Cat Sparling has never performed in a big musical production. The Hammond High School senior prefers designing sets, giving actors their cues and coordinating scene changes.
The spring musical season marks Sparling's third production as Hammond's student stage manager.
"I love being here throughout the entire process" from auditions to closing night, she said. "I love seeing everything come together."
Sparling has been part of the school's theater program since she was a freshman. This year, for the first time, she is studying stagecraft with theater director Lauren Tobiason.
Stagecraft is an advanced elective course at Hammond High. Although the class covers stage makeup, lighting and more, students spend much of their time designing and building sets for the school's drama productions.
During the final weeks of February, the stagecraft class finished constructing sets for Hammond's production of Honk! The musical, a retelling of The Ugly Duckling, will have four performances starting Thursday night.
Tom Payne, the county school system's advanced programs and fine arts coordinator, said several area high schools have the facilities to offer stagecraft.
At Hammond High, stagecraft meets in a number of places near the stage - Tobiason's classroom, the wings of the theater, and a crowded workshop stocked with wood, tools and paint. Every student learns how to use the power tools in the shop, but only a few are experienced enough for Tobiason to assign them cutting and drilling jobs.
Before they begin designing sets for a production, Tobiason leads her students in reading the script. Stagecraft students analyze each play as they begin planning the look and tone of the show's scenery.
"We first start out with sketches, and then we have to draw it to scale," Sparling said.
The next step is gathering materials from supplies in the shop. The focus is on recycling. The crew repaints theatrical flats for each show and makes use of items from old productions. For Honk!, hula skirts are being cut so that the straw can decorate a human-sized nest.
Special-education teacher Bob Gross is Hammond's theater technical director. He gives the crew technical guidance during after-school rehearsals. In addition to the 14 students taking stagecraft, up to 35 volunteers have been working on the technical side of Honk! after school. Gross directs those students so that Tobiason can focus on the 55 cast members.
The stagecraft class is a mix of students who perform in school plays and those who prefer being behind the scenes. Lighting crew chief Lana Riggins, a junior, is taking stagecraft but has never auditioned for a production.
Senior Kevin Nolan, a stagecraft classmate, began performing in school plays last year. Nolan plays the character Jaybird, a pushy reporter, in Honk! "I just wanted to see what it's like on the other side," he said.
Gross said, "I think it's good to know all the things that go into the production - from the lights, to the building, to the sound. ... it gives the kids a greater appreciation" of what goes into putting on a play.
Senior Jeff Sines is in his second year of the class. "I knew a couple of people who were taking it," he said. Friends told him stagecraft "was like a tech-ed class with less book work. There was more hands-on work."
Sines says he plans to study construction management and engineering in college and that the class is building his practical skills. He led a group of students making the 6-by-6-foot wooden frame for the production's largest set piece, the nest that has to accommodate several actors.
"I like being involved behind the scenes with the play and the musical so I [can] go to the play and say, `I built that,'" Sines said.
Gross said the stagecraft class "brings the vocational portion of the school system back into the county. I think all the schools should have it. I think it's an important thing for kids" who are hands-on learners.
Gross supervises the light and soundboards, training one or two students a year. "I try to show kids how to focus the lights. ... I actually learned that from students," he said.
Working the light board is a skill handed down from student to student. That is how Riggins came to be lighting chief for Honk!, her second show in that role. "I was taught by the girl who was crew head last time," said Riggins. She plans to major in technical theater when she goes to college.
Sparling said that "putting blood and sweat and imagination into creating everything is so much more rewarding to me" than being on stage.