Kamiak High School juniors Johnny Scherz (right) and Christian Maldonado paint a prop to be used in the school’s production of “Spamalot” on Wednesday, April 4. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Kamiak High School juniors Johnny Scherz (right) and Christian Maldonado paint a prop to be used in the school’s production of “Spamalot” on Wednesday, April 4. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

Backstage magic at Kamiak’s ‘Spamalot’

Set designers, lighting technicians and sound designers make the Monty Python musical come alive.

MUKILTEO — They’re hard at work building a giant Trojan rabbit.

Kamiak High School students are constructing an 8-foot-tall wooden rabbit to be featured in “Spamalot,” their spring musical adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” All they have left to do is finish making the rabbit’s head.

A parody of the Arthurian legend, the musical features trademark Monty Python zaniness such as the Knights Who Say Ni and killer rabbits. (The Pythonites obviously had a thing for rabbits.)

“The rabbit is being made in Terry Gilliam’s style, who did the cartoons for Monty Python,” director and drama teacher Bryan Sullivan said, adding that other sets and props also borrow Gilliam’s signature cartoon look. “It’s similar to the one in the movie, but our students are putting their own twist on it.”

The Trojan rabbit plays into an outrageous scene: King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table build the wooden rabbit to storm a castle in the manner that the Greeks did during the Trojan War — except they mess up their plan by forgetting to hide inside it.

While 45 students cast in “Spamalot” are busy with rehearsals, 55 others are working on the musical comedy’s sets, lighting and sound.

Twenty-two of those students are taking a theater class that covers all things behind-the-scenes: the basics of set design and construction, lighting, sound, costumes and makeup. Another 33 volunteer after school to help wherever they can.

Already this year, these students have designed and built sets for Dramafest, the high school’s one-act play festival, and “Almost, Maine,” a collection of nine short plays that explore love and loss. Now they’re working on sets for “Spamalot.”

In addition to the Trojan rabbit, students are building two sweeping staircases, constructing a 19-by-24-foot castle, painting trees for a Very Expensive Forest — a Python joke about the musical’s prop trees — and engineering platforms that reach as high as 7½ feet.

Craig Wollam, who does set designs for Kamiak productions, provided thumbnail sketches for “Spamalot,” but Sullivan said students take those designs and make them their own. Wollam, a professional set designer, visits the school once a week to help students if they’re stuck on a project.

Johanna Funke, a Kamiak junior, is one of several students tasked with painting the plywood castle. She has spent hours carefully lining and shading the “stonework” — in a Kamiak purple scheme — so that it appears to be 3-D to the audience. With just one hour of class time to paint each school day, it’s taken her weeks to finish.

“I don’t have an example to go off, so all the detailing is my own,” she said. “The only direction I was given is that we need some lavender bricks and some gray bricks. I’m trying to make it look as less cartoony as possible.”

Johanna, 17, isn’t a “theater kid.” She wants to be an interior designer, so she enjoys that the stagecraft class lets her try her hand at design.

As students are busy building sets on the high school’s stage, a few of them are working from above in the light booth.

Sydney Erickson and Matthew Laughlin, both seniors, will operate Kamiak’s light board and two spotlights during the musical from the balcony-level room.

“These tech boards are really old,” said Sydney, who has been a “lighting kid” all four years of high school. “We actually still use floppy disks, which is super crazy.”

Right now, Sydney, 18, is reading the musical at least five times so that she can create a lighting program that complements the script. She’ll program lighting cues — when and where lights turn on and off — with the light board. There could be more than 200 light changes in the show that she will have to make program cues for.

It’s a complicated process involving a lot of switches and buttons, but once she’s done programming the lights, the only button Sydney will need to push for the show is the one marked “Go.”

Meanwhile, Matthew, 17, is in charge of the actual lights. More than 40 hang above the stage and from the catwalk. He’s rearranging the lights, hooking them up to circuit boxes, fixing their angles and attaching colored films when needed. When he’s done with that project, he’ll practice taking cues from the stage manager to spotlight actors during the show.

The colored films are Sydney’s favorite part of the lighting program. “I’m a big fan of color theory,” she said.

When used correctly and sparringly, she said colors can help set the emotion or tone of a scene. For example, red may be used to signify anger; blue to evoke sadness. Already, Sydney know she wants to add green and blue tones to scenes in the Very Expensive Forest to give it a “mystical feeling.”

In the back row of the theater seating are the students working the sound board.

Erica Gan, a junior, operates the sound board for “Spamalot.” She controls all of the actors’ microphones and cues all of the sound effects. She follows along with the script so she knows when to turn on mics and cue recorded sounds.

Erica, 17, also has been programming noises needed for the show into a computer; so far they include the sound of a fish slap, a thunderstorm, rocket boosters and the voice of God.

“I make sure everyone sounds good when they sing,” she said, “and that the sound effects are timed correctly.

“The fish-slapping sound has to be right when the fish slaps the person.”

The actors and orchestra will have joint rehearsals starting April 18.

Sara Bruestle: 425-339-3046; sbruestle@heraldnet.com; @sarabruestle.

Mark your calendar

Monty Python’s “Spamalot” is showing at 7 p.m. May 4, 5 and 11; 2 and 7 p.m. May 12 in Kamiak High School’s theater, 10801 Harbour Pointe Blvd., Mukilteo. A preview performance is 7 p.m. May 3. Tickets, $15 for adults or $10 for students and seniors, go on sale April 16. Call 425-366-5427 or go to www.kamiakarts.org for more information.

Spamalot, Act 3: Sets, Lights, Sound

This is the third of a multi-part Herald series about the making of a high school musical. Follow the story of Kamiak’s “Spamalot” from auditions to closing night in Sunday’s Good Life section and online at www.heraldnet.com. The next installment — on costumes, props and stage crew — will be published April 29.

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