Mr. Castle Builds a Castle

By: Kayla Stephensen

Mr. Kyle Castle is one of the co-directors for the theater program at Bellbrook High School who splits responsibilities with the other director, Madame Jergens. He designs the set and is the Stage Crew Manager. He’s a Bellbrook grad who also did theatre in high school.

What’s the best part of stage crew?
With many professions or hobbies in life, the results of your hard work can feel intangible. It’s extremely rewarding to collaborate with enthusiastic young adults to produce something concrete and physical that will benefit and serve an even larger purpose. Making cool stuff is really, really cool!

What’s your favorite structure you’ve built and why was it your favorite?
The set for 2018’s fall play The Curious Savage is easily my favorite structure. I learned a lot of lessons from the previous two years of set design and construction and I think it showed in that set. Playing with forced perspective and battling the dimensions of our stage simultaneously was uniquely difficult, but I enjoyed the challenge. I managed to make a space that felt truly lived in, warts and all. I was sad to see it dismantled.

What are you most proud of building?
In spite of it being my favorite, the personal cost of making The Curious Savage set pales in comparison to this year’s Beauty and the Beast set. When Madame Jergens first brought up her desire to do B&B, I openly laughed at her. It was a massive undertaking, and one where people enter the theater with very specific expectations. I like to think that we sent those expectations running for the hills. With such a huge project, things don’t go as planned. Originally the 7-foot platform with a 1-foot drop was an 8-foot platform with a 2-foot drop. I’m sure both my Beast and Gaston are thankful for the adjustment! And even after reducing the height, our main curtain border was too low to put the Beast in a spotlight on the balcony, so we had to add a light to the first electric pipe to compensate. Things like that arose constantly. People have no idea how much work goes into not just the construction of a set, but the design process as well. I spent several weeks sketching concepts for various pieces before I hit on one that Madame Jergens and I both liked. It’s always a lengthy process, but for this show it was especially difficult. However, if I’m honest, I’m a little sad it’s over. But there’s always next year! And the year after that…and the year after that…

What’s the most important rule of stage crew?
I’m obligated to say that safety is the most important rule. What we do can be dangerous. There has to be a certain amount of trust between the crew members and myself. Trust that they’ll follow my rules and the laws of common sense. Few students are handed tools willy-nilly. I make them watch me first, or guide them through the first several attempts with a particular tool. And no students are to use the table saw without myself being involved. That’s a big one! Also, not to denigrate any students, but attention spans are not what they used to be. With phones and other devices thrown into the mix, people stop paying attention to their surroundings and that can be dangerous as well. We can have fun (and we certainly do), but safety has to come first.

And if I may, an important second rule is respect. For a time, stage crew and the cast were very separate groups. Nobody knew any names, they didn’t talk or mingle. When Madame and I took over the program that was something we saw that had to change. Everyone needs to respect one another if our productions are to have any chance at success. Division just breeds further division, and there’s no place for that in our program. That doubly goes for fellow crew members. We’re a diverse group with many different strengths and backgrounds, and being cognisant of that is crucial.

What was it like to take on the show of Beauty and The Beast? How do you feel about it now?
I touched on this previously, but taking on B&B was a job and a half! Toeing the line between expectation and allowing our kids to bring their own flavors to the characters is always something that we struggle with, but with B&B it’s even more difficult. I’m sure some people saw that Gaston didn’t have a ponytail and scoffed, or that we didn’t have a ballroom drop or a chandelier, etc., etc., but at the end of the day, this was the Beauty and the Beast that was right for us and for our stage, and it was perfect because of that. We placed a great deal of faith and responsibility into the hands of our cast members and, as usual, they did not disappoint! The only thing I might fix would be to get our technical issues hammered out a few days earlier. Every time the confetti cannons didn’t fire I lost a year off of my life.

What show would you love to make something for/direct and why?
From the set construction side, I would love to build the set for Noises Off. Not only is it a hilarious play within a play, but I would get to build a carousel for the full stage to rotate!!! How stinking cool would that be?!

In terms of directing, I hope to someday put together a production of Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. It’s an absurdist play with a lot of overlapping chatter and, in broad strokes, it seeks to pick apart the herd mentality that allowed the Nazis to come to power. Socially these are problems that we deal with still today, and I believe it remains just as relevant as when it was written in ‘59.

How did you learn so much about building things?
I owe much of my set construction skills to Dick Cost. He volunteered his time to design and construct sets from the theater program’s inception until Deadly Ernest, the 2017 fall play. He now designs sets for his daughter who is a director at a high school up in New York. Coincidentally, they just did Noises Off with a rotating floor last year (I’m not jealous or anything). I would also like to credit my friend Eric Moore, who is the current Master Carpenter and designs sets for The Human Race Theatre in Dayton. I have been bouncing ideas off of him for the past couple of years and he took a more direct role in helping us build for B&B. Lastly, I have Mr. Hunt (who just retired from the high school) to thank for teaching me technical drawing skills in his engineering classes. I still use those techniques when designing sets and drawing!

What’s your advice to anyone that wants to join?
My only advice is to stop by during build crew. Come on in, introduce yourself and ask how you can help. You’ll be a member of our family in no time, whether you like it or not!

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