The University Record, October 1, 1997

Decorating a stage set a little more involved than decorating a home

Set designer Toni Auletti pulls yards of cotton muslin from the Frieze Building's paint shop floor. Auletti stapled the fabric to a soft board on the floor and then painted on a 1950s design in burnt orange and harvest gold. Once dry, the muslin becomes drapery lining for The Marriage of Bette and Boo. Photo by Joanne Nesbit

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

When most newlyweds are contemplating whether to put a poster of Puff Daddy or something by Monet on the wall, Toni Auletti of Dexter is deciding how to turn a theater's stage into a 1950s home. From draperies to carpet, her current mission is to recreate the interior of a suburban 1951 house for the Department of Theater's production of Christopher Durang's The Marriage of Bette and Boo.

Auletti shows up at a production meeting with a scale model of the stage and the set she has designed, drawings, diagrams, some carpet swatches and a plastic bag full of mesh drapes. The drapes are a real find for the theater technician/set designer, who found the whole lot for $27 at a hotel surplus outlet. But the consideration at the meeting is whether washing the drapes will remove the flameproofing, a no-no in the theater business. As discussion of the dilemma rounds the table, the decision is made to keep the drapes and spray them with a flame retardant after they are hung.

From carpet samples obtained at a local outlet, Auletti has chosen a gray tone with a tight weave. The question here isn't how long it will last or whether it will survive kids and a dog, but whether the actors will be able to slide chairs across it when changing scenes. The consensus is that it will work.

And so the discussion among stage manager, lighting designer, costume designer, properties manager and director Jerry Schwiebert moves from how long the wedding dress should be, the color of the bridesmaids' dresses, whether the bride will wear a veil, the kind of corsages the wedding party should wear, and how to show a change of holiday season without changing the set or costumes. The answers come fairly quickly, thanks to the research that has been done long before the meeting.

Auletti, a U-M M.F.A. graduate in scene design who also serves as a stage painter for University Productions, turned to bound issues of 1950s women's and decorating magazines she found in libraries. "I just really had too much fun reading these magazines," she says. A book of 1950s wedding photos borrowed from the director's parents gave the costume designer the direction she needed.

The culmination of all this planning and research is the Theater Department's first offering of the season, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, a satire of a typical-of-the-times Catholic family. The production opens Oct. 9 in the Trueblood Theater in the Frieze Building. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. Oct. 9, Oct. 11 and Oct. 16-18, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 12 and 19. Tickets ($14) are available at the Michigan League Ticket Office.