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

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