By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
The sounds of saws, sanders and hammers are a regular harmony in Ethington Theatre’s Scene Shop these days. After all, the College of Fine Arts and Production’s next play is only weeks away.
But another project has added to the cacophony. Grand Canyon University students and faculty have had numerous opportunities to take part in the filming on campus of the Boylan sisters’ “Identity Crisis” movie, and one of them was by building props.
Little pieces of Ethington Theatre magic are sprinkled across the film's production, from portable dressing rooms to prop walls. But there also is a big piece that is central to the movie’s plot about a shy college science whiz who finds a way to duplicate herself – the cloning machine she discovers.
The working relationship with the film crew flourished with a little help from a familiar face on the film crew. After being hired as a set dresser for the film, COFAP alumna Rachel Schumacher quickly became a liaison between the production crew and the the theatre staff.
“I was brought in on the last day of preproduction for this film and was tasked immediately with crafting set pieces,” Schumacher said. “The Scene Shop has been so supportive of any needs and willing to let us borrow anything – set pieces, props and human power.
“They helped us in immeasurable ways. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
It is an opportunity that William Symington, COFAP Assistant Dean of Theatre and Dance and “Identity Crisis” Art Director, says will be huge for not only the department, but for the students themselves.
“The opportunity for college students to get involved with a Hollywood and national-level film is not something that comes up every day, to say the least,” he said. “Then add the fact that they’re involved at almost every level: in front of the camera, behind the camera, in production, in the art department.
“It adds experience to their resumé, and I think it’s eye opening for them just in terms of realizing that that might be an entire world that is available to them, something they might be excited about doing, because it takes it out of that mysterious ‘Oh, how does this happen? How do people get involved in this?’”
For the design of the more than 200-pound cloning machine, Symington drew inspiration from similar glass booths in pop culture, such as in the film “Alien” and the TARDIS from the television show “Doctor Who.”
But with the light and fun vibe of the film, Symington made sure the design fit the tone of the project, aiming for the machine to have a “fantasy technology feeling.”
Working with the filmmakers has been positive experience, Symington says.
“The filmmakers are just really great, kind, nice people, which is such a wonderful introduction to that business for our students and for them to get a sense of what it’s like,” he said. “I think a lot of our students up until this point, especially in theatre, had not seen the crossover with film production. And I don’t think they fully realized how similar it is and how many of their skill sets translate from one to the other and that it’s not as daunting as they’d think.”
With the cloning machine being one of the biggest tasks in the project, both literally and metaphorically, Symington knew he was going to need help bringing the “cryogenic capsule” to life. That's where Theatre Technical Director/Master Electrician Carrie Hurst comes in.
Symington would create the designs; Hurst and her team of student workers would then execute those designs to create the finished product.
For Hurst, who had never worked on a design for film before this, the experience has been a memorable first impression of the cinematic world.
“Honestly, it feels amazing,” she said. “I’ve been incredibly excited for this opportunity. I’ve always been interested in film as well as theatre, so having this kind of first step into that is incredibly exciting for me.”
But it is also an experience that Hurst says wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication of her staff of student workers.
One of those student workers, junior mechanical engineering major Micah Willis, has played a central role in the building process, channeling his engineering skills to bring a new perspective to the team.
“I love building things,” he said. “I’m not an actor, so I don’t like being out, front and center of the stage. But I love being able to tell the stories through the different props and sets that we build.”
It also has given him a head start on his career.
“It’s really cool to have the opportunity here to start that and to have something on a resumé," he said. "That way, when you’re looking at other opportunities outside, you have something that you can put on your resumé that will kind of put you ahead a little bit when you get out there.”
But the real cherry on top of this collaboration will be evident once “Identity Crisis” comes out, Symington said.
“It’s almost going to be like a second experience for them to see it like that. Some of them will have their names in the credits. When they see their own campus featured, when they see things they’ve made and participated in, I just think it’s going to be really cool and exciting.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].