This past January marked my first anniversary of working in the Scene Shop, and though I didn’t get any cake, and no one said “Happy Anniversary”, I did get the opportunity to work on what is possibly the coolest set piece I’ve ever laid my hands on: the Ford Model-T.
The journey to make the Model-T has been a long one. Literally. My boss Dave drove all the way to Asheville, NC to find wheels and headlights for Coalhouse’s car at a vintage salvage yard. Unfortunately, the wheels they had were all too modern for our show, so we had to go to Plan B and make them ourselves. Cue the transition to how we built the car. For those of you who are less… shall we say… mechanically inclined, the next paragraph may bore you a bit. Sorry, the shop nerd in me has to let its freak flag fly.
We started out by welding together a platform to be the bottom of the car. We then cut a top for the platform, and attached it. Then we made the wheels by cutting two rings from plywood, drilling dowels into a wooden center, and facing the outside of the wheels with something called wiggle wood, which is wood that can be bent. We then put axels on the platform, put the wheels on the axels, and at this point, the structural stuff is pretty much done. The bench, steering column, and grill are all made of MDF (medium density fiberboard) while the back of the bench and the fenders are made of more wiggle wood. Finally, we put rubber strips around the wheels to make them look like tires.
I was going to spend this next paragraph explaining why we went to all that trouble, but my brief explanation actually made it sound kind of easy. So before I continue, I will assure you it was not that easy – almost nothing ever is in the shop. Why, then, would we go to this much trouble? Coalhouse’s car is, in my opinion, the most important part of this show. Forget the two-tiered set, forget the train, the staircases, the swing. Without Coalhouse’s car there is no show. Coalhouse doesn’t come back to woo Sarah, even if he did, he would never have his car trashed and she wouldn’t be killed, he wouldn’t have any demands, Younger Brother would never blow anything up, and the whole world would continue on as planned. This car, to me, is the show, and the love and hard work we put into building it is the same as the love and hard work I put into learning my lines, blocking, and music. Well, if the car is the show, and the car is this beautiful, can you imagine how great this musical is going to be?