Magic begins behind the scenes in ‘Seussical’

March 16, 2016 / by / 0 Comment

Building behind the scenes of Seussical are such students as senior Natalie Ward, left, and Andrew Weedman.

Among the builders behind the scenes of “Seussical” are students Natalie Ward, left, and Andrew Weedman, shown here with props in the scene shop.

Story and photos by Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau

For theatre lovers, the magic begins when the lights dim, the music plays and the curtain slowly rises.

For a show like Grand Canyon University’s “Seussical,” which opens April 1 at Ethington Theatre, the curtain will rise on a wacky, colorful, cartoon-like world.

It takes but a moment for the audience to be transported from their seats into a make-believe universe, but behind the scenes it takes the concentrated efforts of directors, designers — and a small army of students — to bring the fantasy to life.

“It takes five weeks to make a set like this,” said William Symington, College of Fine Arts and Production assistant dean and faculty scenic designer. “It takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 builders who come and go. It takes thousands of hours, and that doesn’t count my hours or my staff’s hours.”

Jennifer Estrada, a junior, pauses while building a barrel.

Junior Jennifer Estrada pauses while building a barrel.

Director Michael Kary, costume designer Nole Yergin and lighting designer Claude Pensis, the COFAP dean, are among the faculty who collaborated to concoct the artistic vision for Dr. Seuss’ Jungle of Nool.

“For Seussical, we wanted it to feel like a children’s playground, somewhat whimsical, reminiscent of childhood,” he said.

It’s a land of red, yellow, purple and orange, with fuzzy-topped trees, ridiculous staircases, silly shapes and crazy floors, a place where such Seuss favorite characters as the Cat in the Hat, Horton the Elephant and Gertrude McFuzz live and play.

“When you build anything, if it has an unusual shape, it makes the building of it all the more complex,” Symington said. “The world of Seuss is all that way, curvy and cattywampus.”

It’s a process relished by senior Natalie Ward, assistant prop master, a volunteer who has made the theatre scene shop her second home.

“I put in about 20 to 30 hours a week, and I have a great team of prop assistants,” said Ward.

Props are anything the actors use. The set is everything they stand on, said sophomore Andrew Weedman, a student worker whose job is assistant technical director.

The scene shop smells like Home Depot with newly cut wood and freshly applied paint. Students, staff and faculty build sets from scratch, in this case using more than 200 boards, 60 sheets of plywood and dozens of cans of paint, Symington said.

Everything requires numerous steps. For example, the giant egg on which Horton sits is made from two resin planters, foam, papier-mache, a skin of liquid plastic and paint, Symington said.

Weedman displays some constructed set layers.

Weedman displays some constructed set layers.

Other Seussical settings include a courtroom, a bathtub, Whoville, indoors and outdoors, he said.

“The set has a slide and jungle gym and a fireman’s pole that someone slides down,” he said.

Oh, the places you will go!

Seussical, written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and directed by Kary, runs April 1-3 and 8-10: The 2000 Broadway hit musical is a complex amalgamation of many of Dr. Seuss’ most famous books, primarily “Horton Hears a Who!”, “Horton Hatches an Egg” and “ Miss Gertrude McFuzz.” The show will include 35 musical numbers.

For ticket information on the Ethington Theatre series, call 602-639-8880 or email

Contact Laurie Merrill at 602-639-6511 or



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