Two shows on one set (re-tasking a set)

A number of years ago a managing director, while thinking about the following year’s season, asked me if I thought it would be possible to do two different shows on the same set. My first reaction was to say, well, Shakespeare and his contemporaries did it all the time, and so did the Greeks. We had a nice chuckle, and then got down to business.

A few minutes later, considering where she was going with the season, we had tossed some ideas on the table. One of them was to do a show, like a Neil Simon comedy, which takes place in an apartment, and follow it with a show that could conceivably take place in the same apartment building, even if the apartments were slightly different. A few days later we met again and she said, how about Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple followed by Woody Allen’s Play it Again, Sam.

It was an interesting choice. The Odd Couple requires a large apartment, with a living room, dining room, kitchen (which can be offstage), a bathroom, and one or more bedrooms. Although he’s a slob, Oscar’s place was very nice before his wife moved out and took most of the furniture and decor. Play it Again Sam, on the other hand, requires a smaller apartment, since Allan isn’t quite as well off as Oscar. In this one, the kitchen needs to be onstage. The show also needs ways for the characters in Allan’s fantasy scenes to enter and exit, ideally without using the real doors.

Now it was my turn to go away for a couple of days, read the scripts, and get back to her. I’m going to fast-forward here, past the meetings with the directors, research, sketches, and so forth, and get right to the results.

The Odd Couple set turned out as a nice big apartment, although with sparse furniture (the prop crew hadn’t dressed it out at the time of the photo). The entrance alcove, with the front door open, is to your right, then the bathroom, then a hallway to the bedrooms, and finally the kitchen door opening onto the dining room, which featured a card table and folding chairs. It’s hard to see in the photo, but the dining room floor was painted to look like a rug had been removed from it.

The Sam set used the same living room area, but we made a few changes to the layout. Because of the kitchen scenes, we brought the kitchen forward into the old dining room. We also sealed off the bathroom wall and closed off the hallway with a door. In place of the bathroom door, we built in a projection screen for Allan’s movie scene, and of course we changed all the furniture and decor.

Now for the fun part.

During the original design phase, we decided that the characters in Allan’s fantasy scenes (including Humphrey Bogart in his trench coat) would enter through the walls themselves, which meant creating several “secret panels.” So I designed these into the Odd Couple set and we sealed them off until we needed them in Sam. Here are a couple of photos.

This “secret panel” was just stage left of the front door, in the entry alcove:

Another one was stage right of the entry alcove. The second photo shows it under construction:

There were two others, but I don’t have good photos of them.

Building the first set took five weeks (the theatre had a full shop and a permanent staff, so work was Monday through Friday), and the change-over took just about two weeks. The up-front decision to have those secret panels, and to build them into the first set, was what made the whole scheme work.

And the whole experience was a blast and a half. You can see more photos of the two sets on my web site, at