For the last decade and a half, Bill Adams has been building a legacy.
As head scenic carpenter at Langham Court Theatre in Rockland, Adams has designed and built sets for dozens of plays. He’s even acted in a few, too. (He received set design, building and acting credits in Beauty Queen of Leenane.)
Now Adams is retiring from his position and the responsibility of overseeing the building of six sets each season. He will be passing the hammer to a new carpenter after one last build — The 39 Steps, opening Thurs., March 7.
Based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie, The 39 Steps is “a non-stop, crazy, hilarious farce,” says Adams.
It also has 33 scenes. “And they’re changing all the time. It’s a monster to rehearse and get right. It has to work like a well-oiled machine.”
Adams installed a revolve on the Langham Court stage at the beginning of this season for Lady Windermere’s Fan, which he’ll be using again for this production. He’s also built more than 20 set pieces — from doors, to crates and fireplaces — all on casters that can be wheeled in and out at a moment’s notice.
The set also features a bank of black draping, custom-made for this production, which will feature projections throughout the show.
Adams will stick around to catch opening night, then he’s heading to Italy for three weeks to work on a novel he’s been meaning to write.
The carpenter’s work begins months before the curtain rises. Adams will usually receive detailed drawings from the set designer (or make them himself if he’s the set designer) that take between 40-60 hours of drafting work before any building begins.
“I need to understand how it’s all going together,” says Adams. “I have to make all the mistakes on paper before we start sawing wood.”
Since the Victoria Theatre Guild owns the theatre, most of the set can be built directly on the stage during the six-week rehearsal period — a luxury most community theatre companies don’t have.
Adams usually works five days a week, arriving before 9am and leaving after almost everyone else. He manages a team of three to four volunteers per production.
“When I’m managing, I don’t get to build and I love building things,” says Adams. “When they pack it in, that’s when I get to do the hands-on work … I like to do a good job, and a large part of the job is creative problem solving. For me, it’s like candy.”
Born and raised in Edmonton, Adams’ first career was as a research biologist, a job that took him all over the world, from the Arctic to the tropics. He even spent time working as an illustrator at a research institute in Papua New Guinea in the mid ’70s.
“It was a fabulous, peak experience,” says Adams. He spent his days drawing birds of paradise and “spiders the size of your palm.”
He left with a stubborn case of malaria that followed him on his next assignment in the Arctic, camping outside on the frozen tundra. Since he didn’t have proper medication, he was forced to face the howling winds and leave.
Adams packed up his life and moved into the “hotel Mazda,” his trusty station wagon that would carry him West — and “like a barnacle, I latched onto Shawnigan Lake.”
It was in a local coffee shop that a woman convinced him to audition for a community theatre production that she was directing. He never looked back.
After owning a custom sign shop in Duncan, and spending eight years painting on Hornby Island, Adams moved to Victoria, opened an art studio downtown and got involved at Langham Court. And although he’s retiring, this won’t be the last we see of him.
“People belong to this theatre, they don’t just come,” says Adams, who was recently named a life member. “It’s like a family. It’s a really inclusive organization.” M
The 39 Steps
Langham Court Theatre
Opens Thurs., March 7 at 8pm
Runs Tues-Sat until March 23