Andover High School is known for excellence in its Drama Guild. The guild puts on three shows a year: a musical in the autumn, a play to compete in fest (a theater competition involving high schools performing shortened plays) in the winter, and a spring show (which is usually either a play or a musical). Each play requires a set, and at Andover High we’re pretty lucky to not only have the biggest shop for a high school in the state, but also a dedicated tech crew. Before something is built it has to be designed. That’s where Sasha Schwartz comes in.
Schwartz, a junior at Andover High School, has been designing sets since the second semester of her freshman year. The first set she designed was for the play You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. In total she has designed and built nine sets for the Collins Center, and her tenth is on the way. Her favorite was last year’s production of the Dining Room because she was able to “incorporate lighting and set together” in ways she had never done before.
Designing sets takes a lot of research and creativity. It’s not enough for the stage to just look good. Everything on it has to be functional and relative to the play. Schwartz spends a lot of time reading the script and researching the musical. “It’s nice to watch a production of [the show] to know how the set is supposed to function with the story and for the actors,” says Schwartz. She continues to explain how it can be difficult if she just has one example to go off of. Schwartz takes pride in creating something original and would never “copy someone else’s set.”
Schwartz tends to work alone when creating these masterpieces. Too many cooks in the kitchen usually lead to disaster. However, there comes a point in each design process that calls for some collaboration to make small adjustments. Schwartz says, “Sometimes you have to gather ideas together with a stage manager and a technical director and Ms. Choquette.”
Choquette and the technical director both need to approve the design before the building portion goes into effect. The needs and wants of Choquette are the first to be met. If she doesn’t like the idea then it’s back to the drawing board, but if she does then Schwartz talks to the technical director. The set has to be “feasible with the time and budget” in order to be approved. Once everything checks out, it’s time to make the idea come to life.
Around a dozen people work on tech crew, Schwartz included. They saw, staple, hammer, and paint the set to perfection. This is not their job. They do not get paid. They do it because it’s what they enjoy. It’s a lengthy process, taking weeks to complete. Some only stay for an hour each night; others stay for five. For Schwartz, most of her nights have been consumed by construction. She has been known to stay very late at night going over details, making changes, and pushing the project closer to completion. She dedicates herself to every project, making each one unique.
So far Schwartz has only designed for Choquette and the Collins Center. She enjoys designing sets for the Collins Center, and will continue to do so, but wants to try new things as well. Schwartz doesn’t want to search for other opportunities during the school year because of her other theater commitments. She says she would like to “switch things up” next summer.
For Schwartz, set designing isn’t just a hobby; it’s a passion. Her dedication to her creations isn’t something you see everywhere. Schwartz hopes to continue her hard work past high school and past college. She wants to make this her career. It won’t be easy, and she knows that. Despite the risk, Schwartz is willing to follow her passion. Schwartz wants to pursue this because it will allow her to “be creative” and “be a part of a community in a space that’s really accepting.” To her it is ideal.
Schwartz’s love for designing sets comes from the creation and the social aspect. Since she also helps with the building, Schwartz is able to talk to people and make friends. They are all working toward a common goal and they get to see her thoughts and ideas come to life. It’s a group effort. Schwartz says, “It’s the best feeling ever to think of something, work on it for two months, and see it on stage being used [and] appreciated.”
By Ashley Richmond