The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Randa (Krysty-An Spartz, right) shares news of receiving an inheritance from grandmother’s estate with Dot (Carla Crandall, from left), Jinx (Barb Weaver) and Marlafaye (Ann Ellerbrook), who’ve just come from a Renaissance Faire in The Belfry Theatre’s comedy, “The Savannah Sipping Society,” opening Friday. Children’s Museum exhibit design draftsman Jay Ganz of Fishers designed the show’s set, a second-story verandah set in Savannah, Ga.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Randa (Krysty-An Spartz, right) shares news of receiving an inheritance from grandmother’s estate with Dot (Carla Crandall, from left), Jinx (Barb Weaver) and Marlafaye (Ann Ellerbrook), who’ve just come from a Renaissance Faire in The Belfry Theatre’s comedy, “The Savannah Sipping Society,” opening Friday. Children’s Museum exhibit design draftsman Jay Ganz of Fishers designed the show’s set, a second-story verandah set in Savannah, Ga.

If you’ve been to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in the past year, you might have visited “The Science of Ripley’s Believe it or Not,” an amazing exhibit.

Or maybe you saw the “Alien Worlds and Androids” exhibit in 2016.

Or your family has plans to go see the new “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds” exhibit opening Saturday for trekkers of all ages.

The Star Trek exhibit is one of Jay Ganz’ personal favorites.The Fishers resident has had a creative hand in all three of these exhibits and more at the world’s largest children’s museum.

By day, he’s a member of the museum’s Exhibit Design Team creating design visualizations and production drawings. 

When he’s not creating for the museum, he is highly sought after for his design talents to create sets for local community theater. His most recent set design work can be seen during The Belfry Theatre’s 54th season, in “The Savannah Sipping Society,” which opens Friday and runs through Feb. 17. Tickets are still available for evening performances.

Belfry Theatre patrons will be in delighted by this beautiful set of a second-story verandah on a Savannah, Ga., home, where four unique Southern women are played by actresses Krysty-An Spartz, Carla Crandall, Barb Weaver, all of Noblesville, and Ann Ellerbrook of Indianapolis, in a laugh-a-minute comedy by playwrights Jones, Hope & Wooten. 

Many months ago, Ganz began the thought process of creating the set for this show. He read the entire script a couple of times, then he met with show director Barcia Miller Alejos to get her thoughts on the vision of the production and what the late director Connie Murello-Todd would have wanted. (This show was originally to be directed by Murello-Todd, of Noblesville; she will be honored during a tribute on opening night, Friday.)

From there, Ganz researched places and things that matched the vision and the flow of the action. He shared his findings with the production team, then with the team’s feedback, he began his design work.

The Belfry stage is just more than 30 feet wide by 19 feet deep. Ganz’ greatest challenge was to create the feel of a large Savannah home on the small stage. 

Once he figured that out, he said, ”The nature of the architecture was the easy part,” designing the actual set 20 feet wide, 17 feet deep by about 11 feet tall, including platforming.

“Since most of the action takes place on a verandah of a Savannah, Ga., home, I wanted that to be the focal point of the design,” said Ganz, who created a beautiful and most colorful set that could easily be a front or back porch of any large southern home. 

“In the design, I wanted to incorporate many details that reflect that type of home from the posts and plant hangers to the Spanish moss branches adorning the proscenium (part of the theater stage in front of the curtain).

He drew inspiration for the set using a compilation of elements of Savannah homes that he researched online. His final design included a porch with bay window featuring white-trimmed window panes, a white Georgian-style screened door, white porch posts and railings and decorated with potted plants and flowers in hanging baskets. Borrowed white wicker furniture completes the look.

The siding on the house, which is at the back of the verandah, is painted in “Gold Abundance,” (a Valspar color from Lowes Home Improvement). The color is “a little richer than you might see on some homes, but I wanted to compensate for theater lighting,” Ganz said.

This isn’t the first Belfry set that Ganz has designed. He designed the sets of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” during the 2017-18 season and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” musical, during the 2016-17 season, the latter on the Ivy Tech Community College stage and both sets for director James H. Williams of Fishers.

Ganz’ love for theater design came many years ago, growing up in Alma, Wis., a small river town on the Mississippi River. “I guess you could say I have had the theater bug since I was in junior high. My mother was into theater at the university she was attending, so after school we were always doing something at the university theater when she was involved in a production.” His first theater experience was on stage as a character in “A Christmas Carol” produced at the university. Ganz graduated in 1978 from Blair High School in Blair, Wis. 

Loving theater, he went on and studied scenic design and technical direction at Rochester Community College in Rochester, Minn., and St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn. In 1983, he moved to St. Paul, Minn., and spent 11 years working freelance in many of the theaters around St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“I did everything from construction to sound design, but my first love was scenic design,” Ganz said, whose greatest loves today are his wife and 13-year-old daughter. “It was something I did that I could truly step back and see the results as they progressed to opening night. And that is the process I love. Especially when it can be realized well.”

In between school and moving to the Twin Cities, he went back to Rochester and worked for two years for his old professor at college as a designer and technical director for the college theater. His first design was for “Of Mice and Men.”

Ganz came to the Children’s Museum in 1995 as lead technician and scenic designer for the museum’s Lilly Theater. In 2003, he was asked to become part of the museum’s Exhibit design and production team as a design draftsman.

For the past 24 years, Ganz’ theater design work has been mostly for the Lilly Theater at the Children’s Museum and for Mud Creek Players in Lawrence. He also freelance designs for the Phipps Center for The Arts in Hudson, Wis., a theater for which he worked before moving to Indianapolis.
Most recently, he finished the set design for “Jesus Christ Superstar” for Mud Creek Players, on stage April 19-May 4, and expects to be starting design soon for The Belfry’s summer youth production, Apprentice Players’ “Honk: The Musical,” featuring kids ages 5-13, on stage July 26-Aug. 4. He may be looking at a design for a local dance theater production as well. 

Also next up, he hopes to start a side business creating design visualizations for architects and builders and trades people who want to present their work in 3D for client review.

Ganz said of The Belfry’s “Savannah Sipping Society” set-design project, “It has been a delight to work with Barcia and Jose Alejos on this production. The set has turned out beautifully due to hard work of Jose (Barcia’s husband who led set construction) and his crew and all those who worked on props and dressing,” he said.

Ganz doesn’t like to take all of the credit for the beautiful set. He said, “A design is only as good as the people who execute it.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com