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Building the Yellow Brick Road: The Secrets to the Unique Set Design Behind Bay Path’s The Wizard of Oz

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The cast and crew of The Wizard of Oz performed five sold out shows in early November that did not disappoint audiences, who even took to social media to rave about the elaborate costumes, make-up, acting, and unique set design that pulled the show together.

Josiah Durham, the production’s set designer, collaborated with Bay Path students to create the magical crowd-pleasing elements by introducing “Tech Tuesdays,” where they could learn about and participate in the set design. Previously, Durham has worked on sets for the University’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2013), Winnie the Pooh (2015), Little Women (2015), James and the Giant Peach (2016), and Mary Poppins (2016). Durham shared what he loved most about building the set and working with students in this Q&A. Read on to learn more, and be sure to click through the slideshow  above to catch a glimpse of our Oz!  

What is “Tech Tuesdays”?
“Tech Tuesdays” is a workshop-style class that takes place every week to provide students with experience and familiarity in tool usage and building techniques, beyond just building set stuff. Each week, our focus would shift. Some days, we introduced more tools, and on others, we focused on creating specific pieces. It was also important for the students to learn the danger of working with new tools and help them become more aware of their surroundings.

Originally, our initiative was to get students more involved in helping with the set design. It proved to be very successful and helpful not only to us, but also to students looking to obtain new skills applicable outside of the theatre, like learning to problem-solve and how to do tasks independently and efficiently. They accomplished so much with less than two months of training in set design.

What do you find most exciting about the work you do?
I never get tired of set building or theatre, even when I work a full day, because of the variety of this field. Even if you’ve done a show before, the creative team and vision of the director give it a new and exciting feel. Most of all, I value the community and collaborative experience. Being able to share your work and your passion with other artists and bounce ideas off of them is rewarding. And in the end it always feels so good for all involved to see the finished product.

Working with a new group as a class is something I take pride in as well. The beauty of creating is that there are so many different possibilities for accomplishing the same thing and telling the same story, so to have the flexibility to change on a dime is essential. I love being able to teach that to students and build their passion in the field.

What surprised you most about this show?

Kevin Barlowski’s [Director of Theatre and Performance Studies] creative use of space and of the set pieces highlighted just how flexible the set really is. The show is symbolic of Dorothy’s mental journey, so the set was deliberately made skeletal so she could fill in the rest with her imagination, to match the idea that people can only remember bits and pieces of their dreams. We use the same pieces in every scene to shift to match what’s going on in the story.

Did you have any challenges with this show?
There is a challenge with every show. The challenge for The Wizard of Oz is that the set is so opened and exposed. However, an open set gives the creative team a lot of room for amazing lighting and blocking. There is nowhere to hide and everyone has to make use of the space. The special effects in this show were very robust and being so exposed, it was difficult to hide equipment. Most of the special effects couldn’t be run without some kind of power source. Through trial and error, we had fun figuring it out, and seized the opportunity to get creative.