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When director Malcolm Tulip first talked about doing Trafford Tanzi, Claire Luckham’s play about the struggles of a working-class girl from infancy through adulthood, nobody thought he could pull it off. “Originally, the show was shelved because the set was considered impossible,” says lighting designer Craig Kidwell. The play is a series of wrestling matches, a metaphor for conflicts Tanzi has with her mother, father, husband, and others. Performers at University of Michigan had to wrestle in a functioning ring, with audience members around the four-sided space cheering Tanzi and booing her opponents.

Guided by both a professional director and technical director, student actors and student scenic, lighting, and costume designers did the show on a university budget, including a $2,000 just for scenic to build the wrestling ring, the complications of flying a lighting grid, and costumes that would protect actors, yet allow them to move freely. The resulting ring substructure was based on several wooden frames that supported a number of steel box tube beams. The steel laid across these wooden frames gave the ring its bounce. On top of the steel box tube were 16' pieces of lumber creating the floor of the ring. These lumber pieces clang against the metal and each other to make the sounds you hear when someone lands hard in the ring. Underneath the canvas cover, the four corner posts were cabled together in multiple directions to stabilize the posts. The ropes were steel cable through a garden hose wrapped in hockey tape.

The posts were fabricated in the school’s scene shop from 4" Schedule 40 steel pipe. By loading sandbags and counterweights, technical director Richard Lindsay and the crew could measure how much the structure would give and make adjustments. Cables underneath the ring helped distribute loads put on the corner posts when actors were climbing and bouncing along ropes on the side of the ring. For the floor, the team used 2'x10' beams, laid perpendicular to steel tubing beams, adding felt and 1" tumbling gym mats. Final cost of the ring—$1,750.

Lighting had to be drafted in considerable detail, in section and front view, to ensure frontlight for the entire ring from all four sides. He used a combination of Philips Vari-Lite VL1000TS units to create the song looks, as well as a Diversitronics Strobe Cap cued from an ETC Eos console, ETC Source Four Zoom ellipsoidals of various sizes, and Source Four 14° ellipsoidals mounted on City Theatrical Follow Spot Yokesas followspots.

Creative Team Malcolm Tulip, Director
Richard Lindsay, Technical Director
Charles Fairbanks, Coach/Choreographer
Craig Kidwell, Lighting Designer
Elizabeth Lynch, Scenic Designer
Andrew Hill, Costume Designer
Henry Reynolds, Sound Designer
Carlos Valdes, Composer
Ingrid Olson, Stage Manager
Torrey Wigfield, Fight Captain

8 Philips Vari-Lite VL1000TS
ETC Eos console
ETC Source Four Zoom Ellipsoidals (15-30°, 25-50°, and 25-50° Source Four Jr Zoom)
ETC Source Four 14° Ellipsoidals
City Theatrical Follow Spot Yokes
1 Diversitronics Strobe Cap