Thursday, March 12, 2015

Quilters--Scene Design

The cast of Quilters

Quilters by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek was produced Spring Semester, 2012 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Quilters is a musical about the frontier life of women in the American West.  The play is more a series of vignettes rather than a straightforward narrative.  Each vignette is titled for a particular quilt block.  In the end, the sixteen blocks are assembled into a giant quilt.

The vignettes deal with winter, fire, childbirth, marriage, death, spinsterhood, tornadoes, among other things.  All aspects of women's lives in the settling of the west.

I suggested in our earliest meeting that we have a giant quilt without blocks in the shape of a mountain as a backdrop and each scene, when they were done with the block they were working on they would place it on the quilt backdrop.  That idea was considered and ultimately discarded for a better one.

Original idea for the set of Quilters

Hyrum Conrad, the director of Quilters said he wanted representations of each of the quilt blocks named in the play.  He wished to present the play in the round and wanted to see each of the quilt blocks on frames behind the audience, with each of them being lit individually when they were featured in the music.

I suggested building a quilt block out of wood decking material as the basis of the set with furniture and set pieces used throughout.  We also agreed that some of the more abstract moments of the play could be accomplished with fabric.

For the stage deck, we decided upon a hexagon quilt block to give a central platform at 12 inches above the main deck with a secondary square level at six inches off the main deck.  The platform would be painted like wood rather than fabric.  Just the shapes of the quilt block would be apparent.

Ground plan for Quilters

We researched all of the named quilt blocks and found photo images and patterns for each of them. Susan Whitfield, our costume designer is also a quilter.  She worked tirelessly finding the right vintage fabrics and patterns.  We had to sew two of each block, one to be loose and the other to be bound in a quilt.

While the stage deck was being built, we stretched muslin over 6' X 6' steel frames and the scenic artists matched the fabric of each block with paint.  We painted two of each of the sixteen blocks and hung them behind the audience.  Then the lighting designer, Ray Versluys could feature each painted block with a theatrical spotlight when it was sung about.

Quilt blocks everywhere.  In addition, furniture pieces from our stock, found objects and fabric were used to create settings within the main quilt block.

Opening number

Heading west in a covered wagon represented by giant quilting hoops

That first winter

Baby's Block



Abstract representation of windmills

The general store

"Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb"

"Pieces of Our Lives"

The Schoolhouse Block

Four Doves Block

Double Wedding Ring Block

One of the darker scenes

The clothesline with all the large quilt blocks

Nice lighting moment

Same song

Mama's sermon

Abstract representation of fire

Spreading out the completed quilt

The tableaux vivante 

Our costume designer, Susan Whitfield was nearing retirement.  She had always wanted to do quilters sometime during her career.  Hyrum Conrad directed the play as a favor to her.  This was a labor of love for us for Susan.  It was a joy to work on, I'm glad we did so.

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

1 comment:

  1. Very informative with just the right to keep you wanting to read more, well done!!
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