Expanding Horizons

Theatre as a necessity cannot be a selfish artform.  A painter may paint an image that’s appealing only to the artist.  A musician may play melodies that only exist to soothe the musician’s soul, but a theatre artist must have a collaborative team and must appeal to masses.  When DCE offered me an opportunity to join in on this collaboration with a brand new play, I jumped at the chance.

“We want to add a design element into our Talent on Tap series,” Company Manager Patrick Marran pitched me over drinks one night.  I had never seen a staged reading with technical elements added in before.  Come to think of it I had never heard of anybody who had attempted such a feat.  But I have this tendency to say, “yeah I can do that.”

demonstrating the set model for Robin Rice Lichtig’s “Frontier”

 As with any design the first job was to read the script.  Ms. Rice Lichtig’s play “Frontier” was quite intimidating in this regard.  With a voice that echoes that of Fredrico Garcia Lorca “Frontier” had more than twenty locations, which flow in and out of the script without warning.  As a designer a play that moves as much as Ms. Rice Lichtig’s is a blessing, in that it grants the designer the ability to have a vast range of sets, from a South Florida nightclub to the beaches of Valdez in the height of the oil spill.  In this freedom there also lay the peril of trying to do too much.

When I read the play I just kept seeing shipping containers falling from the sky like bombs.  Every scene change was jarring when I read it.  The script is not one about  elegance and grace, it is a story of human destruction.  I wanted to contrast the beauty of Denali’s constant presence throughout the story with the imposition of the masses all saying in unison, one McDonald’s burger won’t destroy the world.  So this became the theme of my design, the world falling out of shipping  containers.

Had this been a full scale production, much of my design would have been thrown out.   Perhaps all of it, but do to the nature of this project the long hours of 2am collaboration with directors, lighting designers, costume designers, et al were not needed.  I was able to present my own impressions and my own thoughts independent of the needs of the production.  It was great; it was like being in college again.

The Talent on Tap series also grants the designer with a gift very few are ever given- letting your creativity run free without the tyrannical constraints of dealing with a budget, or wings that are too small to store scenery, or loading docks that are too inaccessible to move large objects, or even the laws of physics.  Most designs, in my experience, start huge and must be constantly trimmed down to play nicely with the aforementioned forces.

It is my belief that a play is just ink on paper until a dozen (or more) different minds work together to bring a collaborative interpretation together for a performance.  Once you have actors reading the lines and interacting with one another the words, as if by magic, become something bigger, something special, a play.  But as the scruffy guys dressed in all black and hiding in the shadows of the wings will tell you, the difference between a play and a show is in the staging.  The subtler elements, or sometimes not so subtle, of sound, light, set, costume, etcetera (etcetera etcetera) are what make the spectacle.

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