Behind the Scenes

What you need to know about what went into the Bishop’s production of “A Piece of My Heart”.

Lucy Marek, Content Editor

A photograph capturing the first scene of A Piece of My Heart, a play which tells the stories of six women before, during, and after the Vietnam war.
Top row: Riley Brunson (‘25) as Maryjo, Jennifer Xiao (‘24) as Whitney, Sophia Gleeson (‘24) as Sissy, Elizabeth Jin (‘24) as Leeann
Bottom row: Isabella Combs (‘25) as Martha, Mira Singh (‘25) as Steele
Behind the set: Raphael Delgado (‘24), Kosi Eguchi (‘23), Ben Hollingshead (‘24), all as various American men
On the podium: James Stutts (‘23) as various American men

Walking into the Taylor Performing Arts Center for the first time in two years may seem like a surreal experience for those watching the 2021 fall play, A Piece of My Heart. But it’s not only the magic of being back in a theater, of watching a performance with parents and peers that makes this experience so special; it’s the things that breathe life into the production: the incredible acting, the brilliant lighting, and, the unsung hero of it all, the set. 

Anyone who has seen A Piece of My Heart knows of the meticulously constructed platforms, walls, and ladders, the carefully painted benches and crates, that make the production truly remarkable, but what they may not know is what went into creating these pieces of the set. Although the design, construction, and painting work together to create a piece of art to be enjoyed by all, most audience members consider the process to be a mystery.


“We put quite a bit of time into that set,” remarked Kenneth Xiong (‘23), a member of Advanced Theater Production (ATP), “we got it done really fast, but it took a lot of work”. He went on to explain that the set for A Piece of My Heart had been created over the course of about three weeks, but was designed before school even started. Stage manager Jerry Huber (‘24) added that “there were three platforms already constructed and the first thing we did – after a brief safety review, of course – was build one of the taller platforms, and after that we just continued building more platforms”. 

The set was built entirely out of materials that could already be found in the shop. In other words, the tech crew spent no money when it came to construction, which may seem close to impossible when considering that the set is composed (most notably) of six platforms, multiple frames, bamboo fencing, and several ladders. On stage right (the left side of the stage from the perspective of the audience), you will find three platforms: one that near the center, close to the ground, and capable of rotating, another that is very tall, has three ramshackle-looking walls, and is closest to offstage right, and a third, somewhat between the heights of the other two, that connects them together. This is mirrored on stage left, with the exceptions of the platforms being shorter, the smallest one being incapable of rotating, and the tallest one being open, enclosed by bamboo fencing instead of walls. Christmas lights twine around the structure, stairs disguised as crates and boxes are scattered around, and sandbags litter the stage. 


In addition to building the set, ATP also had to paint it. This was achieved through a couple different techniques and paint colors, and took more time than building did, Jerry explained. 

ATP’s first job was covering everything that would be clearly visible by the audience in white and parts of the set that were farther upstage in black. They then went over the white in other colors (most notably green and brown) to form a camouflage pattern achieved through scumbling, “which is just painting colors in Xs to blend them a little bit,” according to Charlotte Banta (‘23), another member of ATP. The six benches featured throughout the performance were painted brown and gone over with a wood graining tool to make the already wooden benches look more like wood. Finally, watered-down paint was sprinkled over the stage, “just to give it a bit of texture”, said Charlotte. 


Construction and painting are nice and all, but what about the process that goes into designing the sets that are to be constructed and painted? Without the preparation beforehand, where would the production be at all? Fortunately, we don’t know the answers to these questions, since the design for A Piece of My Heart was completed diligently and thoroughly. Though the design wasn’t heavily influenced by students, since it happened during the summer and was therefore more “Paulin-heavy”, as Charlotte put it (referencing Mr. AJ Paulin, the ATP teacher), members of ATP still understand how it works, and they had some insights to share. 

“The first step is to read through the material three times,” explains Jerry, “the first time, you’re reading at your leisure, the second time is looking more in-depth, and the third time you’re reading for themes. Then you start doing some research by looking up reference images”. He went on to elaborate that there are two types of research imagery: initial research and practical research. While initial research focuses mainly on the thematic elements of the piece, such as searching up artwork to demonstrate love, practical research is used to demonstrate how the set should look; for example, to get an idea of how the bunker on stage should look, images of actual bunkers would be the most useful. 

But research is only the beginning of the design process. “After your research, you make sketches and then a white model [so named because it is made entirely out of foam core and glue]. From there you make a model which is basically just a smaller version of the set”, shares Jerry.  He also mentions that it is important to note that there is constant collaboration between the director and the set designers, to make sure that the creative vision is realized. 

The next time you watch a Bishop’s production, be sure to pay attention not only to the superb acting and the engaging lighting, but also the set. And if you’re not a theatre fan, at least you now have a fun tidbit to share over dinner with friends and family!