Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Different World

by Amy Gilman, BFA 3/Scenic Design (Scenic Designer for URINETOWN)

Immediately from reading the script of URINETOWN I was excited about working on this production. The entire feel of the script and the music has certain grit to it. Musicals give the design team an immediate style by simply by having the added element of music already in the show, and probably the toughest part of designing for musicals is to be true to the flow of the show (“Wait a minute, there are how many scenes?!”) If scenes cannot move with the sound of the music in a musical, the entire thing does not work, no matter how well each element is designed. Of course in many ways URINETOWN is not a typical musical, and of course Dexter Bullard is not a typical director for a musical. I am really excited to be working with Dexter. He has a specific wit to the way that he presents pieces, which seems to meld seamlessly with URINETOWN.

From the beginning, we knew that the environment was very important to defining these characters. In the premise of URINETOWN, these characters have come to be in a different world than we as a design team and our audience inhabit. They had been shaped by growing up in the Stink Years, just as people would have been changed by growing up in the Great Depression or during times of war. During concept phases of the show, current events emphasized that we do not live in a world which is unfamiliar with economic disaster or corporate greed. I started out by thinking of what would be different in this world, and in what ways is it similar to the world we are in now. Dexter told us up front that he wanted to play these characters as real people, and not over the top, so our URINETOWN has a lot to do with the real world though it has grown into a different tattered place. We recognized that this world used to be similar to our own, and all of the designers have kept that in our minds throughout the process.

We have ended up with a set with lots of levels for dancing and setting apart people who are in different locations at the same time. We realized that Bobby talks and sings about the sky a lot, but really the sky is far away and it is out of reach, so there is not a lot of openness to the set. In the back there is what I have been referring to as a ground row, but most of it is about 8 feet tall making it more like a back wall, but it cuts off a lot of the visual accessibility of the “sky” cyc in the back. The colors of the set have become mostly subdued. The colors reflect the dismal world that these people live in with a lot of the color during the show coming from our lighting designer, Camden Peterson.

First rehearsal was about two weeks ago now. The start of rehearsal always signals a huge transformation of the entire process. It is really a sudden switch from the intangible, conceptual planning of a show to the concrete realizing of the show. As Dexter, Mark, choreography, stage management, and the cast get into the physical task of moving around this complicated space, the scene shop has just starting building the show. We are at the point that I just sit and hope that all of the crazy things that we have imaged will turn out to be as remarkable as the show that is in our head. The set, that is now still mostly on paper in drafting and painter’s elevations or in ¼” scale in my model, will soon become part of the living, breathing organism that is a show.

Photo: Amy Gilman talks about her design while showing the model of the set during the first rehearsal of URINETOWN.
Photo by Margaret Morton

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