It’s been a few years since I did a theatre set. I miss some aspects of the work, and other aspects are happily no longer a part of my life. The one part of waiver theatre set design that I feel both ways about is the set construction and scenic painting. I love construction, I really do. I like breaking down the final product into it’s basic parts, finding novel solutions to challenges that only theatre can present, and also power tools are just fun. The part I don’t miss is setting up my saw horses on a sidewalk in Hollywood around 2pm and not breaking them down until 2am. I don’t miss the working “girls” hanging out on the corner, the club kids stumbling by, or the bums arguing with my cut-off pile. I have both warm and cold feelings for most of my stage set designs and no show exemplifies this dichotomy more than Heads by E.M. Lewis.
Heads tells the story of 4 journalists taken prisoner by Iraqi forces. A very heavy script, it demanded a gritty environment that could be both claustrophobic and vulnerable at the same time. The action takes place in two make-shift cells with some video content during transitions.
Sadly I don’t have a photo of the video projection at work. The content consisted of recreations of those terrorist videos with masked men and bound prisoners on their knees, the final video being a beheading scene. I wanted these video moments to be as uncomfortable as possible for the audience, and we achieved just that. I built a two-stage drop box and rigged it downstage just in front of the first row of audience. First a gauze curtain would trip in, creating a semi transparent projection screen and the video would roll. The image was large, easily 16 feet wide in a theatre no more than 20 feet wide. After the video the gauze would trip again and fall to the floor. This happened twice during the show. It made for a very powerful effect and made more than one audience member uncomfortable.
This was one of the first shows that I used 3D modeling to pre visualize my design. A digital white model was great for examining sightlines. I found that I very much enjoyed this workflow, and it encouraged me to learn more.