Friday, May 25, 2012

Tartuffe--Scene Design

Tartuffe by Molièr was produced in Fall Semester, 2009 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Tartuffe has insinuated himself into the household of Orgon.  Only Orgon and his mother, Madame Pernelle are fooled.  All the other members of the family know that Tartuffe is a fraud.  While he pretends to be pious, Tartuffe is in fact a schemer and a seducer of women.  Orgon and his mother will make no decision without consulting with Tartuffe.

Orgon announces the engagement of his daughter, Marianne to Tartuffe.  Marianne is already engaged to Valère, however.  Marianne is understandably upset as she is in love with Valère and Tartuffe is a creepy older man.

The family decides to show Orgon that Tartuffe is a schemer and set up a situation where he will swear his love to Elmire, Orgon's wife.  Tartuffe falls into the trap and confesses he loves only Elmire, but when he is confronted, he manipulates Orgon who then decrees that Elmire will spend all of her free time in Tartuffe's presence.  Orgon then disinherits his son and signs over all his possessions to Tartuffe.

Elmire attempts one more time to prove to Orgon that Tartuffe is a fraud and convinces him to hide under a table and hear what Tartuffe really has to say when he is not around.  Orgon agrees and is stunned when Tartuffe attempts to seduce Elmire once again.  This time Orgon is convinced and throws Tartuffe out.  As he leaves, though Tartuffe admits that he has a box of incriminating letters and will expose Orgon.  Tartuffe leaves for the time being but later sends a minion to evict Orgon and his family.

Later that day, Tartuffe shows up with a constable to excercise his claim against Orgon and when he commands the lawman to take Orgon into custody, he turns on Tartuffe instead and arrests him in the name of the King.  Apparently the king was aware of the goings on in Orgon's home.  Tartuffe, it turns out has a long criminal history and has often changed his name to get away with his crimes.  It really is a deus ex machina ending, but it is delightful nevertheless.

This play was the first play produced in the Snow Black Box Theatre after we had produced the two chamber operas Gianni Schicchi and Dido and Aeneas in that space.  The director, Hyrum Conrad asked if we could keep the trapezoidal, raked deck from the operas and change the vertical elements to create a baroque mansion.  I agreed and designed around the platform.  He was interested in very saturated colors for this play and lots of painted marble.  Because there is so much intrigue and spying in the script, I suggested we have a couple of secret entrances in the walls.

I find I don't have many of the artifacts left from the design of this production.  White models tend to be destroyed, other drawings are missing.  I did find a very rough, quick sketch which I drew in a meeting with the director.  It shows a baroque interior wall with four columns with bases, an arched entrance, and wall panels.  It also shows an architrave above the columns.  The finished set looked very much like this.

Quick sketch of the back wall for Tartuffe

This was a single set show in the home of a wealthy landowner.  It was going to be opulent.  We purchased vacuum formed Corinthian capitals for the four columns and we gilded them and the bases.  I used very rich colors to offset the gold.  The walls were a deep ultramarine blue and the columns and floor were painted in a rich red levanto marble.  I also used deep blue chenille with gold patterning as a wall covering in some areas.

For the architrave, I found an embossed wallpaper border which we also gilded.  It was embossed with renaissance swags and festoons.  The rest of the trim in the architrave was also gilded.  I designed a wainscoat at the bottom of the wall which was painted in a brown marble pattern.

The set for Tartuffe

The red levanto marble floor

I had mentioned in an earlier meeting that I wanted to have Damis catch Tartuffe expressing his love for Elmire through a secret door in the wall.  These doors were all the rage during the renaissance periods.  I hid the doors behind larger than life portraits.

Damis spying on Tartuffe and Elmire
The portraits were supposedly of Orgon's father and his mother.  We acquired a photograph of Scott Fulmer's (the actor who played Orgon) father and a younger photograph of Nancy Chaffin, the actress who played Madame Pernelle, Orgon's mother.  Richard Clifford photoshopped the faces from the photographs onto electronic images of renaissance paintings.  We then had them printed on a local large format printer.  These were the paintings that disguised the hidden panels in the walls.

Scott in front of his father's photoshopped likeness

Nancy in front of her photoshopped younger self

Over the years we have acquired a very nice furniture collection at Brigham Young University-Idaho.  We put this to good use for this show.  It was a pleasure to design this play.  I truly have the best job in the world.

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Two Chamber Operas, Part II: Dido and Aeneas--Scene and Lighting Design

Dido and Aeneas quick sketch
Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell was produced Spring Semester, 2009 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Because of renovations to the Snow Drama Theatre, we produced two small chamber operas in the Snow Black Box Theatre.  Gianni Schicchi was the first bill and Dido and Aeneas was the second.

Gianni Schicchi is set entirely indoors and Dido and Aeneas is set out of doors. The challenge here was to change the set from a 20th century Itallian bedroom to the courtyard of a Carthaginian palace set in ancient times and do it all in ten minutes.
The king of Tyre named his daughter Dido and his son Pygmalion as his joint heirs.  Dido marries the high priest Acerbas.  Upon the king's death, the people rally behind Pygmalion and name him king.  He has Acerbas put to death and Dido flees Tyre.  She lands with her attendants and those loyal to her in what is now Tunisia and asks for only enough land that can be contained within an oxhide.  The people agree and Dido cut the oxhide into very narrow strips and placed them end to end around a hill and thus founded the great ancient city of Carthage.

Aeneas is a Trojan and a survivor of the Trojan War.  He fled from Troy on a trireme and landed on Carthage.  Aeneas, according to one legend went on to found the great city of Rome.  In this way, Virgil, the poet wrote Rome into the mythology of the Trojan War.  Especially important because while the Greeks defeated the Trojans, the Romans (descended from the Trojans) subdued the Greeks.

Our Story Begins:
Dido is sorrowful and her attendant, Belinda believes it is because of her love for the traveller Aeneas.  She attempts to lift Dido's spirits and assures her that Aeneas loves her as well.  Aeneas enters the court of Dido with the head of a wild beast upon his spear from the hunt he has just returned from.  Dido at first withstands his advances but comes around and finally agrees to wed him.  They leave for another hunt.

The sorceress does not like Dido and plots with the chorus of witches and demons to destroy her.  She calls upon her elf and disguises him as Mercury and charges him to meet with Aeneas and command him to sail to Italy.  She believes in this way Dido will die of a broken heart.  It is unclear why she hates Dido.  The sorceress creates a storm which drives Dido and her entourage back to the palace for shelter.

As they leave, the elf disguised as Mercury waylays Aeneas and gives him the charge to sail to Italy.  He is distraught at the idea of leaving Dido, but doesn't want to offend the gods so he agrees to go.

Dido is heartbroken when Aeneas does not return with them and when he does come back to tell her of his mission she rebukes him.  Aeneas then tells her he is willing to incur the wrath of the gods to stay with her, but she refuses because of what she believes is his fickle nature.  Aeneas leaves and Dido sings her last aria as she takes his sword that he has conveniently left and commits suicide. 

The chorus sings a lament as Dido's body is immolated.

As we discussed this production we decided that this incarnation of Carthage would be megalithic and built over the ruins of a more refined older culture.  Part of that was conceptual and part of it was justifying the fact that we had a nicely painted faux marble floor from the first opera, Gianni Schicchi.  Richard Clifford, the director said he had an interest in ancient stele, or carved stones.

He also wanted to show the immolation on stage and asked for an altar which could be rigged with a lighting and fog effect for that purpose.

This was an interesting production to do because we had to meld two productions conceptually.  The elliptical interior dome from Gianni Schicchi would become a lighting canvas for Dido and Aeneas.  From the beginning we wanted to use it to represent the sky.

I drew the rough sketch that appears at the top of the post early in the process.  A few things changed from that sketch to the finished design, but the composition remained very close.  The first thing I addressed in this design were the stele.  I sketched three studies, all of which were ultimately not used, but they showed a direction in thought that guided us in the design process. 

Stele study #1
This stele was too primitive, too Neo-Lithic.  Even though our version of Carthage was to be a lesser civilization built on the foundations of a greater civilization, this stele went too far that direction. 

Stele study #2
I think the biggest problem with this stele was the fact that it looked like giant stacked marshmallows.

Stele study #3
For this stele I was influenced by Babylonian bas relief, but it was in fact too Bablyonian.  This stele was much closer to what the director wanted, however.  After I showed him these three stele, I suggested we use the stele to tell the backstory of Dido.  We agreed to have five stele which told the following story: 
Stele #1.  Dido and Acerbas wedded.
Stele #2.  Pygmalion slays Acerbas.
Stele #3.  Dido Flees from Pygmalion.
Stele #4.  Dido founds the city of Carthage.
Stele #5.  Dido sees Aeneas' trireme off the coast of Carthage.

Since the opera was set in North Africa, I wanted an African aesthetic.  There is very little that remains of ancient Carthage since the whole civilization was levelled after the third Punic war.  Eventually the Romans rebuilt the city and made it a Roman colony.  That city was destroyed again in 698 AD. 

Since there was no art or sculpture remaining from ancient Carthage, I looked across northern Africa for my aesthetic.  I looked at primitive African art and early Egyptian art and blended them into what I imagined Carthaginian art would have looked like.  I also had to take into account the costume design by Susan Whitfield.

I designed the stele to be ten feet tall by three feet wide and eighteen inches deep.  I also had to take into account the rake of the stage as I wanted the stele to be absolutely vertical.  We covered them with two inch blue foam and I carved them in deep relief with grinders, surform tools and hot knives, and finally sprinkled them with acetone to give them a weathered and pitted look.  Then we covered them with mastic and painted them to look like stone.

The stele were lit almost exclusively with skim light from the sides to emphasize the relief carving.  They were also placed in front of the cyclorama which was also used in Gianni Schicchi, and silhouetted throughout the play.

Stele #1--Dido and Acerbas

Stele #2--Pygmalion slays Acerbas

Stele #3--Dido flees from Pygmalion

Stele #4--Dido founds the city of Carthage

Stele #5--Dido sees Aeneas trireme approaching

The floor was the next thing I had to address.  Originally we were going to have a second deck under the Gianni Schicchi floor.  The top deck would have been held together with coffin locks and disassembled at intermission to expose the Dido and Aeneas floor.  There were many problems with this idea.  First we only had ten minutes for intermission and there simply wasn't enough time to strike the set from Gianni Schicchi and then disassemble the floor.  Second, we really had nowhere to store the pieces of the top deck, and third it was going to be cost prohibitive.  We had to come up with another solution. 

This is really where the idea that Carthage was built upon a previous more enlightened ruin came from.  The efficacy of a scene change.  The solution Richard suggested was to remove sections of floor and have sand boxes in their place.  This would change the look of the Gianni Schicchi floor and would look like a ruin.  The primitive stele and altar would then make sense.  I designed plugs in the two corners, one upstage left and the main one was the center medallion.

Center medallion plug removed, sandbox exposed, altar placed

The set for Dido and Aeneas
The lighting for Dido and Aeneas was pretty straightforward, and had to work for Gianni Schicchi as well.  Until this year, the Snow Black Box Theatre only had 76 dimmable circuits.  We have double that now.  What that meant, though was that lighting designs in that space had to be very efficient.  I designed for either 8 or 9 acting areas, plus the cyc and the dome and a few special effects.  To maximize the circuits in the space, I used twofers and color scrollers.  Using these accessories effectively doubled or tripled the capabilities in the Snow Black Box Theatre.

In these two plays I used mostly wash light for the group numbers and source four follow spot rigs from City Theatrical for the arias and duets.  For Gianni Schicchi the lighting was fairly realistic, meaning I mixed colors to "white light".  For Dido and Aeaneas, though I used much more saturate color in the lighting.

I lit the sky dome with ETC source four spotlights and color scrollers and lit the cyc with striplights.  Most of the time, the dome and the cyc were lit the same way during Dido and Aeneas.  During Gianni Schicchi, the dome was barely lit with white light, just so it glowed.

During the witches scene, I used Rosco gobo rotators on the sky dome to give a mystical feel to the stage.  I also scrolled through the blues, greens and reds as the scene progressed.

Cyc and dome

Gobo rotators on dome during witch scene
The immolation effect was a combination of set, lights and props.  I designed a chamber under the altar which held six small theatrical lights and a fog machine.  The lights were programmed in a flicker effect and the fog was not chilled so it would rise.  I designed the sides of the altar to accordian down, but Ray Versluys, our technical director suggested a better solution where the sides of the altar would be hinged from the top and pushed in to allow the fog to escape and the lights to illuminate it.  This was masked with faggots of wood which were placed around the altar and served to disapate the fog and make it look much more like smoke.  The immolation scene was quite impressive to watch.

Dido on the altar during the immolation scene
There were a few other fun things I was able to do for this play.  I taught myself taxidermy for the boars head and I repurposed a Darth Vader helmet into Mercury's winged helm.

I purchased a peccary head form from the Van Dykes Taxidermy catalog and some very good faux fur from a piece goods store in Pocatello, Idaho.  I made ears out of sticky backed pink craft foam and covered the sticky side with faux fur and shaved it close.  I created the snout, lips and eyes from sculpy and hardened them in place with a heat gun.  Next, I used spray adhesive and glued the fur to the form.  I shaved the fur around the snout, ears and eyes and shaped it over the rest of the head.  I then hacked off the neck so it would appear to be a decapitated head rather than a wall mount and I found a plastic human vertabrae that I happened to have lying around and placed it in the back.

I sealed the foam with mastic to create a substrate and prepare it for painting.  Finally I used Design Master color tool to spray the fur around the decapitation site and the 'meat' on the back.  When the head was done, I sleeved it on a spear and presented it to the actor.  All in all it was quite a gruesome prop.

"Behold, upon my bended spear..."

The random human vertabrae I happened to have lying around

Mercury's winged helm was also a gratifying piece to build.  I found a partial Darth Vader helmet at a local thrift store and repurposed it.  First I cut off half the back flare and fitted it to the front.  I used rivets and hot glue to fix it in place.  Then I built wings of coathanger wire, sculpy and craft foam and rivetted them in place.  For the finish I used copper leaf.  Susan Whitfield, the costume designer designed a mask for Mercury to finish the look.

Mercury in the former Darth Vader helmet
These two operas, Gianni Schicchi and Dido and Aeaneas were a real pleasure to design.  They were challenging because they were so different, but in the challenge often comes the reward.  I am glad I had the opportunity to work on this production with the colleagues I have in the theatre and music departments.

Production Details
Directed by Richard Clifford
Vocal Direction by Jon Linford
Orchestra Directed by Robert Teuller
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Technical Director: Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director: Patty Randall

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Two Chamber Operas, Part I: Gianni Schicchi--Scene and Lighting Design

Gianni Schicchi thumbnail sketch
Gianni Schicchi, a one act comic opera by Giacomo Puccini was produced Spring Semester, 2009 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Because the floor in the Snow Drama Theatre was being re-decked, the Snow Black Box Theatre saw heavier use than other years.  We were scheduled to do an opera during that time period, but the proscenium house where we normally do them was closed due to renovations.  I suggested we do a couple of Baroque chamber operas in the Snow Black Box Theatre.  One of my colleagues in the music department, Robert Teuller is an expert in baroque music and has acquired a large collection of period baroque instruments for the university.  I thought it would be a good time to put them to use.

Jon Linford and Richard Clifford decided to produce Gianni Schicchi as the first bill and Dido and Aeneas for the second bill.  Gianni Schicci is a 20th century opera and Dido and Aeneas is the first opera ever written in the English language.  It is a Baroque opera written in 1688 by Henry Purcell.

We decided to use two baby grand pianos for accompaniment for Gianni Schicchi and the Baroque Ensemble with period instruments for the accompaniment of Dido and Aeneas.  The baby grands would be played on the deck while the Baroque Ensemble would assemble on the catwalk.  Jon and Robert were very enthusiastic about this, claiming that it was a very Baroque thing to do.

Gianni Schicchi is set entirely indoors and Dido and Aeneas is set out of doors.  The challenge here was to change the set from a 20th century Itallian bedroom to the courtyard of a Carthaginian palace set in ancient times and do it all in ten minutes.

The time is 1299 and Buoso Donati lies dead in his bed.  His relatives have gathered to 'mourn' his passing but what they really want is to know the disposition of his will.  Rumor has it that he has left everything to a monastery and the family tears the house apart looking for the will.  When it is finally found, Rinuccio withholds it for a moment, and asks if he would be allowed to marry Lauretta, the daughter of the lawyer, Gianni Schicchi.

Poor Buoso
Zita says he can marry whomever he pleases so long as Buoso left them alot of money.  The family is most concerned to know who will receive the house, the mills and especially the mule.  When the will is read, their worst fears come true and they find that Buoso has indeed left everything to the Brothers at the Monastery.  Rinuccio suggests that Gianni Schicchi would know what to do but he is repudiated.  Schicchi and Lauretta soon arrive and he figures out what has happened.  When Zita insults him, he decides he will not help the family.  Others entreat and finally Lauretta sings the most famous aria from this opera, O Mio Babbino Caro.  Schicchi cannot say no to his daughter and decides to assist the family.

O Mio Babbino Caro
Schicchi looks over the will and realizes that only those present know Buoso is dead.  He reminds the family of the penalty for falsifying a will.  According to local law a person who falsifys a will is subject to the loss of a hand and banishment forever.  Maestro Spinelloccio, the nearsighted doctor arrives suddenly and Schicci impersonates Buoso, assuring him that he is really alive.

Maestro Spinelloccio, the doctor
Schicchi hatches a plan whereby he will impersonate Buoso and dictate another will.  They call the notary and Schicchi changes into Buoso's clothing.  As he changes, each of the family members seek him out privately and bribe him to give them the better parts of the estate.  Schicchi assures them all they will receive what is coming to them and finally the notary appears.

Schicchi as Buoso
The dictating of the new will goes well for the family at first, each receiving some of the minor things they asked for.  When it comes to the major parts of the estate, the house, the mills at Signa and the mule, he wills them to, "my devoted friend, Gianni Schicchi."  The family is powerless to stop him because they know the penalties for falsifying a will.  When the notary leaves, Schicci throws the family out as they begin to loot the place.

This leaves Lauretta who is now wealthy free to marry Rinuccio.  Dante condemned Schicchi to hell for his trick but asks the audience to pardon him because he did it for the love of his daughter.

Obviously, from the pictures we did not set this play in 1299.  The directors, Jon Linford and Richard Clifford decided they wanted to set this play in the 1950's and Buoso would be a deceased Mafioso.  The relatives would all be to some degree involved in the family business.  The 'mills at Signa' they decided were a code for illegal activity and the 'mule' referred to a Ferrari.

As I mentioned earlier, the real challenge for this design was the fact that it had to be changed over completely from a 20th century interior to an ancient exterior courtyard in ten minutes.  I will discuss the changes in more detail in part two.

Richard suggested a raked (angled) stage and I mentioned that I would like to force the perspective.  I designed a deck that was trapezoid in shape with the small end higher than the large end.  Requirements for the show, or at least our production of it were a bed, other furniture, French doors to the veranda and other entrances for the ease of entrances and exits.

We decided that doors and windows were important, but walls were not.  This would aid tremendously in our scene change but that was not the main reason we did it.  We really wanted to see Gianni Schicchi and Lauretta enter, and we also wanted to see Rinuccio and Lauretta on the veranda.

I wanted to use a cyclorama as a lighting device for this production.  We built a balustrade at the back of the upstage platform to separate it from the cyc. 

Above the stage, I designed a muslin covered, steel ribbed oval dome from which hung a chandelier.  This element was used as an architectural element in Gianni Schicchi and was lit as a sky in Dido and Aeneas.

I drew a thumbnail sketch of the set idea and presented it in an early design meeting to Richard and Jon.  That sketch appears at the top of this post.  The set didn't change much from that original drawing.

The set for Gianni Schicchi
The floor was laid out in a grey and white marble checkerboard pattern in forced perspective with a marble compass in the center medallion.  Grey marble diamond shapes formed a border.

I designed a half tester bed for Buoso.  I designed it around mouldings and ornament we already had.  The verticals pieces were made from old turned porch posts and were decorated with turned corner moulding.  We had several wooden finials from a previous show that we placed in several places throughout the bed.  Finally we hung sheer lace curtains from the half tester.

The half terster bed

The hardest part of the execution of this design was stabilizing the free standing French Doors.  In the end, we had to cable them off to the catwalk railings which ultimately helped them to be solid, even when opened and closed.

The lighting for this show was fairly straightforward.  I had the chandelier and three table lamps on the set for motivational lighting, then the cyc became an important element and I used it to amplify the mood of each scene.  I also used follow spots for the arias and duets.  Otherwise it was basic area lighting for scenes and recititive.

This was a delightful production of an equally delightful comic opera.  It was fun to perform an opera in a smaller flexible seating venue.  The audience was very gracious.  I'm glad we did it.

The 'mule'

Production Details
Directed by Richard Clifford
Musical Direction by Jon Linford
Orchestral Direction by Robert Teuller
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Lighitng Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Susan Whitfield
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall

Part II:  Dido and Aeneas coming soon

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

You're a Good Man Charlie Brown--Scene Design

You're a Good Man Charlie Brown
You're a Good Man Charlie Brown was produced Spring Semester, 2006 in the Kirkaham Arena Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho

This play is a series of vignettes to illustrate a day in the life of Charlie Brown and the other characters in Charles M. Schulz world of Peanuts. 

Each vignette is supported by a song and all of them are directly based on moments from the award winning comic strip.  The play begins with each of the characters talking about Charlie Brown and giving their opinions of him.

Charlie Brown is unable to talk to the "cute little red-headed girl", he is unable to fly a kite, he loses the baseball game, doesn't get a valentine and yet in the end he is still optomistic and full of hope.  His sister Sally is upset because of the poor grades her teacher gives her.  Lucy wishes to be queen, acts as a psychiatrist, and tries in vain to get Schroeder to confess his love for her.  Linus suffers separation anxiety from his blanket and Snoopy entertains by being a vulture, a WWI pilot and dances for his supper.

The play ends, nicely bookended with everyone confessing that Charlie Brown is a good man.

I had seen a particularly bad production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown in the early 1970's and when Justin Bates told me he wanted to do this play I was less than enthusiastic.  We discussed it over lunch and he told me how he felt about the play and it's message of hopefullness.  He told me that Schulz had been criticized for penning the strip about a perennial loser like Charlie Brown and Schulz responded by saying Charlie Brown was not a loser because no matter what happens, he never gives up.  This is the idea that Justin wanted to communicate to the audience.  A message of hopefulness.  I began to look at the material in a different way and started to find it endearing.  I had always liked Peanuts when I was young.

Justin said he wanted a unit set with an area set aside for each character to have individual moments in.  He also wanted to have several levels but was very clear that they couldn't impede the action.  He also said he wanted  the look of the show to mimic the look of the Sunday color edition of the strip.  He wanted to pay homage to Charles M. Schulz.  I had a clear idea of where to begin.

I picked up a few books with reprints of Peanuts comic strips, particularly the ones with the Sunday editions and began to study them.  I found that often Schulz would use a single, flat color for the sky and a different color for the ground.  His sky wasn't always blue and his grass wasn't always green.  The background was merely there to provide an environment for his characters to exist in.  Every now and then, when it was necessary he'd add a wall or the corner of a house or some of the props that were important to the world of Peanuts.

Schulz had a very loose line style which was mirrored in Vince Gauldi's jazz theme for the television specials.  Most of the time all that separated the sky from the ground would be quick pen strokes that communicated grass simply and elegantly. 

I designed a series of levels, all curved and all painted in colors I had seen in the Sunday strip to create the different areas for each of the characters.  Each of the levels were six inches above the one below so the actors could move up and down with grace and ease.  There was also a ramp between levels where the height was greater than six inches.

Levels for characters
To acheive the different colors in the sky from the script, I decided the easiest way to accomplish that would be to hang a cyc in the Kirkham Arena Theatre.  A cyclorama is not traditionally used in a black box theatre but it is not completely unheard of.  Between the upper platform and the cyc I designed a Charles M. Schulz style ground row with blades of grass and a couple of trees.

Elizabeth House, our charge artist at the time captured the essence of Schulz's line work very well in the painting of the trees and groundrow, as well as all the other props.  Each surface was to be painted a flat color first and the linework to be added after with Van Dyke brown instead of black.  I like Van Dyke brown because it is so dark and yet it gives a little back whereas black just absorbs the light and appears to be a void on the stage.  Van Dyke also gave us the appearance of India Ink which I think emulated the style of the cartoonist better than black would have.  Elizabeth also played the part of Lucy in this production, by the way.



Linework in grass, tree and doghouse
After the deck and the groundrow, all that was left were the special props and set pieces.  These needed to be oversized so our adult actors would appear to be children in scale to the props.  I studied the original Schulz drawings and I also measured my own furniture against my children so I could get an idea of the scale we'd have to use.

Schroeder and Lucy at the piano

Linus and Lucy on oversized sofa

No Valentines for Charlie Brown

The Doctor is in

Lucy and Schoeder at the wall

Snoopy with bullet hole decals on doghouse

Oversize baseball gloves made by

Fire hydrant

Since this is a musical, I had to make room for the orchestra, which in this case was a band.  I located the band on an elevated platform at the rear of the theatre so they could have a clear view of the stage and the performers.

The band

I was grateful that Justin cajoled me into taking this script seriously.  I had developed a bias toward the material because of a bad production.  I found this particular production of You're a Good Man Charlie Brown to be compelling and inspiring.  I credit the director for that.

Production Details
Directed by Justin Bates
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Ray Versluys
Costume Design by Patty Randall
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director: Patty Randall

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Comedy of Errors--Costume Design

The Comedy of Errors cast
The Comedy of Errors was produced Fall Semester, 2004 in the Kirkham Arena Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Before our tale begins, the Merchant, Ægeon and his wife, Æmilia had twin sons.  A poor woman also delivered twin sons at the same time.  Ægeon purchased the poor woman's sons to be servants to his sons.  Not long after, the family was sailing across the sea when a storm sank the ship and the family was separated.  Ægeon was rescued with one of his sons and one of the slave sons while Æmilia was rescued with the other of her sons and the other slave.  Ægeon and his boys lived in Syracuse while Æmilia settled in Ephesus.

At the rise of the play, Ægeon has been captured in Syracuse after trying to follow his son, Antipholus who is questing to find his long lost brother.  Because of an archaic law, Ægeon will be put to death because he is a foreign trader.  Put to death, unless of course he can come up with a ransom of 1000 marks in 24 hours. 

The rest of the play is mayhem as the two sets of identical twin brothers navigate the town, bumping into people who know them and think they know them.  Mishap after mishap of mistaken identity until at the end, the twins bump into each other and all is forgiven.  The Abbess who has been sheltering Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse reveals that she is, in fact Æmilia and the whole family is reunited.  The Duke forgives the debt and all is well.

The director of The Comedy of Errors, Hyrum Conrad told me that since the play takes place in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey, he wanted to do this play in Turkish dress.  We were setting this production in the fifteenth century which is when the Byzantine Empire finally fell to the Turks.  I surmised that as the Turks encroached on the Byzantine Empire that they probably coexisted peacefully at times and were warlike at others with the Byzantines.

I suggested to Hyrum that we should have the ruling class be Byzantine and the merchant class be Turkish.  He agreed and I began to research the styles of dress in both the Byzantine world and the Turkish world in the fifteenth century.

For the Turkish characters, the basic garments were harem style pants, a shirt which was then covered with a cassock or robe.  For the men I fashioned turbans for headgear, and I also added skirts to the women.  Both men and women wore pointy shoes.

Hyrum decided to cast the Duke as a woman and she became the Duchess.  Byzantine noble dress evolved from Roman and Greek dress, but much gaudier.  There were some medieval elements to the undergarments of the time, but all the overgarments were wraps and robes, very toga like. 

I decided that the Duchess would be the only character allowed to wear pearls.  She had two costumes, and each one was trimmed heavily in pearls.  I purchased some fabric from Home Fabrics that was red with a goldenrod thread running through different directions making a grid pattern.  The fabric wasn't blingy enough and I mentioned that I'd like to have a pearl sewn at each intersection of the goldenrod threads.  One of the costume shop workers was also a student in my tech theatre class and voluteered to handstitch each pearl on the cape as part of her service hours for the class.  Her name is Carla Traughber Simon.  This costume was one of the showpieces of the play and I credit her with making it so.

Sketch of Duchess and what would become the pearled cape

The Duches and her pearled cape

The Duchess' second look
I used upholstery and drapery fabrics on this show almost exclusively.  We have a fabric store in Idaho Falls called Home Fabrics which specializes in those types of fabrics.  I did most of my shopping for The Comedy of Errors in that store.  Many of the fabrics have large designs which read really well for period shows such as this.

For Antipholus of Syracuse and Ephesus, I designed their costumes exactly the same with the exception of color.  Each man had Turkish balloon pants, a loose belted shirt and an over cassock.   Each man also wore a turban wrapped around a cap, and the cap was covered in the same fabric as his trousers.  Antipholus of Syracuse was wearing a blue chenille cassock and rust colored trousers, while his long lost brother wore the same outfit but with the fabrics on the cassock and trousers switched.


I designed the Dromios in a similar fashion, switching their trouser and shirt fabrics.  I viewed Dromio as more of an earthy character so I dressed him in dusky earth colors, greens and browns.

Sketch of Dromio

Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse

Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus

Adrianna was Antipholus of Ephesus' wife, and Lucianna was her sister.  Adrianna was sharp and just a little shrewish, not trusting her husband, believing him to be cavorting with the courtesan.  Lucianna was her sister and she was softer and gentler and Antipholus of Syracuse fell in love with her.

For Adrianna, I designed harem pants with a tight cuff with a primitively pleated overskirt in ecru linen.  I designed her cassock to come to points all around the sides and back, each one terminating with a beaded tassel.  In fact I purchased several dozen of the beaded tassels and added them to each of the family members' costumes.  Her arms projected out of slits in the sleeves which then hung almost to the floor, once again terminating with beaded tassels.  Adrianna's cassock was made of a rust colored drapery fabric with gold flowers throughout.

For Lucianna, I designed similar harem pants and the same skirt as Adrianna, but her cassock was softer and rounder.  I used a blue chenille with yellow flower shapes patterned through the fabric.  Her arms were rounded with the lining rolled out at the end of the sleeves and the sides and back of her cassock curved away gently.  Lucianna's sleeves were trimmed with light blue bead tassel fringe.  In addition, Lucianna had two long pieces of fabric which were folded twice and belted with the ends hanging down and terminated with the same beaded tassels.

Each sister had an outside look which included a calf length cape and a pillbox hat trimmed with beads.

Luce was the servant of the two sisters and her costume was earthy like the Dromios' and consisted of harem pants, an underskirt of primitively pleated linen, an overdress and a veiled pillbox hat.

Sketch of Adrianna

Sketch of Lucianna

Sketch of Luce

Adrianna, Lucianna and Luce
Detail of hem on Adrianna's cassock
The girls outerwear

My original sketch for Dromio looked too bourgeoisie and did not make him look like a servant.  I liked the look and so did Hyrum and he suggested I save it and put it on one of the merchants or Angelo the goldsmith.  I went with Angelo and chose a brown chenille fabric for his harem pants and a sage green jaquard for his cassock.  This ended up being one of my favorite costumes in the show.

Originally drawn for Dromio but used for Angelo

Balthazar and Angelo

The courtesan's costume was also one of my favorites in this show.  Her costume consisted of an irridescent peach and gold silk underdress with a purple jaquard cassock trimmed with a wide band of dark teal crushed velvet.  Finally the whole cassock was trimmed with a pale mint green bead fringe.  On first dress rehearsal, everywhere the courtesan moved, the beads dragged across the floor and drowned out any dialogue.  that wouldn't do so I had the costume shop remove the beads along the floor.

The Courtesan with Antipholus of Ephesus
This was a fun show to design.  It was very detailed and I felt fairly imaginative.  I enjoyed the process a great deal.  I was glad that Hyrum wanted to do the show outside of the way it is done traditionally.

The family reunited

Production Details
Directed by Hyrum Conrad
Costume Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Gary Benson
Set Design by Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys