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Behind the curtain

August 19, 2004

Photo of Nicole Helfer in her "Assassins" role as would-be Gerald Ford assassin Sara Jane MooreThis past semester a group of students representing some of the most villainous figures in U.S. history gathered nightly in SFSU's Little Theatre. From John Wilkes Booth to the lesser-known Leon Czolgosz, the students were actors in "Assassins," a rather unusual Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman musical.

These assassins did not act alone. They had quite a few accomplices, including their fellow students and their professors. Together they worked diligently on the behind-the-scenes details including sound, lighting, scenery and costumes.

The springtime production was directed by Professor Barbara Damashek, a three-time Tony nominee. It was an enormous undertaking, bringing a new level of complexity and backstage innovation to the McKenna Theatre.

For example, student designers, including scenery's Darcy Villere, transformed the house into a vaudeville-styled review filled with eye-catching sets reflecting the musical's changing moods. Villere played a key role in the creation of the backdrop for Lee Harvey Oswald's pivotal scene on the fifth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. Although the actual room is rather small, Damashek told Villere the scene required something cavernous to represent the room as it looms in the collective American mind.

Villere suggested that they stretch the stage to the back of the paint shop located next door. The move provided an extra 20 to 30 feet of space for the scene. Assistant set designers Ginger Dunnil and Carlos Agilar painted hundreds of canvas-covered frames to look like boxes of varying sizes, each carefully measured to create the desired perspective. They relied upon a photograph of the room for accuracy.

For more on how the students and faculty members managed to stage this complex musical, visit SFSU Magazine online.

-- Adrianne Bee
Photo: Lui Gino de Grandis


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Last modified August 19, 2004 by University Communications