Setting the stage: cast and crew of Theatre 21

Students who make up the crew of “The Importance of Being Earnest” describe the work, dynamics and relationships involved in bringing this immense production to life.


Crew members, including Alison Ross and Jenna White, pull out the reversible walls between scenes to transform the stage. From a condo to a South Carolina garden in the production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” requires several set changes. | Aaron Fooks/THE CHIMES

Augusta McDonnell, Writer

Theater productions blitz their audiences with lights, dramatically nuanced voices and lively scenes hoping to leave people laughing, crying and on the edge of their seats.

However, complex relationships between actors, directors and a large cast of people working behind the scenes truly bring the show to life.

Crew members, including Alison Ross and Jenna White, pull out the reversible walls between scenes to transform the stage. From a condo to a South Carolina garden in the production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" requires several set changes. | Aaron Fooks/THE CHIMES. See the full photo gallery here.



While the characterization of actors involves vivid costumes and thick make-up, backstage crew members dress head-to-toe in black, invisible until intermission when they appear to set the stage, transforming the space between scenes with background and prop changes.

Relationships between crew members and actors is very important, said Forrest Robinson, associate professor of theater and director of this semester’s show, “The Importance of Being Earnest.” The show debuted Oct. 23 in Theatre 21, Biola’s ‘black box’ theater, located next to Perez Hall off Biola Ave.

“One can’t do without the other. It’s just as important, if not more, as the people in front,” he said.

The production’s specific set needs developed from a challenge into a dynamic use of the theater’s limited space.

Senior theater and psychology major Kayla Billiou worked backstage setting up props and making set changes. ‘Earnest’ takes place between a condo in Atlanta, and a garden and drawing room in Beaufort, South Carolina.

“This set is much bigger than those I’ve worked on in the past at Biola,” Billiou said. “Since ‘Earnest’ spans three locations, scene changes aren’t quite so easy, the entire stage gets transformed three times. There are tons of details that, if overlooked, could cause big problems.”

The solution to this dilemma came in the form of new rotatable walls painted to feature two separate locations, and the addition of a removable brick wall covering created the third. The audience sees through the glass windows and doors of the elaborate new walls to scene-specific backdrops hanging behind them, adding further dimension to the small space. Two intermissions split the scenes, giving crew members the opportunity to flip the walls and attend to various elements of the set.

“[Forrest] calls this a ‘clever set,’” said senior theater major Brandon Wetmore, who plays the role of Jack Worthing.

Wetmore describes interacting with sets and props on several different levels, from the set dressing to the props actors actually handle while performing.

“Even the ugly green couch in the first scene that only a guy would have, to the beautiful second scene outside, to the last scene, which came together really good. It seems simple, but it gives you a sense of place,” Wetmore said.


Crew members have their own ‘script’ of procedures to seamlessly work through the show, but it never goes the same way twice. When it comes down to it, backstage work is very improvised, said freshman theater major Alison Ross. Between pre-play tasks such as polishing silverware and painting the walls to intermission scene changes, crew members always remain on their feet, she said.

“The director has a vision, he creates the vision, and then the crew makes sure the vision happens. Students are constantly coming up with new ideas to figure out how to make things go more smoothly,” said Ross.

Biola’s theater major will graduate its first class of students this semester. The program has grown from eight to 24 students since its beginning, with students going through a roster of classes including acting, playwriting, crew and drama for ministry. The major’s two professors, Forrest Robinson and Kate Brandon teach all the classes between themselves.  

“We require students to be in shows, and to work on shows. A lot of the people working behind the scenes are also actors,” said Brandon, associate professor of theater.

Students attribute the small size of the program as the reason for the richness of the relationships and the community among theater members.

“Especially working on a show like this, you’re spending all your time with everyone for a month and a half, so you get to know everyone really well. There’s a really strong community, especially since we all know we’re doing this for the glory of God and not for ourselves. We’re kind of a weird little family, there's people that come from other departments too sometimes. We’re like a fun little band of misfits,” said senior theater major Khloe Aknin, who plays the role of Cecily Cardew in the production.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” will continue playing in Theatre 21 on Nov. 1, 2 and 6-9.

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