Over the past few months, London was built at IPFW, then disassembled, put into trucks, and reassembled at the Arts United Center.
It's all part of the preparation for the musical “Oliver!,” which opens Friday. It's based on Charles Dickens' classic story about an orphan on the streets of London who joins a gang of pickpockets.
The show is a collaborative effort between the IPFW Department of Theatre and Fort Wayne Youtheatre, so the cast includes youths, college students and community members ranging in age from 6 to 61.
But IPFW Department of Theatre chair John O'Connell, who is directing the show, said building the set at IPFW and moving it to the Arts United Center was “logistically very daunting.”
The show is staged at the Arts United Center because it's too big for the Williams Theatre at IPFW, O'Connell said.
“Secondly, it's kind of our mission to have a presence in the community,” he said. Bringing the show downtown helps fulfill that goal.
Construction of the mammoth London set started in November at IPFW. O'Connell said they didn't build it at the Arts United Center because they would have had to pay rent on the space.
So on Saturday, parent volunteers and the college cast members moved it to the Arts United Center. They had 26 hours to move it, get it set up, do sound checks and get the lights ready, O'Connell said.
Taking apart the set, transporting it and reassembling it actually provided a learning experience for the college students, O'Connell said.
As he explained it, some of those students may end up performing in what's called a “bus and truck tour” after they graduate from college. Those are the shows that roll from town to town, setting up a show, doing a performance or two, tearing down and moving to the next destination.
The experience of setting up the “Oliver!” set in a short amount of time is similar to what some of these students might do with a small, traveling professional show, O'Connell said.
Aside from the logistics, O'Connell is directing a large show that includes 26 children.
Leslie Hormann, Youtheatre executive director, is assistant director and self-proclaimed “chief child wrangler.”
O'Connell said the college students are “kind of naturally mentoring” the children, particularly the seven boys ages 11-13 who play the pickpocket boys. He will look over and see the college kids working with the pickpockets to get a dance right.
“I can't have them looking at people's feet,” O'Connell said.
He is particularly impressed with the pickpocket boys, who have learned six full dances. And the pickpocket boys and the two boys playing Oliver are impressive for another reason as well.
“I haven't had to teach these kids how to do a Cockney dialect,” he said. “The pickpockets and Olivers naturally mimic the dialect.”
The best part, though, may be seeing the youths “be completely turned on by theater.” O'Connell hopes to nourish that enthusiasm.