Friday, May 2, 2008
Allen Bantly’s set stars in West Side Story
When engineer Allen Bantly of Stearns Street retired three years ago, he contentedly spent time improving his property and building a garage. “Then I started looking for another project,” he recalls, “and I saw a flyer from the Concord Players. They were looking for volunteers for backstage work. I just wanted to build stuff,” he says, and build he did.
Last year he worked on set construction for Lend Me a Tenor and A Lion in Winter, and now
is the chief of set construction for West Side Story, currently playing.
Working with set designer Brian Harris, Bantly has created an authentic New York neighborhood as the backdrop for the classic story of young, star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. “A chunk of New York got plopped here,” Bantly comments modestly in an interview at 51 Walden Street in Concord, the theater’s home.
Bantly, a 25-year resident of Carlisle, is engaging and upbeat in describing his involvement in the show. In fact, he could be a one-man PR department for the company – he clearly loves what he’s doing and enjoys and respects his colleagues. His enthusiasm for the show, the actors, the dancers and backstage volunteers is infectious, and his conversation is sprinkled with compliments about his theater family – Kirsten Gould’s direction, the energetic kids from the Concord Youth Theatre, Carlislean Kathy Booth’s costumes, and especially the dedicated men who worked with him on building the set: Jim Miller and Steven Smith of Carlisle, and Frank Gill.
Fifteen set changes
“Everything about West Side Story is complicated,” Bantly notes. “The music, the dancing, the action, the set – it’s all a big endeavor.” He obviously loves the challenge of building a complicated set. In the first scene the audience sees a gritty street scene on Manhattan’s upper West Side – dark brick walls of apartment houses and a broken wooden fence plastered with posters. Through ingenious set design and construction, the scenery morphs into two separate apartments, a drug store, a bridal shop, a bedroom, and more – “nine set changes in Act I and six in Act II,” Bantly reports, and he still seems amazed at the number. Two fire escapes are attached to the scenery on stage left and stage right. They were welded by Bantly and inspected several times by the Concord Building Department to ensure their safety. The chain link fence that features prominently in the fight scene between the Jets and the Sharks rolls out smartly from its hiding place behind two flats. It is securely fastened to the stage floor to withstand the pounding from the athletic dancers – during rehearsal, one exuberant dancer bent the top of the fence. The audience will hear the authentic clanking sound of the fence when the dancers vault over it.
Looking ahead to next season
Bantly clearly enjoys the intricacies of set building. He and his crew finished building the set in just under eight weeks, making some modifications along the way to meet certain challenges. “We had to build some special windows in existing flats to fit a box in the back so lights could be installed,” he says. “When the lights aren’t lit, it looks like an empty apartment.”
Bantly admits to some sadness at the thought of striking (dismantling) the West Side Story set after the final performance. But he looks forward to next season, when the Concord Players will stage Hay Fever, Cabaret and To Kill a Mockingbird. He encourages town residents to volunteer, as he did, for backstage work. “The volunteer spirit here is just phenomenal,” he says. Anyone interested in volunteering can call Bill Maxwell of Concord, the president of Concord Players, at 1-978-369-5257.
Audiences can see West Side Story this weekend and next, May 2 to 4 and May 8 to 10 (www.concordplayers.org) and they will surely be inspired to applaud Bantly’s impressive and highly professional scenery. One of the backstage crew said to him, “The actors will have to be even better or people will just stare at the set.” Bantly has set a new standard for future productions. ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito