Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Object of Art: A Set Design

An important part of the pre-production process for Shakespeare On the Green is the design phase.  Even before we go through the audition process and start to find the cast for this summer, both directors (myself and Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek) begin conversations with our design team to outline the concepts for each show and how we wanted to present these stories to our audience. 

Traditionally at Nebraska Shakespeare, one show is presented in the concept for which it was originally written, and one is conceptualized.  Twelfth Night, which opens on June 20th, free to the public, is our 'concept play' this year and it takes on elements of a Dr. Seuss world; bright primary colors, a future/fantasy based technology, and bold architectural elements.  Titus Andronicus, opening on June 27th, free to the public, is placed in a fictional 1st Century AD Rome, a classical approach to a Roman government and traditional family structure.  The archetypal Roman Centurion and 'period' takes on the enemy Goths are crucial images for this production.

One of the challenges in producing both plays concurrently is the set design.  Every year, we present two strikingly different shows, but we have to do it on the same set.  The first step is to agree on a GROUNDPLAN; this is the footprint of the stage, an overhead view.  It articulates the playing spaces, the levels, the entrances and exits and includes any tricks or specific 'asks' for the play.

For example, in Twelfth Night, a prison of sorts is needed to capture a character near the end of the play.  In Titus, a pit or trap is necessary for a scene in which characters disappear mid-action.  The set designer has to absorb the essence of each play's concept, include any special requests from the directors, and present a groundplan that is feasible within an established budget.  This year's set designer, Robbie Jones, a professional scenographer and professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, created a groundplan that has multiple levels (fulfilling status and hierarchy needs in both plays) and has provided a number of possibilities for elements of the set to work for both productions.  Conveniently, the aforementioned prison doubles as the trap, thus designing two 'birds' with the stroke of one pencil (or computer command, as it may be).

After the groundplan, a RENDERING is created for each show.  The rendering provides a front view of the stage and develops specific scenic elements or 'set-dressings' that are exclusive to each show.  This is where, for our summer season, the set transforms from one week to the next.

The rendering for Twelfth Night includes numerous Seuss-like 'peek-a-boo' windows in addition to bright, movable topiaries which will help to define the different houses of each character in the play.
The rendering for Titus Andronicus shows how those windows, in week two of our run, will essentially be covered, and in lieu of colorful plant-life, a stripped tree dominates the set.

Once the groundplan and rendering have been 'signed off' on by all parties (including a technical director who has to build it) a MODEL is created for the directors.  This is a miniature version of the set and assists in visualizing the playing space so the directors and eventually the actors can see how the play will come to life.

The design process is a very collaborative action; discussions flow back and forth between the set designer, the directors, the technical director, and the director of production.  The idea for the set this year has had different amalgamations in the process, but we believe we have reached a balance in terms of concept, staging needs, budget requirements, and feasible execution.  What you see here is the best look at what will be built in Elmwood Park for our shows.  Next week, we'll take a look at some costumes!

Good Weekend Gentles,

Vincent CB

We hope you'll join us On The Green.  Click here for dates and details.

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