Monday, August 12, 2013

The Set Design Process

I've been asked to write about the process of designing for Circle Theatre's soon-to-open! production of Exit, Pursued by a Bear.

Unusually, this process started - for me - two years ago when Kitchen Dog Theater produced a staged reading of this script.  Hilarious!  Flash forward to last December when I learned that Exit, Pursued by a Bear would be part of Circle Theatre's 2013 season.  I've been looking happily forward to it ever since.

I remembered the play with a fond glow around it, without remembering many details.  But what a great title!  Shakespeare's most famous stage direction - certainly his most evocative.  (And one of his few, he being experienced enough to know that everyone ignores a playwright's stage directions.)  I love the idea of taking a little shard of the Bard and spinning out a whole story...

So, happy anticipation until the beginning of June, when I read the script.  It's a funny as I remembered!

That first reading is to get a basic idea of story and movement onstage; the second reading is specifically for scenic design issues.  Set designers look for setting and mood (to be translated into form and color), and also for practicalities. We look for entrances.  We circle words like "sliding glass door" and "deer head" as we work through the text.   In Exit, Pursued by a Bear it became clear that the husband's chair was almost another character.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear recliner - photo by CFD, gifted to the public domain

Next,  meeting with director Krista Scott - to compare views of the script, feel-out how scenic design can further her interpretation of the text, and talk through staging issues.  A good meeting!  I left with intriguing notes and indecipherable scribbles to help me on my way.

I started sketching.

An added wrinkle in designing this set was that the show which preceded it on Circle's stage... was another kitchen.  I didn't want the audience to feel they were seeing the same set, repainted.  (How budget friendly!  Earlier post on the issue HERE.)  So there was that...

But the plan came together pretty quickly.  Circle Theatre's thrust stage dictates that anything bulky - like kitchen appliances - has to go on the upstage wall.  The need to make a difference from the last kitchen helped determine what reshuffling was needed to change "the Look."  Fortunately, the mood of Exit is quite different, so color and texture of the set needed to change radically...  And every set is, in part, a biography of the characters that "live" there: when you watch the show, look for which items of set dressing are His and which are Hers.  (To my surprise they developed color schemes of their own too, His is mostly brown, Hers is cooler blues and greens.)

This set for Exit, Pursued by a Bear is essentially designed around that deer head and the husband's Lazy-Boy.

ADDENDUM: Previous post HERE.

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