New scenery for “The Nutcracker”

Students work with Jimmy Ray Ward (center) on scenery for "The Nutcracker"

It was spring 2015 at Radford University, but visions of sugarplum fairies danced in the minds of the School of Dance and Theatre faculty. They had come together to discuss the 2014 “The Nutcracker.”

At the time of the production, they discovered issues with the 20 year-old, traditional, American ballet-style scenery. Previously destroyed or dry-rotted, it was in need of replacement.

But this provided a unique opportunity for the school. At the meeting, the faculty decided it was time to design new scenic elements for the entire production.

“It was important for Inessa Plekhanova, our director/choreographer that we create a visual that reflected old-style Russian ballet more than contemporary American style productions,” said Jimmy Ray Ward, assistant professor of theatre. He is the new scenery designer.

Esthetics of traditional Russian ballet storytelling, reflecting Alexandre Dumas, pere’s original “The Story of a Hazelnut-cracker” is the new design theme. The goal is to make the university's production have the essence of a spectacular fairy tale, full of magical transformations of simple objects such as a growing Christmas tree.

Under Ward’s guidance, this collaborative process includes student participation with scenery painting. Chosen for their demonstrated skills during a recent scene painting class, they include senior theatre majors Morgan Hardy and Chelsea Wood, along with double theatre and art major Yaritza Pacheco. They worked on the scenery’s first phase during the 2015-16 winter break.

“The process of painting the set is like any other production,” Pacheco said. “However, it is very exciting (and a little nerve racking) to know that this set will be seen by audiences not just for a couple of weekends or a month... but instead for quite a few years.”

Whereas most of the school’s sets last for one production, “The Nutcracker” scenery is archival. It is produced at a quality level allowing it to last multiple seasons or for up to a decade.

The scenery comprises several sections. There are three scenes, which include four elements. Each has a backdrop; a portal that is an archway made by combining wings/legs and border; a set of legs, and a border. Legs are drapes used to hide the wings (stage entry points for the actors) on both sides of the stage. Borders are short draperies that span the width of the stage used to hide lights and any scenery that is kept above the stage.

In addition, a false proscenium drop is also being created, which serves as a frame around the overall stage. And one cannot exclude the grand Christmas tree or a large grandfather clock and other assorted scenic elements.

Audiences to the 2016 production of the university’s “The Nutcracker” will experience the unveiling of this reconceptualized production.


Nov 2, 2016