Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Taming of the Shrew--Scene Design

All is well
The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare was produced at Brigham Young University-Idaho on the Snow Drama Theatre stage, Fall Semester, 2007

Signor Baptista has a problem.  He has two daughters of marriageable age, the young desirable Bianca and the older, shrewish Katherina.  Baptista has sworn not to allow Bianca to marry until a husband is found for Kate.  No one in Padua wishes to be married to Kate because her temper is notorious.  Bianca has no lack of suitors, including Hortensio, Gremio and Lucentio.  Hortensio and Lucentio pose as tutors in disguise, unbeknownst to Baptista and each other so they may secretly woo Bianca. 

Meanwhile, Petruchio has arrived in Padua from the country with the purpose of finding a rich wife.  His old friend, Hortensio hears of this and recruits him to court Katherina.  Petruchio agrees and the courtship begins.  Petruchio uses reverse psychology on Kate calling good bad and bad good.  She agrees to marry him and at the wedding, he shows up in a strange outfit where nothing matches, acts drunk, threatens the crowd, punches the parson and takes Kate back to his home.

When they arrive, he won't allow her to eat because the meat has been burned and isn't fit for a woman as beautiful as she.  He won't let her sleep because the bed is not worthy of her.  He has a dressmaker bring a beautiful gown for her which she loves but he shreds it in front of her because it was too plain for someone as beautiful as she.  This is his process for "taming" her. 

Back in Padua, Lucentio and Bianca have secretly eloped and there are some delightful scenes involving disguise and discovery.  Petruchio and Kate come back to Padua for a visit and meet Lucentio's father on the road.  Petruchio refers to him as a woman and Kate agrees.  He says the sun is the moon to which she also agrees.  This is evidence to him that she is truly tamed. 

At Baptista's house, Hortensio has married a rich widow, and Lucentio has married Bianca.  Petruchio, Lucentio and Hortensio make a wager as to who has the better wife.  The test is for the wife to get the husband a drink.  Bianca and the rich widow both refuse but Katherine obeys.  Then she scolds the other two women and condemns them for not serving their husbands.  That provokes Petruchio to utter the famous line, "Why, there's a wench, come on, and kiss me Kate".

This play is still controversial after more than 400 years.

Because this is a small cast show, Hyrum Conrad, the director wanted me to shrink the playing area of the stage.  At the same time, he wanted me to show the wide open vistas of the Itallian countryside.  He also wished to use the turntable with multiple levels to show the different locations.

The play has multiple locations, both interior and exterior and we wanted the scene changes to be quick so as not to interrupt the flow of the play.

I decided to use portals of descending size to shrink the stage around the turntable.  The effect was similar to the acoustical shell at The Hollywood Bowl.  I didn't want that to get claustrophobic for the audience, though so I found a photograph of the Itallian countryside and we painted a drop at the rear of the stage, then projected the image forward on each of the portals in kind of an exploded view.  This allowed me to shrink and expand the stage at the same time.

Portals.  Scene:  Meeting Lucentio's father on the road to Padua
Hollywood Bowl Image  Link
We decided very early in the process to use the turntable primarily for interior scenes and to use the space in front of the turntable for the exterior scenes.  The portals would also be lit for the exterior scenes and not for the interiors.  We held to this convention with few exceptions. 

Inside Baptista's home
Lucentio and Hortensio wooing Bianca in her budoir
Interior of Petruchio's house. 
Trees and windows flown.
For the exterior scenes in Padua, I designed tracked wagons with the leading edge curved to fit the turntable.  These wagons were situated in between the portals.  The wagons had inline, fixed casters to facilitate them moving in and out without deviation from their course.  The stage crew dressed the wagons with doors and other objects while backstage.  In addition to the doors, we also flew windows in.

We had three different looks.  We had marble painted doors and windows for the scenes in front of Baptista's house, a different set for Hortensio's house and a third for Lucentio's house.  We also had a rooftop piece that flew in during several scenes.

Street in front of Baptista's house
Street in front of Hortensio's house
Street in front of Lucentio's house, Pedant in the window
The convention worked very well and we were able to conduct our scene changes very efficiently.  This was a delightful show.  I am gratified to have had the opportunity to work on it.

Production Details
  • Directed by Hyrum Conrad
  • Scene Design by Gary Benson
  • Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
  • Lighting Design by Richard Clifford
  • Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
  • Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Into the Woods--Scene Design

Into The Woods, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine was produced at Brigham Young University-Idaho on the Snow Drama Theatre stage, winter semester, 2004.

Act I interweaves the tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstock and The Baker's Wife.  Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel are thrown in for good measure.  The play begins with the characters from the three main storylines singing about their problems and each decides the answer lies "Into the Woods".  At the end of the act, Cinderella has her prince, Jack has his fortune, the Baker and his wife have a child, Red Riding Hood has her grandmother back and Rapunzel has escaped with her prince.

Act II is what happens after they have "lived happily ever after".  Cinderella, Jack and the Baker and his wife once again decide the answer to their problems lies "Into the Woods".  Rapunzel loses her mind, her prince and Cinderella's prince run off with Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the Baker's wife and many others are killed when the wife of the giant Jack killed comes down a second beanstalk and terrorizes the countryside.  By the end of the play, the few characters left are refugees trying to survive.

Act I is delightful and Act II is dark. 

Originally, the director, John Bidwell wanted to see the woods in the background and three flown rooflines of the three main storys.  When the characters went "Into the Woods" the rooflines would fly out and they'd be in the forest.  I thought we should have a bigger contrast between the characters in their homes and when they went "Into the Woods" during the song.  I suggested we start the show with three large storybooks onstage in front of the main rag.  I drew some sketches and convinced John to let me try.  I think the outcome was definitely worth it.

We already had a false proscenium in place from the previous show and I decided to utilize it and we repainted it with fairly cartoony, castle stone and cut three windows in it that we then covered with muslin and painted in a transluscent, stained glass style.  One of the windows had a hinge on it and would become Rapunzel's tower. 

Rapunzel's tower in false proscenium

I designed three storybooks, all between 6'-6" and 7'-6" tall.  The front covers were designed to open and reveal scenes on the inside for each of the main storys.  Since the Rapunzel and Red Riding Hood stories were more sub-plots than main storylines, they did not get their own books.

The storybooks all had gold "embossed" designs on the front covers and the title imprinted in gold on the spine.  This was done with gold paint pens.

Gold "embossing"

The pre-show look had the three books in front of the red curtain and we also built a couple of trees downstage of the proscenium.  The lighting designer requested a haze fog to be in place so there would be alot of ambience in the auditorium.

When the books opened the narrator's lines of introduction for that scene were lettered on the inside of the front covers.  I like illustrated stories, so I painted a few illuminations in the text of each of the books.  I thought they fit pretty well.

Cinderella's book--Act I

Jack's book--Act I
The Baker's book--Act I
When the characters sang the song, "Into the Woods", the red rag flew out and the books were wheeled out by hidden stagehands and the woods were revealed. When the books were offstage, they were re-dressed with an interior scene for Act II. 

Cinderella's book, Act II
Jack's book, Act II
The Baker's Wife book, Act II

As a designer, especially in a show like this I like to have a big reveal moment.  When the main rag flew out, the audience saw a large rock in the middle of the stage and fourteen large, shop built trees.  The teasers curtains had all been replaced with cut drops that had a foliage profile cut on the lower edge.  The effect was that we had entered a different world.

Shop built trees
I had camped near a glacial boulder field in Allegheny State Park back in the early nineties and had been intrigued by the trees that had beaten the odds and had grown anyway.  They had sent out roots over boulders to find any soil at all to grow in.  It was as if they were giant hands grasping the rock.  I remember thinking, "One day I'll use this".  That was the basis for the woods part of this design.

Ray Versluys, our technical director built a superstructure for the trees out of scrap lumber and sono tube.  He then covered the structure with chicken wire, shaped it and draped cheesecloth over that.  He arranged for a guy to come in and spray urethane foam on the trees to give them their final form.  It was really neat to see that in process.  It gave a great texture and really looked legitimate.

Rear view of shop built trees showing frame, chicken wire and urethane foam
Showing foliage cut teaser drops providing forest canopy.  Rock turntable with outriggers
The rock in the center of the stage was built very much like the trees, with a superstructure and then urethane foam.  It was built on an existing turntable, but I wanted it to be larger than the turntable and I wanted it to turn avista so Red could skip through the forest before she met the wolf.

We did this by building strange shaped outriggers with fixed casters underneath them that attached to the bigger rock.  The reality of the turntable was that it moved quite slowly so we really were only able to change the look of the stage during scene shifts rather than it being the dynamic moment I had wished for.  In addition to the turntable, I also designed the trees to be on wagons so stagehands could change the look of the space with new tree placements.

Jack and the Baker waiting to kill the giantess
This was a fun show to work on.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to do so.

More images Here

Production Details
Directed by John Bidwell
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Lighting Design by John Moran
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fiddler on the Roof--Scene and Costume Design

"Rich Man"
Fiddler on the Roof, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Joseph Stein, was produced at Brigham Young University-Idaho Winter Semester, 2005 in the Snow Drama Theatre.

Fiddler on the Roof is a story of Tevye, the milkman and the coming of age of his three oldest daughters.  The play is based on short stories by Sholem Aleichem.

Tevye is a Russian Jew rooted in tradition.  Each time one of his daughters finds a man to marry, he finds he has to balance his committment to tradition with the love of his child.  His first daughter, Tzeitel does not wish to have a traditional arranged marriage, instead she wishes to marry for love. 

Hodel, his headstrong second daughter falls in love with a revolutionary that Tevye has invited into his household.  They ask for Tevye's blessing but not his permission. 

Finally, Chava his third daughter runs away with a Christian and marries him.  All of this takes place during the horrible pogroms of the early 20th century.  At the end of the play, Tevye and his family are forced from their home and he has a moment of reconcilliation with his third daughter.

This has been a beloved play by millions of people for decades.  It is a play I have had the opportunity to work on many times.  This was my first time as a designer.


About a year before the play opened, the director, Hyrum Conrad told me that his concept for Fiddler on the Roof was a "Marc Chagall painting come to life".  Boris Aronson had been the scene designer for the original Broadway production and had been inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall.

Most productions of Fiddler on the Roof  borrow heavily from the Aronson design.  We decided we did not want to copy Aronson, but rather go straight to the source and paint the scenery stroke for stroke after Chagall's own hand.

Hyrum originally wanted to have all the costumes painted as well in the style of Chagall, but we ended up abandoning this idea.  It would have been very costly to build all the costumes from scratch to be painted, and other members of the department were not in favor of us painting existing costumes that would never be able to be used again.  Consequently I had to go with a more traditional costume design.


For several months I immersed myself in Chagall's work.  Chagall was a Russian Jew who lived in Russia during the time of the pogroms and saw first hand much of what was depicted in the story.  We decided to focus on his work from 1910 to 1920, but we did use some later images as well.  Fiddler on the Roof was first presented in 1964, Marc Chagall was painting Jewish fiddlers fiddling on rooftops as early as 1910.

Chagall is usually classified as a surrealist but there are elements of expressionism and cubism in his work.  I discovered that for every scene in Fiddler on the Roof, there was a Chagall painting that expressed it.  I had two student assistant designers on this project, and one day one of them held up a Chagall image and asked me, "Do you really like this stuff?" 
I said, "Yes!"
She said, "Why?"
And I said, "Because that's what the inside of my brain looks like."

Besides the fact that I was working with surreal images, the design was actually fairly straightforward.  It was basically just cut-out, flown scenery pieces.  Our facility has 38 linesets and I used every one of them.  It still wasn't enough and we ended up dead hanging some of the masking pieces to make more room for flown scenery.

Once the scenery was built, I was one of the principle scenic artists.  We did have several very good scenics but there was a great deal of scenery to be painted.  Besides that, who wouldn't want an opportunity to paint in Chagall's style on a grand scheme?

I discovered the color Van Dyke Brown from Rosco Corporation on this play.  Regular black paint tends to be lifeless onstage and appears as a void, rather than a color.  On a whim I ordered a can of Rosco Supersaturated Van Dyke Brown.  This is a very dark brown and I found that from the audience it reads black except it is much more reactive to light than regular black.  That gave me a new tool.  Now I default to Van Dyke Brown whenever I wish to accent something that I used to use black for.  Van Dyke Brown is the new black.

The images that follow are in chronological order from the play.  Most of the images correspond with the main songs and production numbers.  I will also post links to images of Chagall's original paintings for comparison

The main backdrop for Anatevka.
Chagall Images
  • The Blue House  (1917)  -  Backdrop
  • The Grey House  (1917)  -  Foreground
  • I and the Village  (1917)  -  Floating milkmaid  Link
  • The Fiddler  (1912-13)  -  Floating 3 headed man  Link 
  • Over Vitebsk  (1914-15)  -  Floating beggar  Link
The Fiddler
Stage left acting deck with decoration
Chagall Image
  • I and the Village  (1917)
"Sabbath Prayer"
Stained glass windows symbolizing spirituality for Sabbath Prayer
Chagall Images
  • 12 Tribes of Israel (1962)  Link
End of "To Life"
The Constable warning Tevye and Lazar Wolf
Chagall Image
  • Vitebsk, Village Scene (1917)  (Link)
"Miracle of Miracles"
One of the more joyful moments of the show.  I painted this backdrop over the Christmas holiday. 
I toned the goldenrod with purple.
Chagall Image
  • A Wheatfield on a Summers Afternoon Aleko  (1942)  Link
"Tevye's Dream"
Chagall Image
  • Cemetery Gates  (1917)  Link
"The Bottle Dance"
"Now I Have Everything"
Tevye's house
Chagall Image
  • The Blue House  (1917)  Link
"The Rumor"
This drop was painted for the in town scenes.  It was taken from the painting, The Russian Village, but we painted it without snow for our show.
Chagall Image
  • The Russian Village  (1929)  Link
"Far From the Home I Love"
This building became our train station.  I reversed the image and removed the fence for our show.
The backdrop is actually projected on a cyc using Rosco Corporation's iPro Image Projector
Chagall Image
  • The Grey House  (1917)  Link
"Little Bird"
Other Images
Around the theatre we had pieces of Chagall paintings here and there to give more of the ambience of the play.  As part of the preshow routine, stagehands would slowly add more of these cut-out images to the theatre until it was time for the play to begin.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Image of Tevye:  When I was researching the play, Hyrum found an image of Chagall's father in pen and ink that he said exemplified Tevye and he wanted it to be in the show.  I liked the image but was torn because it would have been the only thing in black and white on the show.  All the other imagery was in full, vivid color.  I found another painting called "A Spoonful of Milk" which had a similar figure but was in color.  I combined the the linework of the pen and ink drawing with the painting style of the other painting to come up with this piece.

Chagall Images
  • Portrait of Father (1907) Link
  • A Spoonful of Milk (1910)  Link
I and the Village images:  I and the Village, painted in 1911 is one of Chagall's most famous paintings and I drew much of my inspiration from it.  I used the row of houses on one part of the set. I used the man chasing the upside down woman on another part, and we flew the woman milking the goat, upstage.

Row of houses
Man chasing upside down woman
Woman milking goat
Chagall Image
  • I and the Village (1911)  Link
The Fiddler images:  The Fiddler, painted in 1912-13 is another important image.  This is likely the painting that Fiddler on the Roof was named for.  It features an oversized, green faced, Jewish violinist playing his instrument with one foot planted on a rooftop.  I used several parts of this painting to create the world of Marc Chagall in the scene design of Fiddler on the Roof.  I used the row of houses in the top left corner, the three headed man and the Orthodox Church on the left side of the painting.

Row of houses
Three headed man
Orthodox Church
Chagall Image
  • The Fiddler 1912-13  Link
Chagall self portrait:  At the bottom left of the painting The Grey House, Chagall painted a self portrait and signed it.  On the front of the stage, in the same colors as the "rocks", I copied the self portrait and his signature, but above the signature I painted, "A tribute to".  This was the last thing I painted on the show.  Because it was in the same colors as the boulders and had some similar shapes, the self portrait wasn't always visible.  It only really showed clearly when Tevye walked across the front of the stage and the spotlight picked it up.  That was serendipitous for me.

Chagall's self portrait
Chagall image
  •  The Grey House (1917) - click image in link to make larger Link
Getting to know the artwork of Marc Chagall was a wonderful experience for me.  I felt a great sense of self discovery through the process of designing and executing this production.  One of the most exciting aspects of this was that I was able to do a large part of the painting, matching Chagall's stroke.  This play was a true labor of love for me.

More images Here

Production Details
  • Directed by Hyrum Conrad
  • Scene Design by Gary Benson
  • Costume Design by Gary Benson
  • Lighting Design by Richard Clifford
  • Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
  • Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Caucasian Chalk Circle--Scene and Lighting Design

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Bertolt Brecht was produced at Brigham Young University-Idaho, fall semester, 2008 in the Snow Black Box Theatre.


The play begins with a town meeting at the close of WWII where the people vote to determine whether a piece of land that previously belonged to the goat farmers should revert back to them or be given to the fruit growers.  They determine to give it to the people who will use it best rather than worry about previous ownership.

At the end of the meeting, a singer tells a parable about Grusha, the handmaid of Natella, the Governor's Wife.  When the Governor is executed, Natella is more interested in her fine clothing rather than her baby and flees without him.  Grusha is left to care for the boy, and endures great hardship keeping him from the Ironshirts who will kill him on sight if they find him.

After a reverse coup, Natella seeks to regain power but must have the boy in order to do so.  Grusha and the boy are found and brought before Azdak, the judge to determine who the true mother is.  After all the arguements have been spoken, Azdak devises a plan.  He will draw a chalk circle on the floor and the boy will be placed in the circle with each of the women holding one of his arms.  When the signal is given, whichever woman can drag the boy from the circle will be the mother.  Grusha can't bear to hurt him and lets go repeatedly, at which point Azdak determines that she is the true mother because of her unwillingness to cause him pain.  This echos the theme of the prologue where ownership is determined by need rather than prior claim.


Richard Clifford, the director and I began working on this production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle nearly a year before we actually presented it.  It was Richard's desire to have the audience experience Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, or distancing effect.  This is often mistranslated as alienation.

The alienation or distancing effect is an attempt by Brecht to get audience members to become more consciously critical observers rather than losing themselves in the story or characters.  This is done with devices such as characters breaking into song at odd moments, a play within a play format, or telling a different story before the first story has reached it's conclusion. 

We decided to attempt this.  We discussed the idea of drawing the audience in to the story and then frequently reminding them they were in a theatre.

Richard said he'd like to do the play with scaffolding as a backdrop and much of the furniture and other scenery being created by warehouse debris and actors.  We also discussed the idea of a large tarpaulin hanging on the stage as a projection surface.

Another obvious conceptual choice was the idea of circles.  This is a circular story, it ends where it begins.  Circles would be very important to us in this production.


I drew the following sketch on a trip to Phoenix in March of 2007, shortly after our discussion about scaffolding and the verfremdungseffekt.  The two figures at the bottom are cameramen who I wanted to film the scene in the courtroom where the two women are trying to pull the boy out of the circle.  This was to be projected on the tarp.  It would have been very powerful and dynamic, but unfortunately it is one of the things we eventually had to cut.

Thumbnail sketch of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, March, 2007
I was to be the scenic and lighting designer on this production.  I viewed it as an integrated design and considered shafts of light to be architectural in nature.  For this reason I decided to use haze fog during the show.

We conceived early in the process that the environment we wished to tell this story in was a civic building that had been damaged in the war but not ruined.  We also determined that the building was being restored or renovated but was still the only building in the village that was large enough to conduct a town hall meeting.  That would justify the scaffolding and the tarp.  Richard also requested seeing hanging warehouse lights with what he called, "China Hat" shades with cages around them.  These fixtures became one of the more important elements of the lighting design.

But we also wanted to be able to remind the audience we were in a theatre Richard requested a video wall and I suggested a turntable in the middle of the stage.  I scribbled out a groundplan which turned out to be very similar to what we ended up with.

Thumbnail groundplan of The Caucasian Chalk Circle
 We decided at the beginning that we would not try to motorize the turntable, but rather work it into the action under human power.  I thought that would add an element of Russian Constructivism to the piece.  We decided to use "L" bars to turn it most of the time but in scene 4, The Story of the Judge, I had an idea to strap Shauwa into a parachute harness and attach it to the turntable and have him move Azdak around in a kind of 'Volga Boatmen' fashion. 

Quick sketch of Shava attached to the floor on parachute harness

I situated the stage in the northwest corner of the Snow Black Box Theatre so I could use the roll-up shop door for actors' entrances and a lighting effect.  The set seemed simple enough but we were able to create some wonderful moments with just these elements.

Stage layout, showing scaffolding, tarp, video wall, turntable and debris
The debris around the theatre became set pieces.  We had planks and ladders that became a mountain pass, crates and boxes became tables and other obstacles.  Loose doors became table tops and, well, doors.  The actors climbed the scaffolding at times.  The singer often perched on the scaffolding as he was narrating and at the moment when Grusha is climbing the mountain in the snowstorm, we had the singer climb ahead of her with an old looking fan and handfuls of confetti which he blew in her face to suggest the snow.  Because we had already established the type of show it was going to be, the audience didn't laugh at the snow effect.  It turned out to be a really great moment.

Grusha crossing the 'bridge' made of a plank, some boxes and an actor
Grusha climbing down from the 'mountain' made of planks on ladders and crates, but being assited by spotters
Loose door being used as a door, operated by an actor
The singer perched on the scaffolding
The snow effect

We used the human powered turntable in several creative ways.  We used it as a travelling device to highlight Grusha's journey.  We used it as a disorienting element during a scene with the Ironshirts, and we attached Shauwa to it with a parachute harness and moved Azdak's judges seat around to face petitioners.  The turntable gave us a very theatrical device which helped us establish the verfrumdungseffekt.

Grusha travelling
Disorienting scene with the Ironshirts
The enslaved Shauwa moving Azdak into position
Lighting Design

The three "China Hat" lights over the stage were the jumping off point of the lighting design.  I built the beginning cue in every scene in the play within the play with the three practicals and their supporting lights and then filled in the rest of the theatrical lights a few seconds after.  Once again, using a design element to remind the audience they were in a theatre.  Above each of the practicals, we hung four source four fixtures from the compass points as down lights to give us the distinctive pools of light on the stage.  Each of the four downlights were gelled differently so we could warm or cool the stage as necessary.

Three practicals, three pools of light
I also used a great deal of down light and back light in this production.  I felt that this play lent itself to silhouettes, halos and shadows.  I deliberately allowed actors faces to dip into shadow from time to time, with the blessing of the director.

I also used three source four fixtures fitted with an aftermarket followspot rig and spotlighted the singer mainly, and also Grusha from time to time during the show.  The followspots werre placed around the theatre, one behind the audience and the other two behind the stage.  There were times when we hit the singer with spotlights from behind, over both shoulders.  Jeff Gonzales, the actor playing the singer had a very interesting face that created great shadows when we did this.  It is still one of my favorite images from the show.
Simon in backlight silhouette
The singer, spotlighted from behind
The tarpaulin became a very important element for scenery and more importantly lighting.  I designed it with a slit in the middle so it could be used as an entrance but we used it for far more than that.  The fabric was a large piece of scenic gauze from Rose Brand.  The scenic artists took it outside, laid it on the bark landscaping, threw handfuls of bark all over it and then sprayed a wash of Raw Umber with a Hudson Sprayer.  This became a canvas for me to express in lighting what I felt in the show.

I used the tarp as a cyclorama to give a big color statement about certain scenes.  I used it as a front projection screen for several moments in the play, such as the beginning we had a montage about war during the prologue and then when Grusha was going through the mountains.  I used it as a scrim during an early scene where the supplicants are being ignored by the leaders.

My favorite use of the tarp, though was when we created shadow plays behind it.  There are a few moments when the singer says, "Now listen to what they thought but did not say".  At that point the actors on stage spoke the lines but stayed in place and we had actors backstage dressed as them who performed the shadow play.  It was very compelling.
The tarp as a cyclorama
The tarp as a front projection screen
The tarp as a scrim
The tarp as a shadow screen
The shadow play, "Now listen to what they thought but did not say"
There were a few other lighting effects in this production.  There were several scenes that involved opening doors.  We used a physical door without a frame, operated by an actor.  When the door would open, we had a light cue that caused a shaft of light to pour through the 'opening'.  It was critical that the actors holding the doors placed it exactly on their marks every night, and to their credit they did.  The shaft of light was created with a source four fixture shuttered to a rectangle.

We had another shadow play when Grusha has to bathe Yussup, her inconvenient, abusive husband.  We placed the actor behind a screen and lit him from a harsh angle.  The effect was quite horrific.

Finally, at the climax when the two women are attempting to pull the boy from the circle, I designed a light cue with straight downlight, once again being motivated by the practical.  This time we used only the center practical and as the judge counted down, the circle of light shrank to a small pool on just the boy and the ladies.  Something as seemingly simple as that, was actually the most difficult cue to write in the show.  It involved three downlights and simultaneously raising and lowering levels to create the same intensity of light across the circle as the circle became smaller.
The door effect
Yussup's bath
The Chalk Circle
I have had the privilege of working on The Caucasian Chalk Circle twice in my career.  Once as a scenic artist in Buffalo, New York at The Studio Arena Theatre and the second time as a scene deisgner and lighting designer at BYI-Idaho.  The second production was one of the most profound theatrical experiences I have ever had.  I am grateful to have been able to work on this production.
My favorite image of our production
Production Details
  • Directed by Richard Clifford
  • Scene Design by Gary Benson
  • Lighting Design by Gary Benson
  • Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
  • Sound Design by Erin Vinton
  • Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
  • Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall