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College students bring sets to life in summer theatre

SoVaNow.com / June 26, 2014
South Boston native Daniel Haskett is into drama. Entering into his second year at Christopher Newport University, he has four years under his belt in theatre and is currently into his fifth summer at The Prizery. This summer, instead of preparing for his role on stage as he did previous summers, Haskett is learning the business components of theatre. “I often acted, and this is definitely different, and I like it,” Haskett said.

As an actor, he sees summer theatre more for the local community than for the actors that come from various colleges around the U.S. “It gives the local kids who have a passion for theatre a chance to see the industry and meet the people that make up the industry,” he said.

Haskett is quick to add that the talent gathered at The Prizery — from top to bottom — is credited to the vision and direction of Artistic Director Chris Jones and other team leaders such as technical director Ernelle Bellamy.

“Chris is the heartbeat, the glue of The Prizery. Ernelle has been here since opening and leading us to victory,” Haskett said.

Haskett, who also handles the box office, adds his welcoming smile to the many questions he fields from the public. “I know that I’m the first-person experience and I want it to be pleasant and welcoming,” he said.

As a Communications major, Haskett has had the opportunity to apply his college education with on-the-job experience. He’s also had the chance to learn other trades. “I’ve designed ads, the playbills for the summer and I like the business side as much as on stage. It’s good experience for me,” he said.

“This summer, I’ve done carpentry also. I helped build the [Hairspray] set, and it’s cool to have that experience. It’s nice to be indispensable.”

Indispensable meets the criteria for two other college students spending their summer honing their craft. Erika Higgins and Caroline Clay are busily creating. The scenic artist and assistant scene designer are preparing to bring alive the next production of “Les Misérables” at The Prizery. The performers’ voices are warming up for the Hairspray matinee, which can be heard from the office space that Higgins and Clay share with Jones. Both are trying pinpoint whose svelte voice it may be as they focus on transforming the imagination into reality for the show’s audience.

Higgins, with brush in hand, adds a mix of glue and food coloring to a plastic board. The Longwood University junior is hoping that the idea will springboard into a stained glass window centerpiece for the upcoming show. If it works, the time-period cathedral design that she had drawn the day before will become part of the set. Higgins, who comes from King George County, is spending her second summer at The Prizery as the assistant scene designer and last summer she was a scenic artist. Higgins added that time management can be challenging — developing sets for two shows within seven weeks. “But we work with it. I read the script and pull out what I see. I love designing,” Higgins said.

Caroline Clay, who hails from Moorehead State University in Kentucky, met Jones at the South Eastern Theatre Conference in Mobile, Ala. As she focused on cutting the matte paper for the quarter-inch model set she was assisting Jones in building, she explained, “This is what the audience will see.”

The singer-dancer-actress-college-junior-traveller interviewed for the summer position of scenic artist. “Hairspray and Les Misérables are two very opposite shows. One is dark and serious and the other is 1962 bright colors,” Clay said. “Scenic painting on a big scale is a great opportunity.”

Working at the theatre also means working within a budget. Higgins, who was testing out different ways to build a window for the set, embraces that lesson. “You have to take in the cost of lumber, the set mount — props, set, makeup, payroll,” Higgins explained. “Research is the best way because you save money and still make your ideas come to life looking good,” she said.

In fact, the drawn draft of the window provided a glimpse of what Higgins wanted to build. She explained that once she knew the shape of the window and a need for geometric designs, she researched the French architecture of the time period the play is set. From there, she penned three drafts, and through trial and error, presented the conceptual idea to Jones. “I added those elements and made it my own,” she said of the drawing.

For all three college students, the opportunities at The Prizery from stage to set and beyond have been remarkable experiences that they will carry forward in their chosen careers.

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Comments

Young Haskett has been an unsung hero of the local theater scene ever since he started. Watching him perform and work backstage in "Tom Sawyer" convinced me the boy could have a promising theater career if he chose. Personable and engaging young man to boot. Daniel, I wish you great success in the stage world and at CNU.

Now to find me some time to attend some of the summer stock shows. I know there are a lot of Prizery naysayers here, but it's a jewel HC/SoBo should be very proud to have.


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