Poking out of trapdoors, painting wooden staircases and hanging sliding partitions, students work furiously to bring to life Director Brent Hinkleyâ€™s medieval set.
Hipsters in tight jeans, striped hoodies and coiffed hairdoâ€™s buzz from set to lobby, lobby to costume design, costume design to the drafting loft and then back to the set. They move with precision, hustling from one task to the next.
Hinkleyâ€™s Britain is built entirely on the effort of set design and production students.
They rush because on Thursday, the time for preparation will be over. Tonight marks the time to act. All work must be finished for opening night.
For almost seven weeks, students have been rehearsing for the Southern Oregon University production of â€œKing Lear,â€ set to run Feb. 17-27 at the Center Stage Theatre on campus.
The lead actor, Barry Kraft, stands out, but not in a sore-thumb kind of way. His white beard, salt and peppered hair and crowâ€™s feet distinguish him among the 20-somethings.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival dramaturge and Actorâ€™s Equity Association actor has a beaming smile and strong handshake. His energy for the stage is apparent in every move.
He calls â€œKing Learâ€ the â€œMt. Everestâ€ of plays. A work so grand in scope, language and plot, it feels â€œhuge, scary and un-climbable.â€
But the lifelong actor has done this climb before. Having been a part of nine different productions of â€œKing Lear,â€ the knowledgeable Kraft understands the journey is not completed in a day.
He has guided the students through the sometimes intimidating task of conquering perhaps the bardâ€™s greatest play, keeping things in a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other mentality.
â€œTo conquer an Everest you must remember the Earth it comes from,â€ he said. In Shakespeare there is a lot of relevance to todayâ€™s society, and to connect to the material â€“ it was first written in 1608 â€“ actors must recognize that connection.
â€œKing Lear,â€ perhaps more than any other of his plays, could be considered Shakespeareâ€™s tome on love.
â€œIn the first scene the word â€˜loveâ€™ is spoke 23 times,â€ Kraft points out. â€œThat is by far and away the most times in any of Shakespeareâ€™s works (characters) say it. What Lear demands is love from his daughters.â€
That demand sets in motion the tragic wheels of â€œKing Lear.â€ The transformation that occurs over the course of the play is where the connection runs deepest.
Learâ€™s un-loveable nature creates a strong character who earns redemption through hardship.
â€œThere is something redeemingâ€”even when he is being unpleasant,â€ said Kraft. â€œHe turns into the man â€˜more sinned against than sinning.â€™â€
According to assistant director Winston Bischof, the department hopes that the students will learn more from a veteran actor than if a student played Lear.