A night under the stars. Camping chairs ringed around a campfire. Ooey, gooey s’mores. And a big, hairy…something lurking just out of sight in the shadows. All the makings of a classic campground adventure. But what happens when your camp has to be indoors for a play? Bringing our audience into the woods for our story was tricky when a church fellowship hall is your venue, but Master Mystery Productions believes in performing anywhere with whatever we have, so the challenge was both thrilling and fun! Learn about the little touches we did to bring the outside in on this final behind-the-Bigfoot post.
INTO THE WOODS: The Making of Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind (Part 4)
For the past few years, Weird Weekend has been held in the Fellowship Hall of Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church, who have been an awesome and supportive venue for many of our shows. The venue gives us a chance to experiment with layout and design to turn the same simple room into fantastic sets and concepts for our crazy, theatrical dreams. From a Gothic village church to a Hollywood set to an outpost in a post-apocalyptic world, this venue has served as the home for our weirdest shows such as Wildflowers for the Funeral, Pauper’s Grave, Ode to Agatha, The Silent City, and What Happens at Sundown. However, Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind proved to be our biggest challenge as turning the indoors into an outdoor campground would require a lot of imagination.
Suspension of disbelief is something we’ll need to rely on as there was no way we can bring an entire mountainside camp into the room. So our goal was to create a series of audio-visual cues to help “set” our audience in the environment and mood we want them to experience. Director Monica Lorenz-Dwyer led the way on the aesthetic choices, which turned into a happy blend of serious and silly. A campfire story about Bigfoot can veer toward the fantastical, but Monica’s script is truly grounded in realism, making the show feel anchored in real life with real people. But it never takes itself too seriously, filled with funny moments and some wacky personalities to liven up the dark and shadowy set into a bright, warm campfire. Lighting has been handled sensitively to help strengthen the mood of each scene. And each set element designed for the show balances between the serious and silly perfectly.
It’s sort of like a Disney park. We invented all these elements for the show, backing them with real props to lend credence to the history and use of the area while our imagined designs of signage and maps and effects help further the story. The seating and campfire were handled very seriously and realistically with real camp chairs and stools and an old, rusty, beaten-up wash tub to hold our fire. But one camper will sit on a large ice chest instead, giving the seating arrangement a little wink as well, while varying the types of seats the characters use. Our sound designer, Skeleton Key Winner Tiffany Cheney (Foul Play, Summer 2019), has sourced wonderful campfire sounds of a crackling fire, chirping crickets, owls, crows, and much more to help lend realism to the scenes. There is something so haunting and beautiful about sitting in the darkened venue with the flickering campfire and the sounds of the woods at night. The set is also designed in a modular style, similar to how Mutiny on Sea Witch worked. It’s built with a series of separate pieces that unite into the whole campground, but pieces can be added and rearranged and removed to create a new landscape. A campfire cover and reducing the light turns a campground into a dark wooded landscape studded with fireflies.
A detail added into the script was that of a map marked with Bigfoot sightings referenced by the characters throughout the show. Writer/Director Monica Lorenz-Dwyer actually designed the map, and Technical Director Daniel Stallings was responsible for creating it as well as making sure all the technical elements united into a seamless whole. He designed the map to resemble a tourism map seen at national parks with additional information and Easter eggs from past shows sprinkled upon it. Can you spot the reference to Monica’s first show at Master Mystery Productions, specifically created for this first show with her directing?
Not only that, the map is reversible. Turn it around and the back is camouflaged with leaves to turn into background foliage when the campers are away from the camp and deep into the woods. A two-for-one set piece!
Prop design is just as important to setting scene and immersing guests into an entirely different world. We spent lots of time designing and creating specialty props to enhance the story. By far, we are proudest of our Bigfoot footprint casts made from plaster of Paris. They add so much realism and weight to the production with relatively simple construction. We created a “forest floor” by filling a drywall mixing tub with dirt, leaves, and rocks. We mixed and wet the soil to create a damp mud that could hold its shape. Using a tin shaped like a Bigfoot footprint as a base mold, we sculpted the mud into the shape of a foot. Each of the toes was hand-crafted in the soil using the Tech Director’s knuckles. Additional shaping occurred around heels and soles to help it read better. Each cast is unique and beautiful in its own Bigfoot way. And the audience seeing the real dirt and leaves and twigs integrated with the plaster will help them sink into the setting of a nighttime camping trip…without them needing to step in the dirt and mud themselves.
Signage is another huge element we created for the show to start telling our story even before guests enter the room. On the walk up to the venue door, we’re placing signs advertising Billy’s Bigfoot Fresh Jerky (referenced in the show) and signposts to all sorts of Ridgeview sights like Pebble Brook Point, Rocky Point, and a Bigfoot Xing. Don’t forget the big sign welcoming guests to Crestwood Lake Campground. Monica Lrenz-Dwyer designed and created all the specialty signage for the show, using cardboard and paint to make realistic wood patterns. With another kind of Disney-esque wink to tongue-in-cheek puns and word play, Monica made each of the direction on sign boards humorous and witty like O’er Yonder, Dis Way, Dat Way, A Hop Skip and a Jump, Stumblin’ Distance, and so on. See if you can spot them all during the show!
We have to thank all the donations and designers and cast and crew members who have put forward their time and imagination to bringing the great outdoors to the great indoors. While Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind has been a design challenge, it has been supremely rewarding too. We are excited to mount Monica’s first production with us, and we hope it leads to many more. So come join us for a night under the stars, listen to the crickets, and see if you can spot Bigfoot in the shadows.
Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind opens THIS Friday with a second performance on Saturday! We’re only performing one weekend before Bigfoot slinks into the shadows again. So be sure to grab your tickets at Red Rock Books and get ready for s’mores and secrets at Close Encounters of the Hairy Kind!
We’ll see you there!
–Master Mystery Productions