Part 3 of a series looking backstage at the upcoming Mainstage production

Dave Smith, an instructor in technical design in the Faculty of Fine Arts drama department, wields a paint roller like it’s an extension of his arm, deftly covering large and small areas with a coat of paint. He’s been working as the set designer on the set design for the University of Lethbridge Production of Jesus Christ Superstar with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lyrics by Tim Rice* from its earliest stages. 

“This is my biggest set to date at the University,” he says. “I started painting about January 15 and any day that I have a chance to come in and paint I do.” 

His goal was to get as much of the painting done as possible before the pieces were moved from the Scene Shop to the stage.

“Doug (MacArthur), the director, wanted to do kind of a modern take on the classic,” he says. “What we’re trying to go for with the set is the feel of a temple, a religious place of worship without actually being specific about where it is. We’ve got an archway because a lot of old temples had that classic arch. We’ve got wall and set pieces flying in and I’ve painted them all in stones to make it look almost timeless. We wanted to get the feeling that it could be anytime, anyplace; we didn’t want to be grounded in specificity.”

Smith has embellished some of the scene components to look like ruins or structural damage, so they look imperfect. But most of the set is rather static with different platforms. 

“The biggest thing with musicals is you want to have levels,” says Smith. “When you have 25 people on stage, if they’re all on the main deck that’s a lot of bodies in the same world.” 

Smith designed four-foot, nine-foot and 11-and-a-half feet high platforms which were then built by folks in the Scene Shop and students in a senior construction class. They built legs for the platforms and also modified some of the flats. The platforms are open underneath to allow for different places where actors can enter and exit. Along with the platforms, some of the scene pieces will be lowered and hoisted from the fly tower to allow for quick transitions to different locations.

“Even though there aren’t a lot of pieces coming on and off, it’s going to be a very dynamic set because of all the different places where people can enter and exit and different levels that people can perform on,” he says. 

In addition to the students who have been involved in the construction of the set, one served as an assistant designer and two others volunteered to help paint the set pieces. 

“The number of students who have worked on the set is probably in the 20s for sure,” says Smith. “The more opportunities we can give to students the better. And we couldn’t put on productions like this without the student body helping out.”

Some of the students who’ve worked on previous productions have gone on to professional careers in Calgary. Students want opportunities to try out what they’re learning in class and being an assistant designer gives them the chance to cut their teeth. 

“Beginning to end there are students involved in this production for sure,” says Smith. “That is pretty much the case for every show. We’ve had people who have been assistant designers for us who have on to do their designs for mainstage productions. We’re there to help and we look for any chance we can give them to understand the design process.” 

The show runs from March 12 to 16 at the University Theatre.

*JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of The Really Useful Group.