Scenic Design for Musical-Personals
Photo by Donald Tetto
by David Bowers
Scenic design over the past fifty or so years has developed into an art form in it self. The placement of a table can create tension in a room, a tension that is echoed by the characters situation or relationships in that play. The problem with creating these physical pictures, is that part of the components i.e. actors move and are constantly changing throughout the play. The scenic design of a play must be conducive to all aspects of that play yet remain as another tool of expression furthering the purpose of that play.
With the King Creativity Fund Grant I received, I have designed and built a set for the musical Personals. The first step was the idea. Talking with the director, reading the script, listening to the music and personal interpretation all went into the Idea of the design. I needed to create the feeling of an urban environment. The relationships all take place in a large city, and that hustle bustle of the city aids in to the frantic nature of the characters as they search for their mates through personal adds in the newspaper. The set also needed to be somewhat neutral because the scenes take place in a very large number of different locales. The script calls for a large drop curtain that is covered with large personal adds. This is where I started my design.
In order to make the Alma Thomas Theatre an intimate playing environment we moved the audience on stage with the actors. This creates its own problems that go along with its advantages. I took the idea of the personal add curtain and turned it into a false proscenium. This creates a backstage, and defines the playing area. Understanding that you cannot have anything realistic about a show when it is viewed through a giant newspaper, I started playing with the idea of a comic strip. While generally light and funny, comic strips hold some very strong points and moving sentimentality. The script we were working with was very much the same way. To get the urban atmosphere, I placed ground rows in the shape of a city skyline directly in front of a cyclorama. They where painted with purples greens and blues, that went along with the comic strip Idea. The playing area was created with three platforms of different levels and a horizontal pylon that could be a couch, or any number of things. The platforms where painted with an orange that had blue yellow and red overlays. This enabled them to change colors under different colored lights. The pylon was done the same way only using a blue base with orange yellow and red overlays. The script also calls for a tape recorder that actually has a duet with one of the actors. The director wanted that song sung live by an actor backstage. To accomplish that we hid a speaker in a smaller pylon that was used as an end table to place the tape recorder on. This way in sounded like the sound was coming from the recorder and not a speaker. This smaller pylon had the same paint treatment as the larger pylon.
Over all I was very pleased at how the design came together. Towards the end when time and money came up short, some slights changes had to be made, but come show time it all came together with a very moving performance. It is very rewarding to see an idea physicalized on the stage.