How a play is written determines how the scenery on stage will help tell the story. Let me explain a bit using our 2012 season as examples.
“The Nerd” and “Murder on the Nile” had specific settings. “The Nerd” took place in the home of a budding architect in Indiana. “Murder on the Nile” was set on a river boat cruising up the Nile River in Egypt.
Both locations, or settings, needed to convey to the audience a realistic place and time. Scenic designers worked with the directors to determine the world the characters would inhabit.
For “The Nerd,” scenic designer Sarah E. Ross and director Linda Fortunato thought a two-story Frank Lloyd Wright style home with a fieldstone fireplace and living room created the tone for the story.
For “Murder on the Nile” scenic designer Jack Magaw and director Kimberly Senior agreed the audience should feel they were traveling with the characters along the Nile River. Jack designed a viewing room on the boat with wrap-around windows so the characters could enjoy the “passing scenery.”
Some plays are written so scene shifts happen at intermission. Or a scene shift is done in dim light, and the audience watches as scenery and props are moved.
Other stories told this season were “Opus,” “Chicago” and “Lombardi.” The plays were challenging because they are written for various locations or scenes that flow together. Two of these have no intermission to allow for scene shifts.
Great thought and detail go into staging a play that is written episodically. For example, in “Lombardi” the characters appear in scenes in the present as well as in flashbacks to past events.
Scenery must be flexible to where the characters can be on the playing field, practice field, the Lombardi’s Green Bay living room as well as their New Jersey living room, a training room, coach’s office, a film room to review game films, a pool hall and bar and other locations.
Many discussions took place on how to accomplish all these different locations while maintaining the pace at which the story is told. Director Greg Vinkler and the design team, scenic designer Keith Pitts, costume designer Kärin Simonson Kopischke, sound designer Cecil Averett, lighting designer Jason Fassl and props designer Sarah E. Ross, agreed the story needed to flow without major pauses for scene shifts.
Lighting effects are used to designate acting areas and specific locations, such as red and blue lighting to add the feel of neon lights at the bar. Sound effects and recorded voice-overs also help convey the play’s meaning.
The stage rigging system is used to ”fly” pieces of scenery in and out for certain scenes. Sometimes actors carry their own props on and off to maintain the flow of the story.