On quiet Dot sidestreet, craftsmen build sets for the larger world

Banton Street is a one-block cul-de-sac off Dot Ave between Fields Corner and Ashmont. No flashing marquee or sign of any kind graces #9, former home of Ashmont Welding.

But behind the nondescript façade craftsmen at Cyco-Scenic have been using the 5,000 square feet of saw-dust-scented space to create sets for local theaters and opera houses across the country. At least one of their creations has been shipped overseas to Tokyo.

Owner Bennett Williams first began his business about 15 years ago, taking over the ground floor of an artist studio building in Clam Point. When business expanded he moved his operation to 1225 Dorchester Ave., near where dbar and KingDo Bakery are now located. After seven years at that address, he packed up his lumber and table-saws and moved to Banton Street, where they've been for the past four years.

Like Cyco-Scenic itself, some of the opera sets they've turned out over the years have done quite of bit of traveling. While the scenery they do for local mid-sized Boston theater troupes (like the Lyric Stage for whom they've banged out 100-plus sets) is made to last maybe six weeks, the sets for operas may have to last 10 years.

Longtime accounts like Opera Omaha and Central City (Colorado) Opera often loan sets to other companies in other states for future seasons in what is known as "cross-rentals." That's why all those exotic opera backgrounds have to be sturdy enough to last a decade or more.

Cyco-Scenic has also built sets or painted drops that have appeared locally like those in a Boston Lyric Opera production at the Shubert and dance shows at the Strand.

With theater (as distinguished from opera) seasons becoming increasingly iffy and less profitable these days, Cyco-Scenic has moved further into the more lucrative corporate events market, providing backdrops, screen surrounds and other pieces for lavish annual meetings and celebrations thrown by companies like Talbot's.

With their ability to realize virtually any professional design, even those that require revolve and other turntable sets, Cyco-Scenic competes with places like the American Repertory Theatre's scene shop for customers.

But the Banton crew use their illusion-creating expertise to help out right here in Dorchester as well. With Dot Art just a couple of doors up the avenue, executive director Leslie MacWeeney has been known to have the guys put the finishing touches on pieces for the Dorchester Day parade. They also installed Dot Art's permanent portrait exhibition at the Courthouse.

While Williams listens to opera recordings at home in East Boston, he never attends opera performances. He has logged so many years backstage as a stagehand, stage manager, and scenery flyer that he's too antsy to be cooped up out front in an orchestra seat - even if those marvelous sets were built by Cyco-Scenic.

Tags: