Five Questions For… Ken Bernstein, Undermain’s Technical Director

1. When does your job begin on a production?

It varies, but as early as possible is good.  On Ages [Of The Moon], I started two weeks before production started.  Final design plans were in.  Didn’t leave me much input for technical problems that might come up.
With Time In Kafka, I’ll be in it pretty much from the beginning to discuss technical issues and research for solving problems.
2. What makes one production different from the next?  Any examples?
Shows are unique in terms of the parameters of time and money.   Just last summer, I was working for theBarter Theatre in Virginia, one of the oldest companies in the country, I was replacing the TD there.  I dropped in with a week to go before we opened Annie.  Quite a few problems left to work out.  At the same time we were opening another show in a small theatre.  Had a moving disco cage in it.  I had to quickly, over the weekend, come up with a solution.  The more time you have to think about solutions, pull in your experiences, the better off you are.  A lot of time there isn’t time.  Or money.
3. Is there anything in particular about the Ages Of The Moon set that you’d like for the audience to notice?
Two things I’m particularly proud of in the Ages set.  The first one is the roof, which is out of three different batches of tin.  Two batches old rusted tin, one new batch, underlaying the corners.  Which I blended so they all looked together.  I was pretty happy with how the corners came out.  To make those inside and outside corners was a bit of an experiment on my part.  They looked pretty cool.
The other thing is the wall itself.  I’d never worked with John before [ed.: John Arnone, Scenic Designer].  I went in for some source materials, going for things I thought he would like.  The overall effect was that when he came in and he saw them, he said “gee, they look great, I’m not gonna even put paint on them.”  So I was real proud of that.
That and the fact that it’s the first screen door I’ve ever gotten to work on stage.  Getting them to spring like that is fairly difficult.  And the slamming noise is very important to the designer and the director.  This was a fun set to work on.
Now that Ages Of The Moon is up and running, what are you working on between shows?
Because of the violence of the show, there’s an awful lot of repair going on.  During one tech rehearsal, Mark [Fickert] snapped one of the posts in half.  We had to replace that and repaint that.  Broken chairs…broken boxes.  The fan has been falling apart a little bit.
We’re doing some building maintenance mostly.  This week I’ve been working on painting the walls of the theatre.  Making it look a little nicer in the space.
Most importantly, we’re starting to source out and research the next show.  This morning I was up on thecomputer researching paper umbrellas.  I’m not gonna tell you what that’s for.  They’re gonna be used in a very unique way.
I notice you keep the radio on while you work.  Is there a certain kind of music you like to work to?
Loud music (laughs).  Actually I’m pretty good at tuning out the music, but if it’s not loud I start to sing and everybody gets mad at me.  I’m basically a classic rock, blues, country guy.  Anybody who knows me knows I’m a Deadhead.  Whenever a Dead song comes on we take a break.