For Netanel Shafier, There’s Always Another Project
It’s midnight. Classic rock is playing in the basement of Schottenstein Cultural Center. The stage is covered in ladders, drills, paint cans, and piles of wood. Without warning—ziiiiieerrrrrp! The table saw kicks in and slices a two-by-four. Behind the saw, Netanel Shafier looks up from his safety glasses, and ear protection, blows away the sawdust, and runs his finger down the cut. Over the next five weeks, he will repeat the step hundreds of times.
For the past three semesters, Yeshiva College senior Netanel Shafier has lead a team of five students in transforming Wilf Campus’s 144-seat theater into a finished set. For two hours a night—and more leading up to “hell” week—Shafier and his crew cut, drill, route, paint, nail, sand, and even solder the various elements in Yeshiva College Drama Society’s ever more complex sets.
This year’s play, “Mister Roberts,” takes place on a cargo ship on the Pacific Ocean during the final days of World War II. “We built a raised platform to make a deck, and a cargo hatch, portholes, anti-aircraft guns and PA speakers,” says Shafier, beaming as he points out the details. “Oh, foam machine? you’ll see,” he promises.
Netanel Shafier, a Teaneck native and Torah Academy of Bergen County graduate, was destined to be dexterous and handy. “At my bar Mitzva, my grandfather told me that instead of sleeping with teddy bears, I used to sleep with blow dryers and blenders,” says Shafier bashfully, “I’ve always been messing around and tinkering. My favorite toys were Legos and Knex, and my favorite thing to do was take apart old household appliances.”
His first carpentry project was a lectern for his rabbi. Since then he has built a T-shirt cannon, repaired a vacuum cleaner, made a giant slingshot “to play Angry birds for real,” built bunk beds for his apartment, and is working on a do-it-yourself arc welder made of an old microwave “for fun.”
As the head of the woodshops and both camp Stone and Moshava in Pennsylvania, Shafier led kids in individualized projects—nock hockey tables, guitar stands and jewelry boxes. Last year he won YU’s dreidel contest after constructing a huge driedel out of a fallen tree. The tools he used? “Chainsaw, angle grinder and router,” said Shafier unhesitatingly, “and yes, I own a chainsaw.”
Over the years Shafier has amassed an enormous tool collection. “Whenever I got money from the summer or jobs, I would budget a little for projects and tools,” he said. The set is strewn with all manner of conventional and unconventional gear. He has saws for every occasion and a tool for any application, except, of course, for the arc welder, which he admits is, “a work in progress.”
He has a story attached to virtually every tool. He inherited a power hammer—complete with a set of .22 caliber Remington cartridges designed to drive fasteners into steel and concrete—from a religious Jew who wanted to give up construction and learn full time.
After a year-and-a-half of studying in Yesodei Hatorah, Shafier enrolled in YU as a phycology major and architecture minor and immediately joined YCDS. Now in his 5th semester, Shafier is in his third semester as the Chief of Set Design and construction. “I made up my title,” he admits. He also serves as the Assistant Stage Manager.
Construction, however, is only part of Shaifer’s job. He spends hours researching the play, talking with the director, and with other actors to see what is feasible and within budget. After conceiving of a plan, he tries to envision the total picture of the audience’s experience, “I want the audience to get completely wrapped up in the experience,” he said. “For ‘The Foreigner’ I wanted the theater to smell like the rural fishing lodge where it takes place, so I took pine-scented car-fresheners and distributed them around the theater.” “Sometimes I go a little overboard,” he admits.
The set budget varies from play to play, but can sometimes rise to $1500. To save money, Shaifer buys wood in bulk—1000 pounds in one trip—from his local Home Depot and drives it to the Heights. He also recycles “everything,” from scraps of wood to old sinks, storing them around the building for later productions.
“Theater is great,” he asserts. “I have to learn about the play, I have to learn how to manage a team. I’ve had to learn about lighting, costumes, and the acting itself.”
When he is not building sets, Shafer has joined Bnei Akiva’s Habitat for Humanity service trips to Alabama and South Carolina, building houses for people in the wake of devastating storms. Shaifer has no immediate career plans, but he does plan on live in Israel one day. “No matter what,” he says, “I’m going to keep building and keep tinkering. There will always be another project.”