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Behind the scenes of  ‘All Shook Up’ coming to New London

  • Members of the New London Barn Playhouse’s acting intern company remove and install new sets between recently produced plays “Souvenir” and “The Secret Garden.” Courtesy of Mitch Marois

  • Beau Hamilton’s sketch for Miss Sandra’s costumes in “All Shook Up.” Courtesy

  • Beau Hamilton's drawing of Sylvia's red dress. Courtesy

  • Beau Hamilton’s sketch for the men’s costumes in the “Jailhouse Rock” segment. Courtesy



Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Weeks, even months, before the curtain first rises, creative minds have already pictured exactly how the show will appear.

The New London Barn Playhouse will open a run of All Shook Up on Wednesday, but the process began long ago.

Barn newcomer Brad Carlson, a professor of scene design at the University of Missouri, was asked to design the set and began a few months ago. He said it takes about a month to work out the details; then, there’s about a month to actually build the pieces. In the case of All Shook Up, the set will be built in just three weeks.

The process all starts with Carlson reading the script.

“When I first was offered the show... it didn’t seem very exciting,” he said. Reading the script changed his opinion on that.

All Shook Up is based on William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night but includes and is influenced by the music of Elvis Presley. The jukebox musical features love triangles and a case of mistaken identities. It also grapples with what’s considered decent and moral in the Midwest during the 1950s.

“There’s a lot of exciting conversations in it,” Carlson explained. “It’s got a lot to offer for anyone.”

Since All Shook Up is a musical, he also listened to recordings of the pieces and other music from that time period.

Then, Carlson said, he watched some of the Elvis movies because the musical is inspired by that music.

When working set designs, he said he doesn’t usually look at what other designers have done unless he runs into a problem and wants to see how they dealt with it.

But that problem solving is part of what attracts Carlson to the theater.

“The challenge is really exciting,” he said.

One of those challenges in All Shook Up is a scene set in an abandoned fairground’s Tunnel of Love ride.

Carlson wouldn’t give too much away, but said there was a unique solution for it paired with the lighting design.

With six days left until opening night, Carlson said the set is in good shape. The design he created is a bit non-traditional and requires lots of painting.

Instead of creating 1950s-style rooms with lots of dressings – props that make the set more realistic – he took iconic ’50s images and enlarged them as illustrations for a more abstract, stylized feel.

“It’s a really fun show,” Carlson said.

As set designer, he has lots of conversations with the director, in this case, DJ Salisbury, about the design and how the actors will be able to move around on stage. He has to adjust how the pieces move and respond to the lighting and choreography. Carlson meets with the director and other designers each day to check in on their progress.

“At the barn, we have the chance to work very closely together,” he said.

One of those people he works with is another newcomer to the barn, Beau Hamilton, a colleague of the barn’s production manager.

Hamilton is the costume designer for the show and has been working on some 100 outfits for it.

Like Carlson, he began by reading the script. Actually, reading it three times. Hamilton said he begins reading without thinking of costuming ideas. The second readthrough, he begins to think of ideas, but he doesn’t write down any concepts until the third reading.

Then, he does research based on information provided in the script. For example, All Shook Up is set in the Midwest in 1955, so he will look at what people were wearing then.

But since the show is a musical, rather than a straight play, Hamilton said, there’s more leeway with the costuming and less of an expectation that they will be historically accurate.

He sketches out his concepts and then meets with the director to discuss whether the costumes need to have any special rigging; All Shook Up has lots of dancing, which the clothes need to be able to accommodate.

Then comes renting or building from scratch all the costumes.

Hamilton, who is a graduate student at the University of California at Irving studying costume design, arrived in New Hampshire on July 20 and will be here until one day after the show opens, Aug. 10.

He works with full-time staff in the barn’s costume shop and with the acting interns to pull everything together in time.

In All Shook Up, one of the major numbers is “Jailhouse Rock.” Hamilton didn’t just want to do bland black and white stripes for the costumes. Instead, the outfits are made from specially-ordered fabric that is still primarily black and white striped, but also has rainbow paint splatter. The dresses for the women also have a more modern twist, with an asymetrically-hemmed skirt. Those alterations make the scene more vibrant.

Though All Shook Up is based on and contains the music of Elvis, there’s no Elvis impersonator. But, the show evokes a “feeling of Elvis,” Hamilton said.

He originally figured there would be about 70 costumes for the show. Ultimately that number grew to more than 100. He said he stopped counting.

On average, members of the ensemble have three to six costume changes. Lead characters have about one to four.

“There’s something magical when (the actors) put on a costume,” Hamilton said. “They immediately change into character.”

Hamilton says he designs the costumes sometimes before the show is even cast, so they are not made with a particular actor in mind. When the actors do try on costumes for the first time, he makes sure it fits their vision of the character and can accommodate all the movements they do in the show.

“I can put an outfit on a dressform, but it doesn’t come to life until the actor puts it on,” he said.

Aside from the “Jailhouse Rock” costumes, Hamilton is most excited about the dresses for Miss Sandra, caretaker of the town museum, and Sylvia, the owner of the local honky-tonk. They wear a sparkly pink dress and vibrant red dress with scalloped edges, respectively.

You can view all the set pieces and costumes at the New London Barn Playhouse’s performances of All Shook Up, which run Aug. 9 to 20. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays and 5 p.m. Sundays. An additional matinee will be at 2 p.m. on Aug. 18. Tickets range from $19.50 to $40. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit nlbarn.org or call 526-6710.