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Lighting Key in 'Master Class' Sets

Production in previews through Saturday, opens Sunday

The sets for "Master Class" may seem simple, but they took months of research, planning and building.

The designers started six months ago with research, and audiences are now getting the first views of the set at the Paper Mill Playhouse. "Master Class" is in previews until Sunday, which is when the show officially opens for its run through April 5.

"Master Class" is the story of renowned opera diva Maria Callas teaching a master class. Alexander Dodge, a set designer, said the director wanted to keep the set as close to the 1970s style of the Juilliard School, which is where the play takes place.

"It's your classic band shell stage," he said.

The designers looked at old images of the school and where Callas would have taught her class, made sketches and created a model from them. Since the playhouse does not have a shop on site, the sets are sent to a shop for the build. Global in Bridgeport, Conn., built the sets for "Master Class." It's the same company that built the sets for "The Importance of Being Earnest."

The set is intended to frame Callas rather than play a part in the production, Dodge said, and there are no scene changes.

"It's a very entertaining master class, but it's still a master class," he said.

Instead, the lighting plays a part in changing the scene to keep it interesting, he said, including saturation of color. There is one scene when Callas recalls memories from Milan, and the back wall fades away to a scene of La Scala.

"There's one scene when she's down stage and her silhouette is on the side and it looks just like (Callas)," he said. "That wasn't something planned."

Through the previews, the production team checks for things that need to be changed, sometimes based on how the audience reacts, Dodge said. He doesn't expect a whole lot to change before the production opens on Sunday.

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