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  • Writer's pictureJason Simms

First the set...then the play.

I opened my email yesterday morning with the delightful news that a photograph I took a few years ago was the inspiration for a one act play written by Ken Rus Schmoll. This was the result of a submission solicited by the folks at Prompt: A Journal of Theatre Theory, Practice, and Teaching.

About three years ago I was doing some ritualistic home studio cleaning. As a steadfast fan of the in-home studio (the best way to build a scenic model is in your pajamas!) it was time to re-organize my new work space--a perpetual task. This tedium included figuring out what to do with the twenty-some-odd complete models and the thousands of bits and pieces that survived the ages.

It is common practice for set designers to cannibalize or reappropriate old model guts for future design, it is also not unheard of to completely dismantle a model if its parts have no chance at a future life due to uniqueness or oddity. Having built hundreds of models, I have to be choosy in terms of which ones I keep and which ones I let fade to memory.

As I was assembling and disassembling the tangibly allegorical odds and ends representing many hours of design labor, I playfully arranged many model parts into one large depiction of a chaotically catastrophic milieu---with a scale figure "scaling" a wall, of course---a sort of nostalgic act with the teachings of John Conklin in mind. Within the 1/4" model box of the Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, home to Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, I had managed to shove and delicately place set pieces from nine different models from nine different set designs. As one does these days, I posted it on Instagram.

Model image serving as inspiration for Ken Rus Schmoll's 'The Fold'

About three years after I snapped the photo, I discovered through Facebook that Prompt was seeking model photos for their second volume: "Reviving the Scenic Model"; Prompt Volume 2: Issue 1: Ruins. An innovation in which plays are to be written through inspiration sparked by old model photos. I submitted this photo and a few months later discovered that Ken Rus Schmoll had written a new one act play called THE FOLD inspired by my playfully apocalyptic arrangement.

THE FOLD seems to examine relationships and love as related to authenticity and time--amongst a mysterious landscape immersed in environmental calamity. It turns out a designer's playful act can lead to a writer's story of devastation and emotional turmoil---the "play" is the thing.

Models in the photo include creations for the following works:

American Son by Christopher Demos Brown

Directed by David Saint, George St. Playhouse (2017)

Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Directed by James Robinson, Aspen Opera Theatre Center (2015)

Little Shop of Horrors by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

Directed by Susan D. Atkinson, Bristol Riverside Theatre (2014)

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Directed by Mary B. Robinson, Pioneer Theatre Company (2016)

Venus in Fur by David Ives

Directed by Kip Fagan, George St. Playhouse and Philadelphia Theatre Company (2013)

God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

Directed by Hal Brooks, The Juillard School, Drama Division (2015)

In Arabia We'd all Be Kings by Steven Adly Guirgis

Directed by Ken Washington, The Juilliard School, Drama Division (2014)

An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley

Directed by Mary B. Robinson, Pioneer Theatre Company (2016)

Lost in Yonkers by Neil Simon

Directed by Keith Baker, Bristol Riverside Theatre (2014)

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