One of the anxieties of being an artist is facing the proverbial blank canvas; not knowing how to start and where to go. But in the creation of a theatrical production we have a starting point, a touchstone to guide us – the script. This text is the source for all decisions in the creation of a play. It is the designer’s responsibility to serve the text. This relieves us of the question “what?” but challenges us as to “how?”
It is my responsibility to the production to physically manifest on stage a cohesive world in which the actors and the audience can live, a world where the set represents the text as much as any character does. Every choice of color, shape, style, piece of furniture, the placement of a window, must all serve to tell the story.
For example, in the set for 12 Angry Jurors the juror room is in an older part of the building, representing the history of the justice system. The room itself is under repair and newer elements are indiscriminately added to the older facade, reinforcing one of the play’s issues regarding changing attitudes towards justice. There is a faded mural on the entrance wall (actually from the New York Federal Courthouse) depicting Hudson’s arrival in the new world as Native Americans guardedly watch. This image resonates when the characters’ discussion turns to “those people” and “foreigners”. Outside the window we see the influence of commercialism and it appears that the room is on one of the higher floors. The actual set floor is two feet higher than the stage floor. By this means the characters are isolated from the street (the audience) and the world they are judging. The placement of items in the room such as the water cooler, the closet and the window all help create motivated movement for the actors. The trick is to use these ideas in the design and integrate them so that the audience accepts the space as reality but is influenced by the choices.
For the play Waiting for Godot I designed and created a 5-foot high 60-foot wide hill of mud for the actors to explore and in Three Days of Rain it rained on stage, pouring on the actors and filling the room with the scent and humidity of the downpour. Currently I am exploring the potentials of shadow play as a visual expression.
The influential and innovative set designer Robert Edmund Jones said “As we work we must seek not for self-expression or for performance for its own sake, but only to establish the dramatist’s intention, knowing that when we have succeeded in doing so audiences will say to themselves, not, This is beautiful, This is charming, This is splendid, but -This is true”. These are words I try to honor.