It took more than 2,000 man-hours to develop one of the most dynamic characters in “The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” — the stage. The 6.5-hour production by Theatre UCF and Orlando Shakespeare Theater (OST) is a massive undertaking, with a cast of 27 actors performing 100 scenes that take place in 40 distinct locations, so set designer Bert Scott had to think big.
Scott, a Theatre UCF associate professor, began brainstorming in March 2013 for ways to fit the expansive story inside the OST’s 324-seat Margeson Theater.
“The play itself is so epic that it needed a large space, but also the practical necessity of fitting all 27 actors,” Scott said.
The solution was to design a flexible set that had many entrances, exits and acting levels. And the actors use them all, from the platforms built into the seating area to the bridge set high above the audience’s heads and the traditionally “backstage” space behind the proscenium wall, which was removed for the production.
“The action literally surrounds the audience and incorporates them into the world of the characters,” Scott said.
Adding to the open space on the ground level, Scott included a rotating platform that he calls “the doughnut.” This automated feature allows the cast and crew to quickly move furniture — and actors — on and off stage. Computer-controlled to accelerate and decelerate, the turntable was one of the directors’ answers to rapid and tricky scene changes.
“The finished set really works well for the production,” Scott says. “The cast easily adapted to it and audiences have been quite complimentary.”
For all of the pieces to come together for this ambitious play, ‘Nickleby’ required an assembled cast and crew of more than 100 professionals, faculty, graduate and undergraduate students and interns from both the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and the University of Central Florida. The partnership, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, was key to pulling off one of the most challenging productions in the theater world, and something for which Scott is grateful.
“The level of UCF student participation in the process has been crucial to its success,” he says. “By mounting this production in partnership with OST we have been able to provide valuable practical learning opportunities working on a professional level production for our students.”
“The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby” continues through March 9 at Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Orlando’s Loch Haven Park. For schedules and tickets, go to orlandoshakes.org.