Thursday, October 30, 2008

Theatre Settings as Art

Okay. So – you know – I’m directing this production of Blithe Spirit, a comedy by British playwright Noel Coward.

(And it’s going well, by the way. I’m working with very talented people who aren’t constantly falling over their own egos. Do you know how rare that is? Trust me. It’s rare.)

Anyway …

A play – any play, needs a setting, a location. In our case, it’s the British equivalent of an American family room, slightly off the main drag of the house. On one wall is a fireplace. On the opposite wall are French doors overlooking the moors. Directly at the back of the room is a large doorway, leading to other parts of the house.

Ya with me so far?

Here’s what the set looked like when the walls were first set in place on the stage. Eventually everything would be painted white – the walls, the fireplace, the French doors, even the floor. (It’s my set. I can paint it any color I want.)

I took some flack about the color, actually. “Nobody paints a set white,” I was told. “Nobody paints a FLOOR white.”

But I did.

Here’s the fireplace, right after it was constructed, and before it was painted and decorated.

Here it is, finished.

The mantle and fluted front is routed and carved Styrofoam. Nobody is going to dance on them. (Yes. I know. The candle is broken. It's part of the story, okay? Gimme a break.)

On the other side of the stage is where the French doors will go.

And here they are. Opened …

… and closed. Above the doors is …

a stained glass transom, constructed just for our set. We spared no expense. Sort of. (Our extravagance actually cost less than twenty bucks – eleven dollars for the Plexiglas, and eight dollars and change for the translucent paint.)

Here’s our hallway


What you see as the wall is actually blanket-like material, stretched over a frame. I found a roll of the stuff in the attic of the theatre. Nobody knows how it got there. Nobody will remember where it went.

And this is the finished set. I like it.

If this was a room in a real house, I could be quite happy here.

And how was your day?


Monday, October 13, 2008

Blithe Spirit

In 1820, Percy Bysshe Shelley began his poem ODE TO A SKYLARK with the words “Hail to thee, blithe Spirit! Bird thou never wert!” A hundred and twenty years later prolific playwright Noel Coward would turn Shelley’s opening verse into a comedy that would be in production – somewhere – constantly, for the next 77 years.

Interestingly, Shelley wrote his poem while on a visit to Italy. He and his wife Mary had returned from an evening walk, where they had been serenaded by an actual skylark. Coward wrote his play while huddling in a tunnel. He was being serenaded by Germans dropping actual bombs over his head.

So what’s my involvement in all this? First of all, I owe it to Noel Coward. I directed a production of BLITHE SPIRIT in 1973, and it was a bad presentation. Bad. Everything that could go wrong with a show, did. It was so bad, it was funny for all the wrong reasons. How bad was it? During the middle of our Act I, Noel Coward died - literally. I have no idea how he knew what we were doing to his play, but for the past 35 years I’ve felt like I’ve owed Sir Noel a good show, and I always pay what I owe.

And next, I owe the theatre where the play is being produced. I had been hired to direct a play there about a dozen years ago, and was forced to back out of my contract because of personal problems. Now I was asked to replace a director who dropped out at the last possible moment.

Pay back. Here I could kill two birds with one stone. Uh … let me rephrase that …

It is now a dozen hours later, and the stage set has been roughed in. It doesn’t look like it here, but it’s going to be a good set. With a good cast. In a good show.

Hey Noel! I want my marker back!
oh. And, uh, this picture? It's an art deco elevator button from a 1932 movie. What does it have to do with Blithe Spirit? Nothing. Nothing at all. I just liked the picture.
And how was your day?