by Lorie Lewis Ham
Not only is the Fresno area graced with very talented performers, but also talented people behind the scenes that make it all happen, the people without whom those performers would have no show. David Pierce, with Good Company Players in Fresno, is one of those people.
David began designing sets 25 years ago. He was performing at GCP when the need arose for a scenic artist. “The tech director found out that I attended art college and had seen my artwork. GCP offered me the job and I was hesitant but the more I thought about it the more sense it made. I had never considered combining my dual interests but it has turned out to be a very rewarding decision.”
While he has designed a few sets for school plays, his main work has been with GCP. David recently finished his 200th set. This one was for the current production at Roger Rocka’s of Sugar Babies. In his early days with GCP he also designed lights. In the 90’s he directed some shows, and has built several specialty props over the years.
The process David goes through with each show always begins with the reading of the script. “After I read the scripts I make notes on the locations in order of importance and I make decisions on what locations can be eliminated or consolidated to simplify set changes. Next comes the style or look of the piece. Then the problem solving really starts with how the set changes will be accomplished. Next comes pencil and paper with scaled ground plans or blueprints to see if the ideas will fit into the space. Last is the elevation or model to show the directors what the set will look like.”
Working with the stage at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater presents its own set of challenges as it is triangular in shape, which is not ideal, and the ceiling and light grids are very short by theater standards, stated David. “It has no fly loft or wing space and the backstage area is shorter and smaller than you can imagine.”
One of the most challenging shows he has ever designed for was Beauty and the Beast.“The transformation of the Beast back to the Prince and the enchanted rose are two big payoffs that have to work. The set was designed around these two moments. I lost a lot of sleep and went through several designs until I felt secure that the effects would work. During the entire building process I was worried that I had designed myself into a corner. If the effects didn’t work it would be too late to redesign.”
Another was Into the Woods. “That [show] worried me because of the larger than life aspect that was presented for the New York stage. Once I decided on a pop-up story book look with cutouts I was able to focus on our space.”However, no matter how difficult the task, those who work with him say David always comes through. “David is extraordinary on all levels,” said GCP’s Managing Director Dan Pessano. “His design skill and execution, his artistic ability as a set painter and decorator, his engineering skill in problem solving and, perhaps best of all, his skill as team member on our staff and an incredible family man. I want to be like David when I grow up.” “I worked with David for over ten years,” shared Chris Lang, who has been designing and building the sets for Reedley High School productions for several years now. “David is an extremely talented and down-to-earth designer and great to work with. David is also great at fitting large sets into a very small space, and his painting skills are amazing.”
Mark Norwood, Theatre Arts Coordinator at Reedley High School and Artistic Director for Reedley’s River City Theatre Company, has also worked with David at GCP. “David and I have collaborated on a variety of projects over the years and I have enjoyed every opportunity.”
While he’s had the chance to design sets for many of his favorite shows already, a couple David would still love to design for are The Lion King and The Wind in the Willows. “I love shows that are a visual feast with costumes and set that work in tandem to create a true theatrical experience.”
His most recent work is the set of The Wedding Singer, which opens at Roger Rocka’s on January 20. Elizabeth Fiester is the director of that show and has worked with David on many occasions. “It has been my absolute honor and privilege to work with David not just on Wedding Singer but on numerous projects for the last 25 years. He is a gentle soul but fierce in his artistry. For Wedding Singer in particular, because it’s a show that was first a movie, it’s very difficult because the stage play is expected to move from scene to scene with the same ease as it does in the movie. David has done that with a very well thought out design, he’s smart about the Musical Hall’s challenging space but he doesn’t sacrifice artistry for it. His sets always turn out beautiful.”
Peter Allwine plays the Wedding Singer, Robbie Hart, in The Wedding Singer and has also worked with David often. “David is kinda the Professor from Gilligan’s Island of GCP – the man can literally build anything. Give him two flats and an olio – and David can take you anywhere you want to go. He’s a genius at what he does. Next time you see a show at GCP – look at the olios that come down as backdrops… All hand painted by David. And the sheer detail he puts into his work is amazing. I am always in awe of what David can do.”
One challenge David said he has faced with The Wedding Singer is keeping all of the 1980’s sight gags. “Although the set design had to be simplified to accommodate all the locations, there are a few fun specialty pieces that were built for the show, such as a dumpster and part of an airplane.”
Even though in many ways David considers himself an accidental designer because of the way that his two worlds collided, he is happy with how it all turned out. “It has been a wonderful and rewarding career. I consider myself very fortunate and I count my blessings everyday.”
For more articles on local theatre, check out KRL’s article on GCP actor Peter Allwine, as well as other local theatre articles in our Area Arts & Entertainment section.