What happens when a playwright specifies something on stage that you absolutely have to have if you want to do the play?
Michael Hollinger’s TINY ISLAND, opening this week at Washington Stage Guild, takes place in the projection room of an old movie palace, and much of the action centers on the operation of the enormous carbon-arc projectors in use until recent years. That means that current movie theatres either never had them, or got rid of them! So how does a production manage to find them? (And yes, you need a pair!)
As we began the design process, Laura Giannarelli suggested that I turn to social media, so I posted on Facebook that we were seeking the behemoths. Immediately one of our fellow alumni of Catholic University’s Drama Department reminded me that the Hartke Theatre had a set, but he warned us they were probably too heavy to move.
That sparked a memory from my freshman year Voice & Speech class with the late Father Hartke himself, who told us the then-new theatre had had movie projectors installed, but that the University had then discovered they’d need to hire union projectionists to use them. According to Father, they’d been used once, and never again.
Our resident designer, Carl Gudenius, then weighed in to say that, as a union projectionist himself, he knew they could be disassembled. So Ann Norton and I both approached our friends in the CUA Drama Department to see if this was possible. Gail Beach and Patrick Tuite, the former and current chairs were amenable but worried approval from the University might take too long, and removal would be complicated by Pope Francis’ visit. But, probably with Father Hartke advocating with heavenly highers-up, we got the green light! So on Monday September 28, Carl and I and a stalwart crew of Stage Guild friends moved a couple of tons of out-of-date but pristine film equipment down stairs like a ship’s ladder and another winding staircase, trucked it all to the Undercroft Theatre, and put it all back together.
Come see the fruits of our labor onstage in TINY ISLAND! We’ll think about moving it all back another day.