There are times when you do more than the job requires. Not because your hard work will get you a raise or promotion. Not because loads of people will even be able to see what you did.
You do it just because it’s fun.
For Good Company Players scenic designer David Pierce, this is one of those times. Take a close look at the set for the company’s new production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, which opens Thursday. If you’re sitting in the audience, the dominant feature of the set – a big proscenium-style arch that defines the space for the actors in this ingeniously staged “prequel” to the tale of “Peter Pan” – simply looks as if it’s covered with elaborate designs of elegant gold bric-a-brac. Think Victorian-era sumptuousness, with lots of interesting shapes and textures in gold leaf.
But when you get closer, just a few feet away, you see a bunch of trash that has been turned into treasure.
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“This really kept us entertained,” Pierce says.
The play itself puts a big emphasis on found objects. In the fast-paced production (directed by Emily Pessano), pairs of yellow rubber kitchen gloves become a flock of birds in the hands of the actors. Toilet plungers are transformed into swords, then oars. Lengths of rope are used to create doors out of thin air, then become waves in the ocean.
Pierce, working with scene shop assistants Joielle Adams, Teddy Maldonado and Wayne Montgomery, decided to go all out decorating the set the same way, even if most people in the audience won’t be close enough to see their artistic cleverness.
Used paint-can lids crisscrossed with plastic utensils became decorative flowers. Pieces from a pulled-apart wind chime formed shooting stars. Dissected Barbie dolls (yes, adults do surgery on their Barbies, too) got new lives as mermaids, thanks to a Frankenstein-style melding with an old toy. Clothespins clipped together formed a decorative border that suggests a crocodile’s jaws.
All have some connection to the play, which imagines the story of Peter Pan before he gets to Neverland. (The crocodile reference starts to make sense.) For example, there are lots of food items included in the array of items, because one of the orphan characters (who will go on to become the Lost Boys) is always hungry. Pierce includes French fries, cups of fast-food soda and even a croissant – used children’s toys – all painted gold.
The nautical theme is big, of course, with hundreds of seashells (both real ones and ones made of papier-mâché using chocolate molds) glued on the arch. A captain’s wheel is crafted from a wire spool and cut-apart metal handles. Toy seahorses frolic.
The toughest thing to make?
The fish. Definitely the fish.
Pierce ended up with four of them. They’re made from plastic wine glasses that were cut in half. The stem of the glasses became the side and dorsal fins. A washer for an eye completed the look.
“These took longer than they should have because the plastic was so brittle,” Pierce says. On his first attempt, one exploded, nearly cutting him. He ended up using a tiny drill bit with a handheld rotary tool meant to polish stone to slowly dissect the plastic.
As the longtime scenic designer for GCP, Pierce knows what it’s like to work on a budget when he replicates the looks of Broadway shows. Because “Peter and the Starcatcher” is meant to look homespun and humble, he reveled in creating a look close to the New York version. Being a packrat helps. (“My father was a child of the Depression, and it rubbed off,” he says.) Those paint-can lids? He’s kept them for years, thinking that they’d eventually come in handy one day.
Now they’re all spruced up and elegant looking.
But Pierce also knows that the paint lids’ time in the spotlight is finite. Theater is ephemeral. In eight weeks, it will be time for his elegant arch to be torn down so the next show can go up.
“I wish I could save it, but I don’t know what else I would use it for,” he says of his painstaking creation. “A lot of this is going to have to go away. I hate to say it: Trash to treasure, then back to trash again.”