In the Shadow of Menlo Park Arthur Dirks
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In the Shadow
Of Menlo Park

By Jim Quinn and Dave Frieze

Produced: March, 2002
Bridgewater State College Theatre, Bridgewater, MA
Director: Jim Quinn
Scenic and Lighting Design: Arthur Dirks
Costume Design: Henry Shaffer
Facility: Rondileau Auditorium

This was an original childrens theatre production. A Burns-and-Allen vaudeville team tells a story about a young man in the 1890s who believes he can be a better inventor than Thomas Edison, who was then in his prime. He doesn't really succeed, but he affirms persistence and imagination.

The scenic challenge was to create a simultaneous staging that would allow rapid movement from house to workshop to newspaper and bank, with significant floorspace for a singing and dancing cast of twelve. Aesthetically it had to tie in to vaudeville and 19th century, while offering imagination and stimulation for children. The simple flat-painted outline cartoon motif allowed all units to be flat and offered some fun with painted perspective. The units all had to fly out to reveal a full stage drop painted as a blueprint for a Rube Goldberg contraption that was demonstrated by a "bouncing ball" spot moving through the action with sound effects.

The vaudeville frame for the show suggested the painted curtain, which is presented through a constructed portal frame. There is an additional layer of building profiles behind the visible set on both sides, but it is in shadow. Edison is represented by a glowing light bulb, backlit with some diffusion over a coutout filament (Mark Johnson's project). The show also required an invention that falls apart in demonstration, here concocted from vinyl toddler toys.

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All original content © 2007 copyright Arthur L. Dirks