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The Tree of Life My Soul Hath Seen: The Backdrop

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The backdrop of this year's Christmas at Luther.

The backdrop of this year's Christmas at Luther.

Photos by Kien Dao '20

Photos by Kien Dao '20

The backdrop of this year's Christmas at Luther.

Natalie Nelson, Staff Writer

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Christmas at Luther (CAL) broke tradition this year with a 3-dimensional set piece instead of the usual backdrop. The piece, a tree, was designed based on the “Tree of Life” theme for this year’s CAL production.

The tree, pictured to the right, was a collaborative project designed by Professor of Theatre Jeff Dintaman over the summer. It was then built by Dintaman’s Art of Illusion class and scene shop work-study students under Theatre and Dance Technical Director Thomas Berger (‘68). Last spring, Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor of Music Andrew Last (‘97) approached Dintaman about designing a set. Dintaman began to seek design inspiration by researching different types of trees.

“You don’t have to look too close to see influences of the oak trees around campus for the overall shape, though this is not an oak tree,” Dintaman said. “I combined that with personal interest in the outline of trees along coastlines which have been shaped by the wind and have tightly grouped leaves.”

Dintaman said this was his second time designing a set and working on lights for CAL. The first was a set involving star charts.

“Both designs use the walls of the [Center for Faith and Life (CFL)] as a design element and, since the walls are off-white, they react well with colored light,” Dintaman said. “I enjoyed listening to the pieces and working with color to match the mood and style of the piece — approaching it like I would a play or musical.”

Dintaman was happy with the end result.

“I think it was pretty successful in looking like what it was intended to look like,” Dintaman said. “That it fills the visual space and is a nice mixture of reality and theatricality.”

Berger aided in the construction and setup of the tree in the CFL. He said that the greatest challenge of the project was the schedule.

“We were doing it at the very same time as we were mounting ‘RENT,’” Berger said. “That was the biggest challenge, and we didn’t have a lot of space to work in. Although it looks very big [in the scene shop space], when we started getting pieces of the tree done, there just wasn’t a lot of room.”

Berger said that moving the pieces into the CFL was also challenging.

“The thing is all the pieces of the tree have to fit in through the CFL doors, and there isn’t a big door like we have [in the scene shop],” Berger said. “We have to make it all out of pieces that are easily moved and small so they fit through the doors. The biggest piece that we brought in was the big branch on the right hand side, but it was skinny so it was easy to get through the door. It took about an hour and a half to move there but then it took several days to set up.”

Scenes shop work-study student Andrew Tiede (‘19) explained how the tree was built.

“It started off by making that interior skeleton out of wood,” Tiede said. “It’s a bunch of two-by-fours crisscrossed in the middle with mesh wire wrapped around it. Then it’s a layer of muslin strips that are coated in paint and draped on it. After that it is ripped up paper towels covered in paint.”

According to Tiede, the process was finished after it was all covered in spray-paint. Tiede explained that the coloring of the tree was accomplished by using green paint and blue papertowels, which created the undertones the design crew was searching for.

Scenes shop work-study student Isaac Logeman (‘20) worked on the construction of the tree. He said he enjoyed the process of the build and is happy with the result.

“I think the greatest challenge we encountered was working to make reality as close to the vision as possible,” Logeman said. “It isn’t exactly the easiest task to make a 25-foot tree that looks beautiful and fits perfectly in the space, so it took a lot of work and communication to put together the best finished product.”

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The student news site of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa