Jana Leibo has designed dozens of sets for plays, primarily for the Village Church Community Theater in her hometown of Rancho Santa Fe.
Recently, director Robert Salerno and his wife, actress Dori Salois, reached out to Leibo for props they could use in their upcoming Point Loma Playhouse production.
They left with more than a stage set.
“They didn’t just get props, they got me and Twyla,” Leibo said, referring to fellow producer and director Twyla Arant at the village church. “It’s such an amazing collaboration and it shows in the show.
“The Artificial Jungle” is set to open at the Point Loma site on March 25 and end on April 10.
Information about the play, cast, crew, show times and tickets is available at pointlomaplayhouse.com.
Written by Charles Ludlam, “The Artificial Jungle” is set in a pet store on New York’s Lower East Side in the 1970s. The play is described as a comedic parody of film noir plays such as “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity”.
The design of the set is an inspiring and challenging vehicle for Leibo to exercise their creativity due to the many original features required by the script.
“The show requires talking parrots, tropical fish, snakes, boas, rats, tubifex worms and lots of jungle flora, not to mention piranhas,” Leibo said in a Playhouse press release. “This show draws on all my experience as a props designer, decorator and set designer.”
In an interview at the Playhouse’s home in the 111-year-old Point Loma Assembly Building, Leibo enthusiastically exhibited and discussed the items she brought there in her van.
They included a sculpture of a piece of meat to give to piranhas, a toy rat, sculpted rocks, model fish to massage into piranhas, and a brightly colored replica of a parrot.
“When I saw this parrot, I knew I had to do the show,” director Salerno joked as he worked on set preparations with set and lighting designer Jay Maloney.
Joking aside, Salerno said he was exposed to the groundbreaking works of Ludlam in New York in the 1970s.
“I always liked him and thought he was brilliant,” Salerno said.
He had planned to make “The Artificial Jungle” several years ago, but the project was scrapped when his collaborator on the play – San Diego theater great Priscilla Allen – fell ill and died.
“This year I thought we needed a little comedy to counteract all the tragedy that surrounds us all the time,” Salerno said. “So I dusted it off and they offered to do it here. … It’s going to be very cool.
For Leibo, working on the design of “The Artificial Jungle” in conjunction with the Playhouse is a starting point for its North County orbit.
She came to Rancho Santa Fe from Texas about 20 years ago when her husband took a job at Qualcomm.
Leibo said she got into set design when her daughter wanted to do theater.
“I’m not good at sitting still,” Leibo said. “I quickly said to myself, ‘How can I help? » I can make decorations.
A director invited her to work with him and she has been doing it ever since.
“I was a stay-at-home mom,” she said. “I had no formal training. But I loved the challenge of ‘Can we do this?’ I’m only really happy if I’m creative. I have to keep my hands moving.
In set design, Leibo exercises skills that she uses in her part-time job as a flooring design specialist at Home Depot in Encinitas.
“I create sets in people’s homes,” she said. “What is the atmosphere they want to have at home? It’s the same thing I do here on set. What is the atmosphere that the director wants to create? How do you want it to feel?
In creating a setting, Leibo and his colleagues start with a piece of graph paper, note where the walls will be located, and diagram the placement of objects required by the script. Then she gets to work locating those objects or creating them herself.
“If you need a big piece of meat with a bone, I’ll create it for you,” she said. “And once you’ve built the walls, we have to think about everything (like) the door handles and whether that door handle should have a keyhole. It comes down to that kind of detail. …
“Also, I have to take into account this (game) that takes place in 1975. So I want it to be appropriate for the period. I don’t want to have bright 80s colors in a set of 75.”
Community theaters often share props with each other to cut costs and, Leibo said, she scours thrift stores for items that can be obtained inexpensively.
“Thrift stores are my favorite places. I know several of them and I know what I’m going to find where,” she said, adding that St. Peter’s Thrift Shop in Del Mar is one of her go-to spots.
While working on the Playhouse set, Leibo grabbed a power saw and several boards, took them outside, and cut them to the desired length of one piece on the set.
Besides being handy with a toolkit, Leibo does some modeling, she said.
“My friends laugh at me. They say, ‘You could actually build the track and walk down it.’