Friday, May 25, 2012

Tartuffe--Scene Design

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

Synopsis
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.

Concept
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.

Execution
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

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