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In conversation with Terry Denstedt

A seasoned set designer for UCC productions, the Upper School geography teacher discusses his creative craft in anticipation of the Year 8/9 production of Thr’Ives, a collection of plays by David Ives.
You’ve been busy designing UCC sets for well over a decade. How did you originally get involved?

I did construction work to pay for university, and when I first came to UCC, I did renovations for teachers’ homes on weekends. Word got around, and the former director of co-curricular theatre asked me if I was interested in building sets. I started 12 years ago and it’s good. I enjoy working by myself, although it can involve some long, odd hours. We have two amazing theatre spaces at the Upper School: the David Chu, and the Manucha & Bellamy Studio Theatre. 

Where do the ideas originate?

First and foremost, I work with the director’s ideas. We have a conversation that is often more like a sketch on a cocktail napkin. I look at it and say, “Yes, I can do that, but here are my concerns.” I refine their idea, drawing upon ideas from other stagings of the same play elsewhere. When I see these sets, I think, “We can do better.” We have the space and a decent budget, and I hold myself to a high standard. I spend way too much time watching building videos on YouTube and thinking about the new techniques I could try.

Talk about one of your favourite sets.

The first year I built sets, UCC put on Romeo and Juliet. I built a two-story Verona townscape with two spiral staircases and a Juliet balcony that was functional and safe. Currently, I’m building a set for Oedipus the King, a think piece. The set concept involves an old Greek train station and city hall with train tracks running through the theatre and scrims onto which trains can be projected. There’s a two-story building involved that needed a second level that students could access via stairs, and it had to be built to code, and it had to be solid enough to withstand the wear and tear that teenage boys give it.

Do you ever make changes during the rehearsal process?

Yes. Building a set doesn’t happen overnight; it can take hundreds of hours. The director sees it in progress, so we can have conversations about making changes. I’ll usually tell the director, “Here’s what I’m going to do next; is that what you had in mind?” It helps manage expectations and prevent disappointments. 

Tell us about the set for Thr’Ives and when people can see it.

I built a faux-metal I-beam that is very simple. There is real attention to detail and it looks as realistic as possible. Thr’Ives is a collection of plays by David Ives being performed at the Manucha & Bellamy Studio Theatre, featuring students from both UCC and Bishop Strachan School. It runs from Jan. 25 to 27 at 7 p.m. and tickets are $10. It’s directed by drama teacher Brendon Allen, and Haley Dinel, a boarding don.
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