Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contacts: David W. Booth / Cora Vasseur, NIU School of Theatre and Dance
(815) 753-1337

February 8, 2007

NIU’s next theater production play presents technical challenge

DeKalb — The technical team responsible for producing the special effects for Northern Illinois University’s next theatre production faces the challenge of creating a flowing stream in an indoor theatre space.

The School of Theatre and Dance 2006-2007 Subscription Series production, “Yerma,” by Federico Garcia Lorca, which runs Feb. 22 through Feb. 25, and Feb. 28 through March 4, calls for an actual stream to flow for the duration of the play and into a refilling-and-draining pond.

“Water onstage is very difficult to work with if it is not controlled,” says technical director and M.F.A. in technical design candidate, Michael Schafer. “Water can easily get out of control and damage the theater. The water will also be onstage near lights, electricity, and performers.”

Working with water creates a personal challenge for Schafer, since he has never worked with it onstage before. Researching and planning how to use running water onstage took a considerable amount of time.

Schafer says the continuous stream will have similar mechanics to a fountain. A pump will push water to its highest point in a loop on the set. Gravity will pull it down through the set. When it returns to the lowest point, a collection zone collects the water into a hose (or a plumbing system) which takes the water back to the pump. As long as there is continuous pressure between the flowing water and pumping water, the water should continue to flow. Schafer is still figuring out the mechanics of the refilling and draining pond.

Unfortunately, Shafer fears the water effects may “drown due to time constraints.” The scenic shop at the school is building scenery for three plays at the same time, which caused the Yerma set building to fall slightly behind. Student labor has been running low. Some of the running water effects may be cut in order to make up lost time.

“Time is the biggest enemy in my world, because we cannot push opening night,” says Schafer.

While the extent of the water effects is still to be determined, preparations elsewhere for the production must be ready for its full use. For instance, the set design must largely be waterproof. The set design by M.F.A. candidate Adam Liston consists of walls that form the structure of several Spanish houses and will use different painting techniques, including adding sawdust to paint, in order to get the stucco-look and texture he wanted.

“We’ve painted some of the prop bricks for the look we want,” he says, “but we’re testing them to see how well they hold up.”

Daniel’e Taylor, M.F.A. candidate in costume design and the costume designer for the production, also had to make adjustments, as many of the costumes will suffer the effects of water as well.

“Materials had to be used in the costume build to adjust for the proper understructures,” Taylor says, “and we had to take into account how heavy they would be when they got wet, as well as how revealing they might be, which we wanted to minimize.”

As for what to do with wet actors who must continue in the show, she says, “We made a second set of clothes, and we have a lot of people waiting in the wings with towels.”

Yerma, one play of Lorca’s Rural Trilogy, takes place on the Andalusia plains in Spain. The title character is a peasant, who desperately wants a child, but believes she is infertile. Conversations around her about pregnancies and raising children torment her. New evidence brought to her attention causes her to believe her husband is the reason for their childless marriage, which leads her to commit a terrible crime.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $14 for adults, $8 for seniors and $7 for students. For more information and ticket reservations, contact the Stevens Building box office at (815) 753-1600, or visit the Web site at

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