Natalie Taylor as Frederick’s fiancee, Elizabeth; and Taylor Reister as the imposing housekeeper Frau Blucher. Babcock and Kollar have just completed their first year at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
As resident designer, Wisgerhof creates the sets for most of the shows presented each season by the Venice Theater. This year, it is all the more useful that the theater is taking care of the renovation works of the technical arts building and two others. That means he won’t be able to build as many sets for some shows, and the painted drops can be a challenge.
He said the theater season schedule was created with construction work in mind. Smaller shows that don’t require as much in terms of stage design fill the first part of the season, before more elaborate productions, like “Beauty and the Beast”, arrive in early 2022.
“We had to empty our technical arts building for the renovation. There were a lot of roof leaks, there was no bathroom, no HVAC. This is all going to change, ”he said. The theater is also renovating its lobby and the Hamilton building, which served as Venice’s temporary public library and will become the theater company’s arts education center.
Wisgerhof knows that construction and renovation works are rarely completed on time.
“My fingers are crossed and in the back of my mind I have contingency plans on how to paint a drop in the parking lot,” he said. “I could if I had to. We can do anything. We are children of the theater. We are the island of misfit toys.
By Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Directed and choreographed by Brad Wages. July 8-17 at the Venice Theater, 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice. Tickets cost $ 22, $ 15 for university students, $ 12 for students up to grade 12. 941-488-1115; venicetheatre.org