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Planning for the Shoot

Taping of Liz’s Circus Story in the KET studio was scheduled for early August 2003. Through late spring and summer, preparations were under way not only at KET, but also in Horse Cave, where Liz Bussey Fentress was rehearsing the new script, and in Butler County, where high school teacher Sam Hunt was creating new puppets for the production.

Vince Spoelker, who would direct the TV version, attended rehearsals at Horse Cave Theatre and taped the play in order to start planning the camera Vinceshots for the studio taping. “In my process, what I need is a videotape of the performance; I need an idea of where the performers are moving,” he explains. “I take a home video camera and set it up in the back of the auditorium and tape the whole performance from start to stop. You get the entrances, the exits, where people are going to be standing, how they’re moving, where they sit down, where they stand up. I take it back to my office and sit with the script and start to figure out the shots. It’s like building a jigsaw puzzle: We move from here to here on shot 1, need to pick them up someplace else on another camera for shot 2, and so on.”

As soon as the new script was solid, Vince also began meeting with other key members of the KET production team: set designer Robert Pickering, costume designer Janet Whitaker, and lighting designer Don Dean. They each read the script, and at one meeting Liz read through the play for them. Team members shared ideas and pored over boxes of photographs, circus programs, letters from Wayne Franzen, and other materials Liz had saved from her circus days.

Bob“With the set, we wanted to remain true to the story and to the actual events—to the circus as Liz experienced it,” Bob says. “I relied on the wonderful materials Liz had.” The sets for both the stage and television productions incorporated elements of the circus such as the ring curb—the painted ring in which performers work. “One thing we may have done differently from the original production was making the scenery a little more ambiguous, to convey the feeling of a dreamlike state or Liz’s imagination,” Bob recalls. “Basically we used circus elements—ropes, bleachers, animal stands—throughout the set. Those were adapted so that in another location, for example in Liz’s apartment, we didn’t try to actually re-create a realistic apartment setting, but used elements from the circus to suggest an interior.”

setBob’s drawing of the set layout—the “ground plan”—helped Vince as he laid out camera shots. Lighting director Don Dean also used it to begin planning where lights would be placed. “In the studio, we have a very specific environment we work in: There are a specific number of circuits on a particular number of grids that give us spaces for lighting positions,” Don explains. “The set designer’s decisions about what pieces to use and where to place them give me an idea of how I want to position my lights. We have a technical drawing of the studio. Bob gave me dimensions of the set pieces, and I drew them out on this technical drawing. That gives me an idea of their relation to the lighting positions I have available.”

The palette of colors Bob settled on for the set—variations of primary “circus colors”—helped Janet plan what Liz would wear. With 20 scenes, Liz would require a lot of costume changes, spanning 23 years. The popularity of “retro” setfashions helped in finding things that looked like the 1970s and ’80s; more of a challenge was “finding clothes that looked good but also looked like clothes someone would wear if they were doing hard physical labor like Liz was doing,” Janet says. Most of the costumes would be purchased, but one outfit required special planning. Liz’s ringmistress coat would be tailor-made by an equestrian attire company. “The jacket was very important to the play,” Janet explains. “[But] the original outfit that Liz had worn in the circus wasn’t applicable, and the one that was used in the play didn’t fit quite the way Liz wanted it to. The new jacket looked good and made Liz feel good—and that’s important.”

Liz worked with ballet choreographers to help her get ready for the play’s closing dance. In early August 2003, the whole team was on hand for a walk-through in the KET studio. Final costume fittings were made. Finally, the big day arrived: August 11, the first day of shooting.

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