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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Monday, August 15, 2011

Building a New World For a New Play: Spotlight On Design

It is often said, and rightfully so, that future careers in the theatre are forged here at WTF, and the alums of the design departments are no exception to this rule. Take, for instance, set designer David Korins and lighting designer Ben Stanton of She Stoops to Conquer and A Doll’s House. Both started out as interns, moved their way up, and now enjoy illustrious careers both at the Festival and beyond.

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Gabriel King and Jon Bass in The Comedy of Errors
Theatre artists are still being home-grown here today. Just two short weeks ago, a brand new play debuted as part of the Williamstown Workshop Department (which produces all Directing Intern and Directing Assistant projects). It was written by Jon Bass, a member of the Non-Equity acting corps who you may recognize as Dromio of Ephesus from this year’s Free Theatre production of The Comedy of Errors. Jon’s play, F***book (which was helmed by Directing Assistant Jason McDowell-Green) is the story of six twenty-somethings navigating the world of relationships, Furries, and midday margaritas In New York City, both on- and off-line.

A designer’s work is an exercise in both creativity and practicality. They must understand the piece and come up with effective (and often budget-conscious) ways to bring it to life. Collaborating with the other designers and the director, they must devise the best way to bring what’s on the page to the stage. When a new work is being done, with revisions and different elements added daily, the process provides even more unique challenges. We talked to one of the festival’s talented Scenic Design interns, Benson Knight, who provided the set for F***book. Here, he shares insight into his process as he worked on this brand new work.

How did you design for a script that is still undergoing changes?

Going into a project that is still under construction you have to know that a high level of adaptability is required. New pages are constantly being added and removed and it is your responsibility to keep up. Luckily with this script there were numerous different locations to create and this naturally lends for a scenic design that is very versatile. An alteration in the script or stage direction ended up being as easy as shifting around some chairs to create a new picture and acting movement.

How did you deal with the particular necessities of the play – multiple locations, fun tone, contemporary characters, etc.?

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One of the images Benson used as inspiration for the set
The two major acting areas were the guys’ and girls’ apartments. Both of these were much more fleshed out and personal to the characters so we chose these spaces to anchor the set. The various other smaller scenes would dance between these worlds. Responding to the abstract works of Barnett Newman and his severe separation of space with line, we created a network of light bulbs that formed a barrier between these two living spaces. It is underneath this lit network that many of the computer internet scenes took place.

Designing for a comedy also gave me a lot of liberty as to what colors I used, and the palette was bold and bright. The girls’ apartment was the softer of the two and had many earth tones of greens, browns, and charcoal grays. In contrast, the guys’ apartment focused more on saturated primary colors.

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Phillipa Soo and JD Taylor on the set of F***book
The set dressing was also crucial in expressing the characters. The symmetrical world of the women was much more based in organic shapes that were seen in the lamps, chair, and ottoman. The mismatched asymmetrical world of the guys was much more based in comfort and practicality. Along with the DVDs and iPod player that filled their world were also hints of their nostalgic past such as a Battleship board game, a solved Rubik’s cube, and a mixed tape that’s somehow still floating around.

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