PCS Blog

Sweeney Todd: Behind the Scenes

Posted by Kinsley Suer | 28 September 2012

Creating the set for Sweeney Todd was quite the undertaking. The set weighs more than 13,000 pounds and required 8,000 nails and screws to put it all together. Traditionally, all of our sets are constructed at our off-site scene shop located on NW Front Avenue. Then the sets are loaded onto trucks, driven over to the theater, and reassembled onstage. Kind of like Lego pieces. The set for Sweeney Todd was so massive that it required two trucks and more than 15 round trips from our scene shop to the theater. Whew! In total, it took more than 1,800 man-hours to construct the set. Pictured on the left is the scenic team installing Johanna's balcony. The picture on the right shows the equipment that was used to install the eight ledges that the cast stands on in various scenes  throughout the show.    

 

           

 

Speaking of ledges, here is a picture taken from the one of the ledges on the set. The walls are a whopping 26 feet high. That's eight feet higher than the proscenium (the area of a theater surrounding the stage opening). I hope the actor standing on this ledge is not scared of heights!

 

 

Pictured below is the set model for Sweeney Todd, designed by the talented Bill Bloodgood. Coincidentally, Bill also designed the set for Heartbreak House, which was Portland Center Stage's very first production exactly 25 years ago. Add his last name to the mix, and how could we not have picked him to design the set for Sweeney Todd?

 

 

But back to the set model. The model is built to scale of the actual set. Every fourth of an inch in the model equals one foot on stage. Our scenic artists painted all 2,500 bricks on the set by hand.  Time intensive? You betcha.

    

 

Gretchen Rumbaugh plays the pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett. The platform that her pie shop was built on is propelled by a two horsepower engine that is controlled by a computer, which brings it on and off stage between scenes. It moves at a rate of 1.5 feet per second. So you better jump out of the way when you see it approaching!

While Gretchen doesn't actually make the pies on stage, the actors do consume real food in one notable scene. In fact, the cast will consume a total of 104 "meat pies" each week on stage. Director Chris Coleman auditioned several types of food for the coveted role of Miss Lovett's meat pies. Scones, fruit pies, coffee cake, bagels and hamburger buns were all eaten during rehearsal until Chris decided on croissants. Fresh croissants are purchased every morning for 90 cents each from the local Hostess factory. 

 

 

Above is a picture of the trap door under Sweeney Todd's barber chair. After Todd claims another victim and pushes his           barber chair back, an air compressor automatically opens the trap door. It has been determined that the air tank needs to be          changed every 26 deaths. Speaking of deaths, be prepared to see lots of blood. Well, fake stage blood anyway! More than a gallon     of fake blood is used every week in Sweeney Todd. The blood is made with dish soap so it easily washes out of the costumes before    the next performance. Now that's a good tip for your Halloween costumes!

 

      

 

Above are a few photos of the wigs worn by some of the actors in the show. All were built from scratch by our wig mistress, Danna Rosedahl. Each wig can take up to 40 hours to build!

 

 

Barbara Casement is our costume crafts artisan. She's responsible for every piece seen on an actor that is not the actual clothing. For example, she builds and procures all hats, shoes, jewelry, purses, umbrellas and any other accessory seen onstage at PCS.

 

         


Sweeney Todd runs through October 21 here at Portland Center Stage.


Special thanks to Group Sales and Promotions Manager Mandy Morgan for providing the photos, and Production Manager Christopher Brislin and Associate Production Manager Rachel Mann for providing the fascinating backstage tidbits!

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