Nic Fabrio builds sets for the theater department at College of the Siskiyous, and he likes to build things that move rather than just remain static. Theater-goers may remember his swirling cyclone in “The Wizard Of Oz” and the revolving radio tower he constructed for a couple of radio dramas last season.
Before he reaches for his hammer, though, Fabrio carefully researches what’s been done before in previous productions of the same work.
“I check out what’s been done before, and then I make sure to do something totally different,” he says.
His research on “Wizard Of Oz” revealed that no one had ever constructed an actual cyclone for a stage version of the musical. So last fall Fabrio made one out of cattle fencing and the cotton batting used for quilts. It twirled across the stage along an upper-level track normally used for curtains.
For the final scene, the Wizard’s escape from Oz, he built a 1930s-style, Buck Rogers rocket ship. (“One of the easiest things I’ve done.”) The Wizard himself was represented by a huge silver mask modeled on a flying monkey from the film version.
“Nic is incredibly creative,” says an admirer, COS choreographer and director Wendy James. “He always exceeds our expectations.”
Fabrio has been doing the sets at COS for three years. He did similar work in TV and film production before that and spent a few years doing carpentry and electrical work in the Mount Shasta area before being hired at the college.
All that experience comes in handy when things go wrong, as they did 10 minutes before show time for the radio dramas last year. The lights on the radio tower, the centerpiece of the set, weren’t working, and the tower had stopped revolving. Fabrio, who managed to keep his cool, did a quick fix in the wiring for the tower’s lights and found and fixed a problem in the portable motor that moved the tower.
When the sound went out right in the middle of a dance recital, Fabrio and a couple of other technicians ran around backstage doing some frantic troubleshooting before figuring out how to work around a problem with the theater’s power supply unit.
“With film, you can turn off the camera and stop and fix whatever needs fixing,” he notes. “When it’s happening live onstage, you don’t have that luxury. It’s a battle against time.”
The set work at COS is a collaboration between Fabrio and theater department head Neil Carpentier-Alting. After Carpentier-Alting provides the overall design for the set of each production, Fabrio takes over with his hammer and saw. His latest effort was a huge dragon powered by four actors, for a children’s production of “Shrek, The Musical.” Upcoming: A killer rabbit and a giant foot for a production of the musical “Spamalot” this November.
It’s a small theater department with a small staff, so Fabrio also operates the sound system and even does bookings for off-campus organizations who want to use the theater.
He’s also taken a turn at acting, as a cop in a production of “Urinetown” – although that may be his one and only appearance in front of the footlights.
“It was too much to take on,” he says in retrospect. He had to learn his lines while building a complicated, multi-level set.
“I don’t think I’d do it again. I’m not saying it’s the reason I’m single again, but it didn’t help on the home front.”
Fabrio, who has an AA degree in accounting (“my parents put the fear of God in me about starving artists”) is now working for his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. When that’s completed, he plans to continue with his education and get a master’s degree in theater arts. That will qualify him to teach at the college: subjects that would naturally include set design and construction, and possibly, as a bonus, an opportunity to share with students his passion for the history of film.
He sums up his current situation at the college this way: “Everything I’m doing here is because I have a 12-year-old daughter, and I want to impress on her that there are beautiful things out there, beautiful things you can do with a little imagination.”