Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide demands a smorgasbord of sets and costumes, as the title character traverses more than eight countries, each with their own stylistic air. Teams of carpenters, seamstresses and wigmakers put in weeks of work for only two shows. Candide opened Friday, July 27, and will run once more Monday, July 30, in Norton Hall.
Chautauqua Opera Company’s crew built all of this season’s sets in Norton Hall’s backstage workshop. For the week of Candide dress rehearsals and performances, they share the space with the cast as a series of choral quick changes turn the sawdust-covered shop into a de facto dressing room.
“It’s a frenetic show backstage,” said Martha Ruskai, wig and makeup designer.
She designed hairpieces and accessories that come on and off easily between scenes. “We have wigs on top of wigs,” she said. “We have wigs with magnets and hats with magnets.”
Days before opening night, crew workers clad in plastic bags finished spray-painting a vignette on the backdrop amid clattering drills and hammers.
By the end of the week, backstage was a whimsical storm of their collective efforts. Trays of fake cake and feathered wigs wait alongside raw plywood and rows of tools. But when the curtain rises, their labors assume supporting roles to the artists onstage.
A job well done is a job unnoticed by the audience, Ruskai said: “Ideally, they don’t even know that we’ve done anything.”