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  • Writer's pictureJason Simms

2019: Behind the Scenes

Updated: Dec 28, 2019

2019: Collaboration in the spotlight.

Between 13 design projects and teaching two semesters, there wasn't much time to spare. From designing a set to accommodate the first digital hologram on the New York City Stage, to exercising my lighting design skills again, 2019 was an adventure. And, I didn't do it alone...

When I think of 2019, it's impossible not to think of one word: collaboration. I am not speaking of the collaboration that comes directly to mind between directors, designers, producers, and dramaturgs; I am speaking about the collaborations designers share with the hard-working crews that execute our visions --- who are equally essential to fulfilling the visions and goals of a production. It can be surprising to some how many individuals are involved in one theatrical production, but every production is a puzzle of details and the pieces have to be put in the right place.

Details act as the visual emotional window to the theatre-going audience --- the textures of memory that relate each viewer to the designed world.”

Design is in the details.

As a Set Designer, details matter most. Authenticity isn't just about how something looks, it's about how something feels -- its emotive quality. Details conjure memories like sifting through a family album. It could be the same dish from your mother's kitchen, an avocado-colored wall telephone with an extra long cord you used to get tangled up in, or even a pattern of wallpaper that recalls your doctor's waiting room. Details are what make any design believable.Details act as the visual emotional window to the theatre-going audience --- the textures of memory that relate each viewer to the designed world.

Properties Master Shannon O'Brien went to great lengths to achieve authenticity of objects to help create Willie's dowdy apartment in THE SUNSHINE BOYS.

It takes a (not so small) Village.

The number of people it takes to create a world may be surprising, but when you think of it as "creating a world", of course it takes a small village. Production Managers, Stage Managers, Technical Directors, Scenic Artists, Carpenters, Props Masters & Artisans, Electricians, Stitchers, Drapers, Run Crew, Associates, Assistants, and other technicians are always behind the scenes acting as our 'guardian angels' to ensure the artistic vision is brought to life. I can't begin to count how many behind-the-scenes collaborators I have worked with over the years, but I can guarantee it's in the thousands. From young interns working at summer theaters, to the experts as The Juilliard School, to top-of-the-line talent at regional theatre across the United States, I can say that I have had great fortune when it comes to collaborative crews.

Scenic Artist Extraordinaire Radha Vakharia creates paint samples to keep us on the same page through the execution process.

Communication is Key

People often seem perplexed by what I do as a set designer. "How'd you build all that?" is a common quandary. Well, the simple answer is "I didn't. I just designated it. I leave the building and fabrication to the talented and skilled crews who know how to do far better than I do. I just decide how it should look. The crew/designer relationship is dependent on clear and open two-way communication; well, that and clear design materials. Draftings, Paint Elevations, Dressing & Props Research and models are a few of the ways designers communicate the designs to the crews implementing them. Producing these materials is a full time job, and every crew member has their own full-time job as well. It takes a tremendous amount of time and labor to build & fashion a set, collect & fabricate props, paint large drops & scenery pieces, hang & circuit lights, hang & cable speakers, and all the many other micro-facets of work needed in order to bring a play to life.

Properties Master Laura Walters, Scenic Artist Mark Jensen & Production Manager Reed Rossbach skillfully to make the bar in SWEAT feel authentic and familiar.

Putting it Together

Seeing a world come together with collective efforts is not only satisfying, but emotionally rewarding. While watching across-the-board efforts coalesce into an actualized imagined world one can't help but see all individual efforts and labor that have contributed to the production. Behind every set, costume, lighting design, and sound design exists one or many equal creative makers not seeking a place in the spotlight for their efforts, but seeking to tell stories using personal talents, skills, and passions. Thank you, "guardian angels", these worlds wouldn't exist without you.

Jenny Stanjeski and team at the Juilliard School convincingly created a brick wall and herring bone floor using magical tricks of the trade.

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