Imagine Broadway’s The Lion King without its elaborate animal masks or The Nutcracker ballet without its glittering, fantastical backdrops. For many theater productions, the set design and props are as much a part of the show as the actors themselves. Set the Scene, a free Island program launching in January, aims to give students, in fourth through seventh grades, the backstage skills to support a theater production.
Set the Scene is the brainchild of high school freshman, and Island resident, Nina Chang. Chang presented the idea for Set the Scene to Kristi Towey, Executive Director of the Main Street Theater and Dance Alliance (MST&DA), and received Towey’s blessing to launch the program in conjunction with the MST&DA’s children’s theater.
For the first session, starting January 12, 15 students will make masks, props, and backdrops for Seussical the Musical, Jr. by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, a musical based on the work of beloved children’s author, Dr. Seuss. The musical will be performed by the children’s theater in April, with the Set the Scene program running throughout the performances. While Chang will be teaching the Set the Scene classes, there will be oversight by regular theater staff of MST&DA.
The purpose of Set the Scene, according to Chang, is to “give kids that don’t want to be on stage a chance to be involved in theater.”
Chang designed this program as part of an extracurricular course that teaches entrepreneurial skills to students. The program is close to Chang’s heart, and borne of her own experience. Chang says, “I decided to invest in something that I have been doing for a long time and a project in which the kids will have a lot of fun.”
She has been involved in art making and prop design for the theater program at the United Nations International School since she was 11 years old. Chang was also commissioned to work on an Off Broadway production.
Set the Scene will be run as a not-for-profit project in conjunction with MST&DA. It will be offered free of charge with students meeting for an hour to an hour and a half on Thursdays. The art-making will be what Chang calls, “very fluid – very much a group effort,” so if a student is unable to be at a class one week, someone else can continue the work. Chang says, “In the end they can take pride in their work, saying, ‘I painted that.’”
“Set the Scene is a perfect way for us to add something that we don’t have in our program and open up the ways that people can be involved with theater,” says Towey. Both Chang and Towey are excited to bring something new to Roosevelt Island and they hope the project will eventually be incorporated into the regular MST&DA program.
Register at mstda.org.