By PAM HARBAUGH
Designers creating costumes and lights and prop masters insuring the actor has a sword when the script calls for it, are key to any show. But especially for “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT,” the raucous musical poking elbows in the side of the Arthurian Legend. It opens Friday at Surfside Playhouse in Cocoa Beach.
“In this show in particular, lighting, costume and props have got to stay true to the aesthetic created by ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’,” said director Bryan Bergeron. “They have to look as though the show is being performed on a Vegas stage.”
So Bergeron turned to a trio of designers with professional backgrounds in their fields: Lighting designer Dusty Ray, props master Mark Papson and costume designer Kim Welborn.
While this is no small task, Ms. Welborn has a deep background in costume design and currently design costumes for Orlando Opera. Growing up in the Middle East, Europe and Asia, she had, she said, “great exposure to culture of all kinds.”
She started designing costumes during high school in Bangkok, Thailand. Soon after, her family returned to the United States where she became fascinated with historic costuming.
Ms. Welborn majored in fashion design in college but put it all on the back burner while raising and homeschooling her four children. She got involved again when her daughter was selected to perform in renaissance dance company and, of course, Ms. Welborn just had to volunteer her help.
That led her to the job of costume designer for “Horn in the West,” the famous North Carolina outdoor drama. Many outdoor pageants later, she found herself commissioned to make costumes for the New York Metropolitan Opera.
She’s currently working on a fair-trade clothing company project which she plans to launch next year. She was greatly encouraged in that idea when it led her to be a finalist in the 2012 Oxford University Global Entrepreneurship Competition.
But all this background and achievement didn’t prepare Ms. Welborn for the biggest challenge she experienced with “Spamalot” – Hurricane Irma, which bit a chunk out of prep time.
“Some pieces I could prepare for in advance,” she said. “I purchased fabric for the knights in New York in August.”
But most of the work had to wait until the cast could assemble, and that was delayed one week You don’t know the size of a costume until you know who’s going to be filling it.
“This is a huge show under the best of circumstances,” she said. “But putting together this many costumes in four weeks has been crazy. Our volunteers really stepped up…Everything is about this show is a hack.”
The Lady of the Lake’s costume includes a 1950s prom gown and plastic sheeting; knights’ armor uses baseball gear and EVA foam (the material used in interlocking exercise mats); and the Knights of Ni get spray foam for their antlers.
The funniest part of her experience costuming “Spamalot” was instructing her crew of lady volunteers in the “proper direction for the codpieces to point.”
DUSTY RAY: While Mr. Ray may not have quite the same ribald “funniest experience,” he did get a kick out of Bergeron asking him to create a “very expensive forest” with just lights.
“Okay, we can do that,” Mr. Ray said.
Indeed. If you need lights to create something like that, then Mr. Ray is the person to ask.
After getting a BFA in theatrical lighting and set design from Florida State University’s nationally recognized theater department, the Brevard native moved to New York City and joined the famed Public Theatre where he worked on lights for the organization’s Shakespeare in the Park.
That led to working on Broadway for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” with Nathan Lane and “The Tempest” with Patrick Stewart. He designed lights for Off Broadway production of “Never Tell” which earned him a nomination for the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Light Design.
He’s also worked at the legendary Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut and at Radio City Music Hall.
Mr. Ray returned to Melbourne in 1990 and worked with Bergeron and at Satellite High School. He currently is the lighting director for Calvary Chapel of Melbourne.
Put this all together, though, and he still took a breath before tackling “Spamalot.”
“The biggest challenge with this one is the sheer scope of the show,” Mr. Ray said. “Large cast, many locations. Surfside is an older theater, in terms of dimmers and equipment. Funny actually, many of the lights I’m using today I used 20 years ago.”
Typically, musicals will use a kind of light called a “follow spot” that lights up a performer as he or she sings and moves across the stage. Mr. Ray’s hack here was to program moving lights to lead the actor.
“Tricky to program, but should look great,” he said. “It’s pretty much non-stop with very little actual blackouts between scenes. The concept is to use colors and gobos (a cut-out pattern used to create textured light) to create different locations as seamlessly as possible and to give the musical numbers a lot of rich color.”
MARK PAPSON: Like the other two, Mr. Papson has a rich professional background in his field of props.
A quiet man who does not like to talk about himself, he eventually gave up that he worked on props on variety shows including the Dean Martin and Flip Wilson shows and multiple TV sit-coms including “Seinfeld,” “Growing Pains” and “Boy Meets World.” He was assistant properties master on “Big Bang Theory” before moving from Hollywood, California area to Cocoa Beach to be closer to family.
Life at Surfside is a bit more simple than dealing with “continuity” in filming or supplying food on a “hot set” — a frequent occurrence in “The Big Bang Theory.”
“A food scene is a little more tricky,” he said. “They’ll do it five or six times. That means you have to have five or six pies or five or six fresh turkeys…The extras, basically the crew takes a little eo it. The cast doesn’t. The rest usually went to my house. Those are the little perks.”
Mr. Papson joined Surfside because his wife volunteered him.
“I got there and lo and behold, I’m able to shed some light on props,” he said. “We’re small. It’s been very nice. Coming from where I worked for so many years, you get to become egocentric. This has taken me down to right size.”
SIDE O’ GRITS: “MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT” opens Friday, Nov. 3 and runs through Nov. 19 at Surfside Playhouse, 301 Ramp Road (5th Street South), Cocoa Beach, FL Tickets are $25 general and $22 seniors, military and students. Call 321- 783-3127 visit SurfsidePlayers.com or click on their ad.
This is an edited version of a story running in the Melbourne Beachsider.