Working on Opera in Sarospatak

So, I’m not just here for fun, there is also a show going up next Saturday (oh goodness, we go up in six days…). Truthfully, anyone who works in theater will tell you that a few more days would be ideal. But in this case, we really do mean it. The work for the opera happens all over the course of two weeks, plus change. To my William and Mary friends out there, think of it as the Hungarian equivalent of Sinfonicron, except we work in a castle. Which, when it comes to some production values, had its perks.

However, this doesn’t necessarily apply to set and lighting design. Certainly, as I mentioned before the acoustics are excellent, but both creating and moving the set to the castle is a challenge. As of yesterday, the first round of painting on our set was completed.

Working on a set for an outdoor opera provides both the designer (and his assistant), with a variety of challenges. And while it is certainly worth it, here are the things that I think you should know.

    The Challenges with building a set outdoors

1. We don’t have a shop to store set pieces/build in. When the columns for the set were made (which was prior to our arrival), the only place to store them was in a 20th century dormitory on the other side of town. Each column is 10 feet tall, and the largest van we have access to is certainly smaller than that. Think 3 meters total, or a little under 10 feet (again total). Moving them will be an adventure come Tuesday morning. We’re also going to figure out lights at that time.



2. We have limited resources. What we need we must acquire in Sarospatak. Or borrow. Or charmingly request-slash-plead for. When it comes to acquisition, paint shopping can get very interesting. Fortunately, Matt and I had a wonderful translator (a 19-year-old boy named Akos, pronounced “ah-kosh”), who went shopping with us. The equivalent of the Hungarian Home-Depot reminds me a smaller assortment of buildings and warehouses holding bath items, paint, tiles, etc. they also advertise their products in some very dynamic ways-


Cheers, Hungary.

As a side note: in case you have ever wondered how paint comes packaged in another country, they both box (in very light, cheap plastic) it and bag it. They also don’t sell most bags larger than 2.5 liters (about half a gallon). We’re unsure of the reason for this BUT my guess is that it’s easier for people to transport who don’t have cars. In Sarospatak, there are ramps all around town for shopping carts, and many people ride bikes. Also, soviet-era cars are still a thing (albeit, we’ve also seen some lovely Fiats around town). While Lada’s may look cool they are NOT high end. Example:


However, it ended up being useful having the paint in bags. The instructions, interestingly enough came in 5 languages (Russian, Slovakian, Romanian, Hungarian, and one other Matt and I couldn’t figure out), all of Eastern-European derivation….although the brand name was actually an American word (Platinum). Go figure.


3. At least for me, the weather can be rough. It is frequently in the high 80s, of not high 90s, and very dry. At least I can drink 1.5 gallons of water (not even kidding, I did yesterday) and I don’t have to sing. I can’t even imagine in costumes and full makeup how our Don Giovanni feels. Some of us (i.e. Matt) work wonderfully in the heat. But I guess I’m just adjusting to it.


4. Cultural and language barriers. Thank goodness I have people to translate for me, otherwise I would be lost. Most of the older generation here, including many shop keepers, don’t speak English. But Matt brought up a valid point the other day: why would they? Hungary was part of the Eastern Block, and major reforms in Hungary didn’t occur until about 1988.** When they were younger, there was simply no need to speak English, especially in rural Hungary.

**try checking out this book: Crampton, R. J. (1997), Eastern Europe in the twentieth century and after, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-16422-2

I know how to say thank you, no, yes, and very good. 2 words a day, we’re trying.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it here! If anything, I’m learning how to make unusual situations work in my favor. And let’s face it folks, no matter what you do in theater you’re going to have a million things thrown your way at once. You might as well do it in a really fascinating location.

UPDATES (8-5-13): As Matt pointed out, I got some things wrong. 10 feet is equal to 3.048 meter (the Candelabras we needed to transport from Budapest still didn’t fit, I assure you), and 2.5 liters is 0.66043 gallons (so a little over half a gallon).