Tuesday, October 4, 2011

THRT 101D: Final Examination

Last weekend Kate Morris's Venn Diagrams or The Bee Play opened at the DDC and thus, my set for her play was a complete as it ever would be.  Photos are below.  The experience was enlightening, as I imagined, but differently so.  I knew my efforts would be constrained by practical concernstime, money, & the space itself in particular—but I hadn't quite appreciated in advance how profoundly considerations of how the actor would be using the space, how lighting cues would work, directorial decisions about transitions between scenes, how the audience's lines of sight, would all come to circumscribe my creative decisions.  Though I wanted the set to be lush and superfluous with detail (lots of patterns, inanimate objects that fill out the space but have no explicit purpose in the script) I found that flexibility, clarity, and concision in this set design were greater virtues.

The first couple weeks I spent amassing as many relevant objects as I couldobjects that would convey a sense of the various sections of the set (a bedroom, kitchen, etc) while they both matched the color pallet and contained some practical or symbolic meaning for the play (for example, showing a floral pattern to connect to the themes of fecundity, pollination, and [if I could have had my way, I would have filled the entire space with as many flowers as I could--covering every set piece, strewn over the floors, sewn into every material, raining down  from the ceiling--fecundity to the point of absurdity, almost choking the characters though they seem not even to notice.  Alas, that would have been too expensive, not to mention hazardous for the actors...], or perhaps geometric or fractal patterns that convey the simultaneous chaos and order within probability and particle physics [another theme of the play]).  And I spent a lot of time brainstorming about how the set might change through the course of the playcertain props linked & switching colors (like an electron and positron are linked and can switch spins simultaneously) to reflect the mindset of a character, pieces removed or added to as the momentum of the play changes, ...

Then I stopped all that. I spent the second couple of weeks paring down the space, removing objects, nixing ideas so that the set would be less crowded for the cast (who would have only two or three rehearsals to work with it before the first show), less cluttered for the audience's lines of sight, less difficult to store or assemble.  Less.  It was a somewhat frustrating process, since my instincts were to keep building, assembling, adding, while the needs of the directors and actors were quite different.  I began to try to find solutions, trying to influence decisions on lighting and costumes to compliment visual themes if the set had to be minimized.

Things didn't always work out, and when I look at the pictures below it still feel uncomfortable with how empty the set seems.  But I also know how much time it took to complete each task as the lone designer, gofer, and constructor (to find the right color/patterned table cloth, bed sheets, or pillow, to find, engineer, paint a free standing doorway as minimally as possible, to gather or build essential and non-essential props, including a top-bar bee box and a 3-D vector model [neither pictured here], to figure out rugs [don't even get me started about rugs...], and then to bring it all together see what works with the actors and what does not, find replacements, rework, redesign, repeat..) and I know it was some sort of accomplishment for just part-time over four weeks.

In the end, I would have loved to have more timenot simply to gather or create more loaded, concise set piecesbut also to absorb, recognize and react to the challenges of my task a little more slowly.  But I shouldn't even seem to complain.  It was a good first opportunity for me and I'm grateful Kate offered it to me.  Now, I'll see what I can get into next.

 entire set

 "Stability Table"

 "Bed of Satisfaction" and "Doorway of Transition"

 detail, "Bed of Satisfaction"

"Stasis Library"

And some photos of the cast in the set, in costume (which I had some hand in--I'd love to have more), & with other props I made.

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