When the University of Central Florida kicks off its theatre season next week, audiences will feel dramatic tension, hear actors exchange dialogue and see a large set take over the tiny stage of the Black Box theatre.

But what audiences can’t see is one of the most interesting parts of the production: before each show, UCF Theatre students work tirelessly behind-the-scenes.

As this year’s season kicks off with two shows instead of just one, students will be responsible for building and breaking down several different sets for the shows and making sure the parts fit together like a puzzle.  

“As a repertory production, there are two shows enwrapped,” said Associate Professor Bert Scott, who designed the sets for both shows. “The big challenge is there are several very large pieces to move in a short amount of time. It’s like a game of Tetris.”

Savage in Limbo, a play about feisty young New Yorkers trying to find their ways, takes place in a bar. Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music, about the wacky patrons of a country bar, starts in an asphalt parking lot, and the set changes to a rooftop for act two.

Shaped like a house, the main set was designed to break in half and transform into the background each play calls for.

In addition to providing the stage for each show, the set and scenery hide props for whichever play is not being acted.

Of the largest props, Savage in Limbo calls for a pool table, and Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music features a pick-up truck. Students are responsible for successfully hiding and safely moving the props during intermission and between productions, relying on wheeled risers for transport.

Matt Pye, a junior Theatre Design student, is working as a carpenter, helping freshmen construct the set and teaching them how to move its elements.

“What’s great about theatre is that we’re always challenged, and it’s constant problem-solving,” Pye said. “Students have to work as a team and communicate, and there’s a time constraint. It’s all a great learning experience.”

The educational takeaway is one of the reasons UCF has staged repertory productions for the past three years, said Scott, the theatre professor.

“We do repertory to give students an idea of something that is done a lot in professional theatre,” Scott explained. “You have to think about not just what the stage looks like, but how things fit off the stage and how to make things mobile.”

Savage in Limbo and Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music will be performed at the Black Box Theatre, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando.

Performances of Savage in Limbo will begin at 8 p.m. Sept. 22-24 and Oct. 5 and 7. There will be a 2 p.m. performance Oct. 9.

Nice People Dancing to Good Country Music will be performed at 8 p.m. Sept. 29 and 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 6 and 8. There will be a 2 p.m. show on Oct. 2.

Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. Subscriptions to Black Box productions are available.

To learn more about Theatre UCF, visit http://theatre.ucf.edu.