Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Grapes of Wrath: Creating the Scene

The truck before moving to its new home at ACT.
This 1923 International Harvestor was purchased specifically for The Grapes of Wrath. Scenic Designer Rob Bowen shares how he found it, why he bought it, and how it will be used onstage:

RB: I was searching for a way to do the truck because how the truck looked would influence the rest of the set design. My research showed many creative ways to create the truck, which is truly a character in the first act. The problem with many of the truck solutions is that they take us out of the world of the play and increased the aesthetic distance instead of bridging it. I felt that if we got something that was reasonable looking, it would allow us to use minimal scenery with props to create the rest of the world, whereas if used a facsimile of a truck, the audience would be pulled out of this minimal setting world by this represented image. I struggled with this problem and how to solve it. Then it hit me as I was driving to the university one day: I pass by this truck on the side of the road everyday and it has been there for a long time. What if we bought it and converted it? I took pictures and approached Jill [Summers, Technical Director] and asked her to meet me at it to look and see what she thought about it. She was enthusiastic so I called a number on a tow truck next to it and that person gave me the number of the owner and I talked with him. It turned out he lives about a half a mile from me.

The more I have learned about this lady of a truck, the more it has grown fonder with me. I was surprised to learn that the rusty engine still works, that it started its career in Oregon in 1923, and that it never was fast - it was made to haul heavy loads. It spent the early 50s until recently with its second owner in Wyoming and then recently came to Asheville. This truck has only had 3 owners with ACT being the 4th.

The truck makes its stage debut in a publicity photo shoot.
ACT: How will it be used onstage?
RB: It will be handled by the cast onstage using a caster system. The truck will interact with the actors on stage and help them make the journey from Oklahoma to California. They will ride in it, they will swing it around. We will see it from the front, the side, the back - as I mentioned earlier, it is a character. It anchors the location and allows us to use lights and platforming to create the world in the mind of the audience.

ACT: What will happen to the truck after the show closes?
RB: We have several options for the truck after the play. I think one reason the play is not performed as often as it could be is that the truck is a major issue and there is no place to rent it. If we could find a place to store it and advertise it, we might be able to make up cost and overhead through rentals. Otherwise, we probably will just disassemble it and see if we can sell it through car restoration sites.

This has been a great collaboration with Jill and the staff of ACT. They are the ones that are going to make this happen.

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Would your theatre like to own this truck for your production needs? Contact Technical Director Jill Summers with inquiries.

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