[Above, a set model by production designer Roy Christopher.]

If the Academy Awards sometimes seem rehearsed to within an inch of their life, that's because they are. A visit to the Shrine Auditorium on Thursday, March 22, three days before the Oscar ceremonies, found stand-ins taking the place of presenters, and also of nominees. Every possible outcome in the major categories, however unlikely, is staged; for the purposes of the Thursday rehearsal, for example, Ellen Burstyn beat out Julia Roberts for Best Actress. A stand-in seated in Burstyn's designated chair strode to the stage and delivered a 45-second acceptance speech while remote camera cranes swooped around the auditorium capturing the proper reaction shot angles.

[Above, Christopher's Oscar set, with lighting by Bob Dickinson, during a rehearsal.]

[Left, production designer Roy Christopher.]

Production designer Roy Christopher's set for the show was an open-faced tube, with access to the audience through Oscar-shaped cutouts, and a giant Oscar statue at center stage. Producer Gil Cates requested a "clean, airy" look from Christopher, and the result had a 60s-retro feel, with flying checkerboard backdrops and curved abstract lines on side panels. The setpieces were in cool colors--whites and off-whites and silvers--while lighting designer Bob Dickinson supplied the colors. The lighting package included hundreds of Vari-Lite luminaries, from VL4™ and VL5™ washes to VL6™ and VL7™ spots. Two Virtuoso™ consoles were programmed by Andy O'Reilly and Matt Firestone.

[Above, the Oscar set up close.]

[Left, LD Bob Dickinson.]

Between them, Christopher and Dickinson have designed more than two dozen Oscar shows, so it's not surprising that they were asked to contribute their two cents to meetings about the Academy's new Kodak Theatre, now being constructed next door to Mann's Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard. Next year's awards (and presumably, every one thereafter) will take place in the 3,300-seat auditorium, which is designed by architect David Rockwell. Designers for the actual show will not be announced until early 2002.

[Above, Coco Lee, nominated for Best Song for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, rehearses her Oscar number.]

This year's host, Steve Martin, arrived for rehearsal after lunch on Thursday, and proceeded to tell a few jokes deemed too "rude" for broadcast. But not every eventuality surrounding the Academy Awards can be rehearsed; outside the Shrine, next to the red-carpet entrance area, a five-story canopy for the press collapsed Thursday afternoon, sending five workers to the hospital. Fortunately, none of the injuries were life threatening. And the show did go on.

Photos: Tamlyn Wright, art director.