Art Apart: Production Portfolio - Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World
This project was a partnership with Theatre St. Thomas to direct a full-length production of Peter Parnell's Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World, which was included in their 2019-2020 season. In light of COVID-19, the show was cancelled, and few people got to experience the passion and dedication behind this heartfelt story. Although the work was intended to be appreciated in the form of a live performance, director Ben Smith shares a production portfolio of the play here. It includes a production concept, set design, lighting plot, photos and a 2-minute clip with assorted excerpts underscored by an original theme created by our sound designer, Michael Doherty.
About the project
The Production Portfolio
With so many of my peers graduating and preparing for the next step in their careers, face to face with difficult decisions, feeling stressed, confused - I thought what better story to tell. Because the truth is, growing up can be hard to do. The play follows Scooter Thomas and his best friend Dennis Wright as they navigate their different world views about growing up. In other words, the show unpacks what it means to be “successful”. It wasn’t until I saw the reaction on people's faces after opening night that I realized how necessary this show was. It resonated with so many people, of all ages - it’s profound, relevant, and timely. Regretfully, due to the developments of COVID-19, I made the necessary decision of cancelling all remaining 4 performances. Although the capstone production of Theatre St. Thomas’ season was cut short, I am grateful for the experience and humbled that I got to share the story with such a receptive audience.
My vision for the play was simple - baggage. A symbol of moving on while still being the perfect metaphor for storing our past. Our childhood is something we carry with us for the rest of our lives - the lessons learned, relationships built, and experiences had, it’s what shapes us into the adults we become. It was important to highlight the playful and imaginary aspects that lie at the core of Parnell’s quick, poignant memoirs. Performing the show in a Black Box theatre allowed us to engender the intimate environment the show longs for. In a thrust configuration, we fully immerse spectators into the breadth and depth of the story. As characters swiftly slide in and out of playing themselves in the past and present, the world kinetically forms around them. Various chests, bags, and cases choreographed to build classrooms, forests, mountains, cars, a toilet, even unfolding to reveal various knickknacks. The changes in setting, time and mood were all enhanced with the support of Michael Doherty’s sound design, stitching everything together.
It’s important to note that this show needed updating. Although many themes remain relevant as ever, we needed to tailor other moments to maintain the narrative's integrity by altering its vocabulary. In our rendition, friendship transcends gender. It is about the relationship between Dennis and Scooter that wholeheartedly carries this show. It’s a story of two souls, from different backgrounds, with different trajectories and unique ideas of what it means to make it to the top of the world. Scooter shows us all a variation of what it was like entering the real world, and how individual hardships can alter our fate.
Official show poster
Sound design by Michael Doherty
With only trunks and briefcases around the stage, the design concept relied on two elements to create the world; the two actors and sound. Michael Doherty designed a cohesive and powerful sound score that supports the altitude of each location. Moreover, by manipulating Dennis Deyoung’s “Desert Moon’ - a song referenced throughout the show - he created a captivating theme that works synergistically with the script and the blocking. Variations of this theme were uniquely tailored to every moment to create fluid transitions that enhanced the dynamic performances. In a show that instinctively starts and stops, his design propels the narrative. The opportunity to work with such an innovative artist unleashed endless possibilities - his design sparked magic.
My only wish is that more people could have seen the magic we created. I believe that there is no single definitive production of a play, but this show was incredibly special. In light of our short run, I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to practice my craft. Scooter Thomas provided valuable experience interpreting, conceptualizing, collaborating and creating. With a small cast and dedicated team, the rehearsal process was enthralling. I had the fortunate opportunity to have intimate time with such intelligent actors, designers and technicians - I am left wiser and more empowered than ever before. Thank you. #ArtApart
This project received financial support from the National Theatre School of Canada via the Art Apart program, an emergency fund for emerging artists who are affected by physical distancing due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
Scooter Thomas Makes It to the Top of the World
By: Peter Parnell
Director: Ben Smith
Producer: Theatre St. Thomas
Sound Designer: Michael Doherty
Lighting Designer: Chris Saad
Stage Manager: Mallory Kelly
Production Manager: Patricia Saad
Lighting Operator: Beatriz Cordeiro
Scooter Thomas: Madigan Donovan-Downs
Dennis Wright: Tom Woolsey
About the artist
Ben Smith is an emerging theatre director based in Fredericton, New Brunswick. He is currently the Artistic Director of Impulse Productions, a theatre school Instructor with Theatre New Brunswick, and the President for Theatre St. Thomas at St. Thomas University. In his final year at St. Thomas University, Ben has relished every opportunity to work with students, faculty and the greater community to further celebrate and support the talent brewing in Fredericton.