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story.lead_photo.caption Once hung, the stained-glass rose window becomes the centerpiece of South Arkansas Arts Center's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" set. (Submitted photo)

Eighty miles east of Texarkana, El Dorado, Ark., has an amazing downtown arts district that is nationally renowned and, among other features, includes the South Arkansas Arts Center.

 

As the cultural center of the south-central part of the state, SAAC puts on some productions you wouldn't expect to see in a town its size—population about 18,000.

Currently, SAAC's summer musical, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," is playing. Sponsored by Murphy USA, "Hunchback" is based on the Victor Hugo novel, songs from the Disney animated feature and new songs by Menken and Schwartz. It has a set that—well, just look at these photographs.

Gallery: Magic from Paris

Designed and built by the show's technical director, Justin Howard, the set is a symbolic representation of the interior of the bell towers at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Its famous and iconic rose window is the spectacular centerpiece of the set.

"From the beginning of the design process, I wanted to whisk the audience away to Notre Dame as much as possible. The set is constructed in a way that it comes toward the audience to draw their attention to every inch of the auditorium, and is brought into service by the staging of the actors," Howard said.

The original window on the west face of Notre Dame was constructed of stone and stained glass pieces in about 1225, but for theatrical purposes, much more modern technology was employed. Working with a local sign company, Howard commissioned a vinyl representation of the window, then suspended it high above the stage.

Coret Sublet constructed the window. To make it, the stained glass image was printed on a vinyl substrate then applied to a Dibond board, which has a polyethylene core with an aluminum surface. The window was actually printed onto two boards, which were then matched along their seams to make the 84-inch round window.

Through strategic theatrical lighting, the window takes on the magic and mystery of the production throughout its run. Of the three iconic windows in Notre Dame, the one represented in the SAAC production is the Rose North. The north and south windows were built in 1250 and 1260, respectively. At the center of the north window is Mother Mary holding the baby Jesus surrounded by kings, prophets and others of the Old Testament.

"The style of the wooden structures portrayed on stage are reminiscent of the actual structure within the bell towers. The rafters and supports in the interior of Notre Dame are an art form in and of itself, and I hope that people can see and appreciate the beauty of the architecture that is usually hidden from sight," Howard said.

Light is an important thematic element throughout the show, director Kristen Blossom said.

"I love the idea that darkness does not really exist, because it is only the absence of light," she said. "In the spirit of that idea, I want to call attention to all the light in this story. This story is an inspiring example of what happens when minds change, truth gets spoken and light pervades darkness."

("The Hunchback of Notre Dame" continues at SAAC today and Sunday and July 24-28. For ticket information call 870-862-5474 or come by 110 E. Fifth St. in El Dorado.)

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