• SHARON EBERSON Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh CLO's 'Game On' set is prime-time ready

“Game On” is the first show to emerge from Pittsburgh CLO’s ambitious Spark festival of small-cast musicals and get a full production at the Greer Cabaret, a space that is now filled with the sights and sounds of a TV game show.

The interactive musical by writer-lyricist Marcus Stevens and composer David Dabbon -— Point Park and Carnegie Mellon grads, respectively, and writing partners — debuted last month as a ready-for-prime-time world premiere, with a notable bells-and-whistles set.

‘Game On;

Where: CLO Cabaret at the Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Downtown.

When: Through Jan. 27. 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Fri. (some Thurs. matinees; check pittsburghclo.org), 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun. .

Tickets: $31.25-$59.75, pittsburghclo.org or 412-456-6666.

While contestants Connor McCanlus, Josey Miller and Christine Laitta have some hard choices to make, Jason Shavers as host Monty Price and Marissa Buchheit as the “Vanna White” of the show steer the action and navigate a backdrop of numbered boxes and screen prompts. Announcer Ryan Patrick Kearney chimes in with instructions, and then there’s the audience members who play a part as well.

Scenic designer Tim Mackabee, who created sets for Pittsburgh CLO’s "Brigadoon” and a traveling “Mary Poppins,” answered some questions about creating a working game-show set from scratch.

What’s it like creating a design for a brand-new show vs. a revival?

Tim: With a revival it’s been done before, so there’s a template to how the show works already. Whether you choose to use it or not, it’s in the theatrical zeitgeist, and defines your next move. With something new, there’s nowhere to start from — you get to make it up. Revivals are also “done” — there are no changes coming your way. With a new show, it’s constantly changing (scenes, lights, songs, etc.) right up till opening night.

Did you binge game shows as preparation? Were there any specific game shows that inspired you?

Tim: The director and I looked at a lot of game shows from the past and present. The idea was to throw so many visual ideas at you, so you couldn’t narrow it down and say, “Oh yeah it’s that game.” It’s a celebration of the culture of game shows and what they mean and why they excite people.

Did Marcus Stevens and David Dabbon and/or Jen Wineman have specific details that you had to incorporate?

Tim: When you work on something new, all the creative team members do, and should, have an opinion. Up until our first performance, how this show worked was really in the heads of Marcus and David. I had to get out of them what they wanted to see, and more importantly, what they wanted to avoid.

Did you have freedom about how the set would look and function?

Tim: Yes. We worked with sketches and models to show my ideas about how the set would look, for everyone else to see. Lighting (Alan Edwards) and video (Joe Spinogatti) were tightly integrated into how the set works on this show. If you look at this stage without any of the lights or video on, it’s quite plain — people are shocked if they catch it that way.

Were there specific things about how the boxes would be placed, for instance, that had to be worked out?

Tim: We had to stylize how the prizes were revealed in the boxes. There are times during the show when audience members have them in their hands, so we had to be able to control that, too. Our amazing props master (Holly Breuer) built each box by hand. Each box and lid is actually not square; they’re built with slight tapers so the actress removing the lids can do it easily and without looking at it. They’re also extremely lightweight so, during the montages of the show, she can open and close a lot of boxes quickly. There’s also lighting in each box to shine when the lid is taken off. Each box hole [in the wall] has a hidden trap door, so when the actress pushes a box back, it disappears out of sight.

Had you worked with something like the screens as part of a set design before?

Tim: Yes, many times. It was important to integrate the video content into the set seamlessly so you wouldn’t know who did what.

The timing of the screen visuals was precise in their integration with the action. Is there someone who's watching and pressing a button, is it electronically timed, or a combination?

Tim: I can’t reveal all the secrets, but audience members answers can instantly change the way the game will proceed — both for themselves and for the actors on stage. There are many live scenarios, both technical and performance, ready to go given what an audience member might say. It makes it rather difficult on the actors because they all have to really be listening to everything and ready to adapt at a moment’s notice without communicating with each other. Technically speaking, someone is hiding out of sight receiving the answers from the audience and adapting the answers on the board as the game proceeds.

What was the consideration about how the actors would interact with the set?

Tim: The actors had to have a podium, or home base, to be at for most of the show. From that, they can leave it to do many things. It was also important the live audience members be able to have a podium and understand how it works if they’re chosen to come up onstage. Again there are many secret items at their podium to help them adapt without knowing they’re being helped.

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960. Twitter: @SEberson_pg.

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