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Robert Falls takes us backstage at his latest production, Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’

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When the curtain comes down each night at the end of “Measure for Measure” at the Goodman Theatre, audiences applaud the 25-member cast who, for the past 2 ½ hours, have brought to life one of Shakespeare’s most controversial dark comedies. As they leave the theater, some patrons may comment on the set or costumes, quality of the sound design or the special lighting effects that bring the play to life.

But who notes the work of the stage manager or the production dramaturge? Where’s the applause for the wardrobe supervisor, the light board operator or the vocal coach? If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a small city to create a theater production; although they may not take a nightly bow, their contributions to the success of the show are immeasurable.

The work on a production starts many months, oftentimes years, before opening night. “Measure for Measure” is a play about a city in decay and a society in crisis. Although that description could fit any number of places throughout history, I felt that the New York City of the mid-1970s, with its sex shops, garbage-laden streets and graffiti-filled walls would be a fitting locale for the production, one that would resonate with our audiences. Our design team — set designer Walt Spangler, costume designer Ana Kuzmanic, lighting designer Marcus Doshi and composer/sound designer Richard Woodbury — pored over images and sounds from that era, creating a complex design that would be executed by literally dozens of artisans in our scene, prop and costume shops.

At the same time, our production dramaturge Neena Arndt spent many hours assembling research concerning Shakespeare’s original source material and such relevant topics as the duties of a pimp circa 1970s and the steps a young woman would take to become a nun (you have to see the show). Finally, our casting department brought in hundreds of actors who could bring to life both the poetry of Shakespeare’s language and the grit of life in the city.

For nearly two months, we put the show together, assisted along the way by vocal coaches, fight choreographers, dance instructors (“The Hustle” is not a dance that young actors know well) and backstage crew, not to mention the efforts of theater administrators, house managers, ushers and concessionaires.

Finally (and sometimes miraculously), the work of all those people over all those weeks and months of thinking, planning, building and rehearsing results in a complete, hopefully seamless, entertaining and thought-provoking show for its remaining essential component: the audience.

And then we start again on the next one.

“Measure for Measure” is running through April 14 at the Goodman Theatre (170 N. Dearborn). Tickets ($25-$86; subject to change) are available at the theatre’s box office, at or by calling (312) 443-3800.

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