- Scenery and Lighting Designs for"Living Creation" by Francis Warner
April 2012 Jewell Theatre Company
- Jewell Theatre Company's spring play in 2012 was the North American Premiere of British playwright Francis Warner's "Living Creation". The story follows the life of the painter Sandro Botticelli and how his artwork influence the court throughout his life. This play has only been performed one other time and that was it's opening performance in 1986. This first production took place in a church in Oxford, England with no set taking advantage of the interior architecture of the church.The director and I had just finished working on A Man for All Seasons which had a minimal unit setting painted in a dark navy blue to unify the piece. When we finished reading and analizing Living Creation we kind of thought the technical needs were very similar- very few. I went away and spent some time with the script and began to find thematic elements to drive my design concept. The play is about an artist that uses canvas and a brush to replicate life using symbols. How can I use canvas and the "brushes" of today's technology to help tell this story.Once again a minimal unit set with a few moving pieces emerged. I was able to integrate a lingering design that ive wanted to do for a long time. I designed a raked (ramped) triangular platform that when combined with rolling wall units with angled tops created a forced perspective that directed the viewer's eye to the center of the stage. This perspective technique was used by Botticelli in many of his well known paintings and drawings.Representations of some of his paintings needed to be present on set for the characters to look at and describe. My goal was to create the most realistic copies of these paintings that I could. Using a little bit of theatre magic the paintings appeared to the joy of the audience (the first one causing audible gasps each performance night!)Here I will describe some of the process that got the design to its finished version and maybe reveal some of my secrets.
The designs were executed over an 8 week period by a crew of student workers with varying skills.I'd like to thank Tina Campbell for her hard work on aquiring costumes for the play!
- When I read a script I make notes in a sketchbook. Sometimes they are sketches or doodles. Sometimes they are technical notes. This is my way of working out the needs for the show.
- This painting by Boticelli has lines drawn over it to point out the use of perspective. It was actually this illustration that made me think that the basic forms of the architecture of this painting could be reduced to simple canvas covered units. I set out to model my ideas because sketching in 2D wasnt working out for me.
- This photo found on Google image search was from another theatre company's design for a Shakespeare play. It was the white floor and wall with the structure of the construction elements showing through that drew me in. also the angle of the photo makes the stage floor appear to ramp upward and be angled on the sides. This photo, although the content was another designer's work, gave me what I needed to proceed.
- The model emerged quickly and as I built it some surprise elements began to appear. The four tall units roll around the stage on casters with a human operator that remains hidden behind. The upperportion of the ramp is hinged to allow it to fold downstage revealing a stepped platform "balcony" up center.
- The second surprise was a hinged platform on the stage right side of the ramp that flipped center stage creating an elevated spot and a gap in the deck for a wall column to glide in. This intrusion on the deck compressed the perspective in a few scenes in Act 2.The model allowed me to work with the director to choose different looks for different scenes using the same units. We selected about 10 different configurations of the units.
- When the deck was built we began using the units on set in rehearsal. The addition of the scenery pieces really elevated the rehearsal and the cast began to feel like they lived in the world of the play.
- This shot from a rehearsal shows off one of the life size paintings created for the show. Sandro Botticelli has revealed his work to his friend for critique.
- This photo is from dress rehearsal and shows the stage painted and full costumes. Notice how the structure of the moving flats is visible through the unpainted muslin covering.
- This photo shows front projection on the flats through the use of blue gel and a break up gobo pattern.
- In this photo Boticelli reveals his masterwork Primavera as the characters begin to recognize themselves in the composition. The painting was lowered from above. The walls are positioned so the painting fits between them. The perspective draws the viewer's eye to the center of the painting.
- This is the final scene of the play as Boticelli reveals his final painting Mystic Nativity. He and his companion are in a spotlight surrounded by a digital projection of the work displayed across every surface of the set.
- The design served the play well. With it's simplicity of color and geometric forms the audience was not distracted by the scenery, but drawn to the characters telling the story. The revelation of the pieces of art throughout the play came in different forms. The first was carried on by the artist, the second brought on with help from another artist, the third flew in from above, the fourth was rolled in on an easel and the final became a full stage projected image.On opening night, the playwright Francis Warner and his wife Penelope were in attendance. After the show, he joined the cast, director, and me on stage to have a dialog with the audience. Many of the questions were for him about the script, but there were a couple for me about the design. They wanted to know how we created such perfect replications of the paintings. The answer I gave them was "It's theatre magic!"
- The production photos were taken by college photographer Kyle Rivas. Click Here for more images from Living Creation.