Drop Dead Cherry Red

From the first time I heard the Hands on a Hardbody score, I knew I wanted to produce and direct this show. It's so rich, so truthful, so deeply human, so unlike everything else. But I also knew the show requires a full-sized pickup truck onstage, and our theatre is on the second floor and has only normal single doors, so there's no way to get a large set piece through the doors – you'd have to build it onstage.

Think about that for a second. We need a truck, but we have to build all large set pieces onstage. Ack!

As I was pondering last year whether we were up to this challenge, we were also looking for a new lighting designer. Rob Lippert applied for the job, and when I saw his website and production photos of his past shows, I saw that he had built a full-sized truck as scenic designer for a production of The Grapes of Wrath.

I mentioned to him that we were considering Hardbody but had to first figure out if we could do the damn truck. I asked him if he could pull it off and if he'd be willing to do it for us. He immediately said yes. We talked for a long time about whether we should try to just suggest the truck or if we could really get a real-looking, brand new(-looking) Nissan pickup truck onstage. We discussed more minimalist options (like just creating the outlines of the truck in PVC pipe), but ultimately decided the realer the truck looked, the more the audience would believe in the reality of the story.

So we made the decision to go forward with the show, which we now know will be the first production since it was on Broadway, or as I call it, "the American regional premiere."

But how would we get the truck into the space? We finally decided the only way to do it was to buy a real truck, take it apart, discard the insides, build a new wooden core structure, and then reassemble the truck body onto this new structure.

Thank god Rob's on the job.

As director, I made the decision that I did not want the truck to move, dance, and spin, like it did in the original production. I want as much reality as I can get here. And trucks don't dance. Of course that decision also made Rob's job way easier.

So last fall, Rob started shopping for a truck. We found one that looked great but didn't run, so we bought it for about $2,000. And then it lived at Rob's studio while we worked on Night of the Living Dead and Rent. Then Rob set to work, and he's kept a really cool blog, describing the whole process in great detail, the dismantling and re-mantling of the truck, the difficulties and obstacles he faced, the painting of the truck (it was tan, but we need it red), every step along the way.

I repeat, thank god Rob's on the job.

As I type this, he's putting finishing touches on it all at his shop – while also finishing up the other set pieces, including a scrim billboard which will stand up-center, with the band behind it on a platform, and some parking lot lights. Then this weekend, he'll pack it all up and move it all to the theatre, where we'll carry it up to the second floor and set about putting all the pieces back together. If all goes as planned, we'll have our truck to work with Monday night when the actors and I move into the theatre.

Samuel French licences the show, and they've already been asking us if we'll rent out our truck to other companies after our production. (We will.) Like us, other folks want to produce the show, but don't know how to deal with the truck. So throughout the process, Rob has always been keeping in the back of his mind, that this massive set piece has to repeatedly come apart, since we expect a number of other companies to use it after us.

Rob just joined New Line this season, but he's already given us two very cool sets – the three stories of the farm house in NOTLD and the beautiful, expressionistic set for Rent, complete with my giant, raked moon in the middle. And now this damn truck! I can't wait to watch as audiences come into the theatre each night during the run and encounter a fucking truck in the middle of our stage.

Over the years, some really extraordinary artists have worked with us, theatre artists truly at the top of their game. It's not for the shitty money; it's for the fascinating, endlessly challenging work we do. Rob is definitely in that category. We're very, very lucky he's come to work with us, and it looks like he'll stick around for the foreseeable future.

And I'll promise him, right here in public, I'll never ask him for a truck onstage again. Although, I think we'll need at least the front end of Bonnie and Clyde's car in the fall... No rest for the artsy...

The adventure continues!

Long Live the Musical!