Beckie Morris designing productions, loving the work

April 8, 2015   ·   0 Comments

SEtAlways on the lookout for the different and the instructive, Beckie Morris used a good idea and made it better with the current production at Theatre Orangeville, opening this week.

She explained where the idea for the furniture pieces for the staging of Norman Bray came from: “When one of our academy showcases for our actor school programs, Chandra Pepper made a house of cardboard – she didn’t want any help from me and I thought it was so cool – I thought I would use the idea some day, so I put it in the back of my mind. It was really perfect for this next play.”

The idea came rushing back when David Nairn, Theatre Orangeville’s Artistic Director and director for the production of Norman Bray in the Performance of his Life, said to her, “Just make something that talks about reality meeting illusion.”

“This show is in great shape,” Ms. Morris said of the production. “It’s something special – funny, personal, fun to look at – a character you shouldn’t love but you just root for him all the time.”

Of the cardboard furniture, she explained, “It’s really been fun and we’ve learned a lot. This was a bit different but David was right on board with it.”

Always involved with the drama department at high school and with arts at all, as  her mother was an artist and a teacher, Ms. Morris went to Fanshawe College of Applied Arts and Technology in London, Ontario, to study technical theatre production.

“I didn’t know how to build anything until I went to college,” she admitted. “Then there was two years of building. Carpentry was a required course. Theatre has its own standards: a theatre set tolerance is 1/8th inch while house construction tolerance is ¼ inch. When we go to the hardware store and say we want flowers to pop up immediately – so, we just need a piece of plumbing. The guy at the hardware store gets really confused by theatre ‘needs’.”

As it happened, Ms. Morris came straight from college to Theatre Orangeville as an assistant technical director. She did leave to work elsewhere, adding to her experience and knowledge but came back to Theatre Orangeville.

She found herself designing sets, for which she soon developed a real enthusiasm. Not actually having much formal training in design, she commented that “I took a class but, mostly, I just worked with mentors.”

At best, there is a format: conception, model and drawings – basically blueprints – a step-by-step method that arrives to the clearest vision for a set. Sometimes, however, the director will just say, “I just need this,” and then the whole thing is created “a little bit on the fly and with no drawings.”

Ms. Morris also does designing for other theatres, about five a year, she says. These involve her making blueprints and, usually, going to the theatre to supervise the finishing touches: painting, tweaking, as it were.

“Here in Orangeville it’s a lot more work for me onsite,” she said. The fact is that Ms. Morris has moved from her position as technical director to production director. For a short time, the two positions were blended but it is much too much work for one person and, recently, the funding came into place for the positions to be separated as they should be. Having said that, as her office is right by the workshop, she inevitably assists in the building or, at least, some of the finishing of the sets, theatre financing being what it is.

The job of production director is fingers in all the pies. She has to correlate with scheduling, budget, all the details that go into making a production work. Ms. Morris and the stage manager of each production, usually Paula Stewart with at-home Theatre Orangeville productions, spend time together before rehearsals begin, going through the details of the upcoming play.

“We have a week together of prep before rehearsals start,” Ms. Morris said.

It was quite an insight to think of the importance of that week to the show.

“It has been interesting to work with a first-time playwright,” Ms. Morris commented on her interacting with Trevor Cole, author of Norman Bray. This is Mr. Cole’s first play, an adaptation of his novel by the same name.

“He has been very involved with the production,” she informed us.

Of her ambitions, she said simply, “I want to do what makes me happy. I enjoy designing. I just want to make art for a living. It was what my mom wanted – she had a degree in fine arts, but she had two children, so she went back to school to get her teacher’s certificate and became a teacher. When she retired she finally started doing art. So, I know how lucky am I to be able to earn my living doing what I like best.”

Norman Bray in the Performance of his Life opens tonight (April 9) and runs until April 26. Tickets as always at the box office, by phone 519-942-3423 or online at www.

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