By Erin C. Gaynor, Development Intern
Upon entering the Owen Theatre to see El Nogalar, the most striking feature on the set are the trees. Long and lean (and maybe a little gangly), these trees are beautiful and real.
As readers of my previous post about clafouti know, my favorite part of theater is how so many aspects of it are imitated to fit the stage. When I found out all of the trees on stage for El Nogalar were actual trees, I talked with Assistant Production Manager, Matt Chandler, to find out how the El Nogalar trees came to live in the Goodman.
According to Matt, a friend of Director Cecilie Keenan’s brother knew of a gentleman in Frankfort, Illinois, who was looking to clear some trees off of his property. A few members of the properties team went down to Frankfort to help the gentleman clear the trees and put them on a flatbed truck. The trees were then brought to the Goodman’s scene shop.
The trees on stage are anchored similar to how Christmas trees are every year, but on a much larger scale. Specially cut holes were carved into the deck of the Owen stage. The trees were then placed in those holes, putting the trunks four feet under the stage. Similar to a Christmas tree, the El Nogalar trees are slowly dying (a far more depressing outlook than most of us take around the holidays); their branches have “begun to droop and we are constantly trimming them during the run,” Matt told me.
So why use real trees? Primarily cost. “It’s far easier to cut down a tree versus build, carve and paint a fake tree—the time, labor and materials add up,” said Matt. The last production to use real trees was Ruined, which had palm trees shipped from Florida.
When looking to use real versus false trees, structure and use on stage typically dictates which will be picked. For instance, the tree in The Trinity River Plays needed to be fake due to Iris (Karen Aldridge) and Rose (Penny Johnson Jerald) sitting and interacting with the tree. Real trees begin to decompose after a while and would have been dangerous for the actors.
The El Nogalar set, designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge, is gorgeous.I appreciate that real trees are on stage. For me, the trees limbo between life and death, present yet decomposing, is reminiscent of the memory Maité clings to of the pecan ochard. If you haven’t yet, go see El Nogalar before it closes on Sunday—both the set and the acting are beautiful.
Top: Yunuen Pardo and Carlo Lorenzo Garcia in El Nogalar; photo by Brian Sidney Bembridge. Middle: The set of El Nogalar; photo by Brian Sidney Bembridge. Bottom: Penny Johnson Jerald in The Trinity River Plays; photo by Brandon Thibodeaux.