Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Set Design: First Email

My email to Alli (with the script enclosed):

A couple of notes re: set. There are a number of banquets, and a number of battle scenes. For both, I think it would be fine to create the impression that a lot of the action is taking place just offstage (in fact, I've structured the battle scenes to suggest exactly that). That's not to say that we cannot have a banquet table onstage--but it may be equally effective to have the banquet goodies paraded across, from one exit to another. What we probably will need is a number of vantage points, where soliders can look out at the action of a battle, etc.

Two particular challenges spring to mind. The end of Act One (Units 15-16 in my script) is set on a ship. At one point, somebody gets assassinated and dropped into the water. So we'll need some sort of elevation, and a place where an actor can "fall" and disappear.

Similarly, the end of Act Two (Unit 32) involves a famous and annoying scene where Cleopatra and her servants are "aloft" in her "monument" (probably a tower of some sort) and Antony (dying from a self-inflicted wound) is "raised aloft" by soldiers, so that Cleo can kiss him farewell. I say it's annoying because, well, lifting actors anywhere is troublesome on a good day. And here, we need a platform with some sense of height to it, which is large enough to contain Cleo, her servants (2-4), and Antony, lying prone.

So I guess what this all adds up to is: levels. Having pointed out the ship scene, I think it would be a lovely challenge to go somewhat nautical with the whole set (a lot of the play's language is about seafaring and oceans). But of course, most of the play properly takes place on dry land, either in Rome or Egypt--usually hopping back and forth between the two with dizzying rapidity.

Welcome to the world of Shakespearean setting.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

21st Century Cleo

Spoke a bit more with Alli last night, at the One Acts opening night reception (the show is going well, by the way, but the houses are small; come see it, everybody!). She confessed to having done a bit of reading and research on A&C since the last meeting, which I took to mean she's pretty much on board.

"I've seen pictures of productions where Cleopatra looked like she was wearing some sort of 18th century dress," she said. "Why would they do that?"

Good question. Lots of Shakespeare plays get set in lots of crazy times and places, but this one doesn't strike me as inherently transplantable. Never the less, I cooked up a half-baked explanation on the spot, because, well, I'm a windbag: "I think in Shakespeare's time, Cleopatra was meant to have a particular resonance for his audiences. They had just lived through the reign of an exceptional female monarch, so I think Cleopatra probably reminded them of Elizabeth, and Shakespeare meant it that way. So...maybe other, later productions also associate Cleopatra with contemporary figures."

A good theory, I think, in retrospect. But it begs the question: who does Cleopatra resonate with today? I'm not suggesting that I dress her up like some contemporary celebrity or other (especially if the rest of the design stays Roman/Egyptian). But I do think that audiences like to be shown glimpses of their own historical moment reflected in Shakespeare's dazzling stage mirrors. So who would we be reflecting to them?

Antony could be any number of young, ambitious military or political figures. But there seems to be a shortage of female potentates in this day and age. Well, if Cleopatra can't be found in the corridors of political power, how about cultural power? Do any of Hollywood's stars measure up? Is Madonna the new Cleopatra? Angelina? Demi Moore? (shudder) Reese Witherspoon?

Or, I suppose, another way to look at it would be: if they were making another Cleopatra film, who could they cast who would do the role justice?

Any suggestions?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Potential Set Designer

It's been awhile since I've had a chance to think about A&C; I moved this month, plus Walterdale has a show opening in, like, days: The Evening of One Acts. Come and check it out! Three very neat new plays by local writers. It runs from May 8-13, 8pm nightly.

We're also starting to make plans not only for our next season (which is poised to launch; the brochures are done, and they look great), but also for our 50th Anniversary Season, which is in 3 years. I won't be the AD by then (it's a two year term), but I will be in on a number of the early fundraising activities, including a fashion show gala which is currently being planned for late April 2007. Since that's right after A&C closes, I suggested that the set for A&C might conceivably be servicable for the fashion show as well (I was completely talking out of my ass, but since I'd already nixed suggestions to hold the fashion show this fall, I was trying to be accomodating).

This led to questions about the nature of A&C's set. I stuttered something about levels and ramps, and then I realized that, right there at that very Fundraising committee meeting, I was sitting across from Alli Ross, one of Walterdale's foremost set designers. She did this year's set for You Can't Take It With You, and even built a set once for a show I wrote (Peep Hole Stories).

"Say," I said, as subtle as ever, "You and I should talk about sets sometime."

"Sure," was her reply, "I'd love to work on Antony & Cleopatra. It's the right time of year for me."

And that was that. I think. Sometimes Walterdale members leap onto a wagon before they've really had a chance to see where it's going, so I won't hold her to any promises if she checks her schedule (or reads my blog) and then decides to back out. But it would be excellent to work with Alli again...and since I gather she usually works with master Master Builder Joe Isserliss, that may mean I'll soon have two team members already in place!