Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Sometimes the first sketched set design you show a director is exactly what they had in mind.

Sometimes it takes a few tries to work through the issues of the performance space and the particular production and to understand each other.

I'm usually lucky in hitting on a scheme the director likes fairly quickly, but sometimes... not.  Multiple designs are more likely to happen when you're working with a director or producer for the first time, or designing for a new venue, or are talking (and scanning drawings) long distance.  Right now I'm doing all three for a production of Sweeney Todd in Prague.

The assignment is a low-budget set that's relatively easy to build and put up and down in a rented theater space, a set that will act as a sort of screen for lighting and projections that will suggest the period and specific settings.  In a phone call the director spoke of overlapping ships' sails, shrouds, cemeteries, Victorian engravings, the drape of fabric...

As the Prague team looked at theaters, the director morphed his images of the production to fit the nature of each stage.  (Luckily, they'd settled on one theater before I came on board.)

Back at my board this is all turning out to mean lotso versions:

Version #1:
Sweeney Todd - the Drapery version

I like this one.  Movable fabric "wings" could pivot in and out of the stage to subdivide it, make dramatic reveals, or change the look.  Projections and lighting would animate these draped panels. I also enjoyed inventing a way to turn a photo of the theater into a perspective of this design: the 3D drapery effect is actually 3D drapery (made from thin tracing paper plus glue and colored pencil) squashed into the scanner. 

Version #2:
Sweeney Todd - the Sails version

These next two versions had to be drawn fast (no time to play with the world's flattest modeling technique!), so I'm back to ink and colored pencil.  (A bit washed-out here. Bolder in real-life.)  These represent the extremes of my understanding of the director's visions.  The platform added at SL (your right) is to create the bodies-exit-through-the-floor usual for Sweeney and a "real" oven door.  (Version #1 assumed a more minimal faking-it approach.)

Version #3:
Sweeney Todd - the Graveyard version

Essentially the same plan as Version #2 dressed differently.  This Graveyard version is fun, but this set is getting harder to build.  I'm starting to worry about budget and time.  Flurry of emails between designers, directors, technical director, director... a mix of pragmatic worries and enthusiasm for more elaboration.  Much back-n-forthing, resulting in:

Version #4:

No pretty sketch yet, just a hasty plan that amalgamates aspects of the previous three schemes while trying, desperately!, to also simplify things. 

As you can see, there's some real debate about what this Sweeney should be, with some conflict between the ideal and the budget-real, between several competing ideas in the director's mind, and (I betcha) by now between personalities too...

Email from the director.

Stop Press.

Version # 2A now in the works...

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