By Leslie D. Rose
In every production there’s always one thing that stands out, be it actor, musical accompaniment, or direction – or in the case with the New Venture Theatre (NVT) production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s “Aida” – the breakout star is indeed the set.
“Aida” tells the tale of a timeless bond between an enslaved Nubian princess and an Egyptian soldier. As forbidden love blossoms between them, the young lovers are forced to face death or part forever.
Together, they set a shining example of true devotion that ultimately transcends the vast cultural differences between their warring nations.
But timeless tale aside, the set is still the real story here. To be sure this piece of the show was well-crafted, NVT founding artistic director and show director Greg Williams, Jr. called on both an artist and an architect to ensure things were not only visually appealing, but technically possible.
To put together several pieces of scenery for the huge show, area art teacher Brandon Lewis worked with Kelly Latchie, a local retailer who has done architectural studies. “Aida” is Lewis’s first time building a set for NVT. Latchie has done technical design for the group since 2007 – with his favorite project being “SHOUT” – where he crafted an interior of a Baptist church for the gospel production, winning a NewV Award (awards given at the end of NVT’s season) for his work.
Latchie studied architecture at Southern University for over three years, but has not yet completed his degree.
“Even though I can’t really do architecture at the moment, doing set design gives me the same sense of accomplishment because I can still see that vision I have in my head become reality,” Latchie said. “I also have creative input on the design, but I do the technical things like building drops.”
Latchie said he has certainly felt pressure while working on the “Aida” set because it is the second large show for NVT since relocating to the Shaw Center for the Arts and only the second to be placed onstage at The Manship Theatre, as opposed to the more intimate setting of the Hartley/Vey Theatre.
“For this set, things are constantly changing and constantly moving,” he said. “And in that realm, there was a lot of pressure because instead of having just one scene to design, I had to design ten.”
Of the designs, Latchie said he’s most proud of the boat sails because of their vibrancy.
For Lewis, however, nailing down just one favorite seemed an impossible task. He listed three pieces that he said he’s most excited about, but said that if he had to pick one, it would be the tomb.
“I was able to give [the tomb] the look of stone and was able to play with it,” Lewis said. “It comes in at the end. I was able to mix a lot of metallic things and gold and some columns and the look of marble and hieroglyphics and symbols.”
Lewis joked that he has a character flaw of knowing that everything he visually dreams up will work. He said he was actually just lucky that he and Latchie were able to work well together in that his designs lent themselves to technical capabilities.
“It was kind of tough at first trying to pull everything together in a sense of getting [Latchie] to visualize everything I was talking about,” Lewis said. “But once we got the storyboard together and noticed the things we would need, we started to flow together really well. So it’s almost like trying to figure out a new recipe and learning the ingredients.”
Lewis said the one thing he loves about “Aida” is that it is so colorful from the cast to the music to the story.
“The set had to be as colorful and as magical as the words in the script and the music,” he said. “When I listened to the music and read the script, I was able to visualize and think about how in theatre everything has to come together.”
In pulling the themes together, Lewis said he and Latchie had to arrange color schemes with costuming to ensure complementation in accordance with the style of songs being used in the various scenes.
Before this production, Lewis had only done design work with his church as well as with his fraternity’s large scholarship pageant regionally.
Both designers said they can’t wait for audiences to see their work come to life. And people will have five chances to do so beginning July 10.
Along with a vibrant and expertly crafted set, the show features a pop-rock score of stirring ballads and moving choral numbers, multi-cultural casting of some NVT favorite actors, dancers and even a few newcomers showcasing exuberant dancing, staging and singing.
New Venture Theatre presents
The Manship Theatre
(inside the Shaw Center for the Arts)
100 Lafayette St.
July 10, 7:30 p.m.
July 11, 7:30p.m.
July 12, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
July 13, 3 p.m.
Tickets: $25.00, $20 for groups of ten or more
225-344-0334 or newventuretheatre.org.