Pictured above: Mark Fuller, seated on front of stage far left, on the set of Your Theatre’s production of “Anastasia.”
By Steven Froias
When Your Theatre, Inc. begins its first season at the newly renovated historic Steeple Playhouse on William Street this Friday, Nov. 17 with “Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express,” there will be a familiar face offstage: Mark Fuller.
By day, he’s the City of New Bedford’s Assistant Treasurer. But by night, he leaves the spreadsheets behind and Fuller is something else entirely. For decades, his side hustle has been designing or decorating sets for community theater companies in New Bedford – and for Your Theatre since 2010.
As Your Theatre gears up for its new digs downtown, kicking off with “Murder on the Orient Express” beginning on Nov. 17 (get tickets here), I thought it was finally time to put Mark Fuller in the spotlight and bring him onstage for a Q & A about his second career as a creative professional with a decades-long resume.
When did you first start designing sets for Your Theatre, Inc. (YTI)?
My community theater involvement started in approximately 1979. Back then it was for a New Bedford company named “ Le Theatre,” as well as for “Spouters Theater Company.” And, the creation of the first drama club at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School. Then, I eventually joined Your Theatre in January 2010
How did you get involved with Your Theatre?
Larry Houbre, a long time Director and Artistic Director for YTI, asked me to design his set for “Don’t Drink the Water.” It was prompted by a comment I had made regarding a previous show that I felt didn’t represent an exclusive retirement home.
“Don’t Drink the Water” by Woody Allen was a comedy set in the 1960s in an American Embassy in an Eastern European country. I created a lavish set in colors of red, white, blue and gold with brocade styler wallpaper, complete with an eagle decorated desk and portrait of President Johnson.
YTI has performed at many venues over its 77 year history, including the Quest Center at 1213 Purchase Street where both New Bedford Creative, in the New Bedford Economic Development Council offices, and Groundwork coworking space now have a home. Most recently it was at St. Martin’s Church on Rivet Street, and is now preparing to launch the newly renovated Steeple Playhouse in the former St. Martin’s Church right across from your day job at City Hall. At how many locations have you designed sets for Your Theatre over the years?
As for YTI , I have only been involved at their Rivet Street location. But Spouters was at the Congregational Church in South Dartmouth, the Fairhaven Grange and finally the New Bedford North End Community Center where PAACA is today.
How much time does it take to construct the average stage design?
We generally only have the 7-8 weeks between the closing of one show and the opening of the next. However, in reviewing scripts and shows for the season, we start looking for special set items long before construction begins. For example, Director Robin Richard wanted to do the show “Parfumerie” – which takes place in a post WW2 Hungarian Pharmacy. But he only wanted to do the show if there were real glass counter/display cases. I located some donated cases approximately a year before the show was produced.
How do you typically go about designing and then building a set?
Before reading the script, I have a conversation with the director as to what their own vision of the show is – as in, Is it a full realistic period set, or a dramatic period set mostly with single items and specialty lighting. Once I get their vision, I’ll read the script to find if there are specific items needed, the number of doorways for entrances, or windows, particular furnishings (like a vase or painting) or décor items that are mentioned in the script.
Do you have a favorite set you’ve done? (Or favorites.)
I have a few. “A Streetcar Named Desire” is one. I received my first EMACT (Eastern Massachusetts Association of Community Theaters) nomination for set decoration for that one. It was a set requiring a well-worn New Orleans apartment with an exterior wrought iron stairway to a second floor (components located at a New Bedford metal scrap yard!).
Another was “Night Watch” – a dramatic mystery set in 1950s in the newly remodeled Upper East Side Manhattan brownstone of a wealthy couple with their extensive collection of impressionist and modern artwork.
To round out my favorite sets, “The Night of the Iguana” set in the 1960s on the top of a South American mountain resort. The set required seeing into the interior of each of the guests rooms with lavish foliage outside, complete with a usable swinging hammock and an outside faucet with running water.
Which was the most challenging?
All of these sets have been challenging because of the size of Rivet Street stage, but the set construction crew has been able to work around the limitations to provide believable, quality scenery that casts have adequate room to move around..
Where do you typically source your stage furniture or props from? For example, your own collection, donations, thrift or antique stores?
Yes – all the above, I am always on the lookout for specific one-of-a-kind unique period items, such as wall and table phones, old metal window blinds and lighting fixtures, counter top appliances, and also look for period linens and drapery and materials to recover furniture and make costumes from. We store our items in a rented warehouse space. Items also include period furniture and architectural items, such as porch columns, windows and doors and mantelpieces
Do you work alone or is there a team/volunteers?
The end vision may be solely my own, but I cannot achieve it without the help and support of our set and costume crews, they are invaluable!!.
You also sometimes take the stage as an actor – do you feel like you’re at home since you’ve designed the stage?
Sometimes I am all over the stage as a set designer, costumer and/or actor. So, yes, it can feel like I’m at home with creating so much of the look and feel of what takes place on stage.
Are you looking forward to having more space at the Steeple Playhouse?
You have no idea how we are looking forward to a bigger space. A larger space will bring more creativity in design and the usable elements on the stage. Something I know the audiences will enjoy!!
Finally, what’s your favorite part of designing a set?
My greatest joy is seeing the cast bring both their costumes and the set to life with their acting. Without the cast everything I do would be lifeless; I love seeing how the director has them use the finished stage. My least favorite part is at the end of a show run when the set is struck, bringing back an empty stage. Only to start the next production.
- The Your Theatre, Inc. production of “Agatha Christie’s Muder on the Orient Express,” adapted by Adapted by Ken Ludwig and directed by Lawrence R. Houbre, Jr. with set decoration and costumes by Mark Fuller, begins performances at the new Steeple Playhouse, 149 William Street, New Bedford, MA, this November 17. See the full schedule and ticket reservation information here.