Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead--Scene Design

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard was produced Spring semester 2013 in the Snow Black Box Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern accompany Hamlet on a ship to England.  They have been given a letter by the king of Denmark to give to the king of England.  The letter tells the English king to have Hamlet Executed.  Hamlet uncovers the plot and switches the letter for one that tells the English king to have Rosencrantz and Guildenstern executed.  At the end of Shakespeare's play, a messenger enters amid the carnage and states, "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead."

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is an absurdist play about the adventures of the two minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet.  There are plot points about the idea of fate and not being able to escape it.  The play begins with the duo betting on coinflips with Rosencrantz betting and winning on heads ninety-two times in a row.  Throughout the play, the troupe of Hamlet's actors, Hamlet himself and the royal entourage from Hamlet appear on the stage.

The pair ponder fate and the essence of reality.  Ultimately, though they accept their fate and die.

For a concept, we decided to produce the play as a single set show with the only scene change coming at intermission.  The different locations such as the ship would be rendered by found objects on the stage.  Trevor Hill, the director also wanted to have several traps in the stage so the actors could appear and reappear here and there.  He also wanted a fast trap so the pair could disappear instantly at the time of their deaths.

I suggested we set the play in the ruins of an old Parrish church somewhere in a nondescript place.  He liked the idea and that is where we ended up setting the play.  I submitted some initial pencil sketches to the director.  Let the play begin!
Study for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

In order to accommodate the traps in the stage, I had to design a deck that was 36" tall.  That didn't give much room underneath but it gave enough to do the job.  The outside walls were made of polystyrene foam sheets which I carved with acetone.  It should be noted that I did so with proper ventilation.

I had originally designed a lot more rubble in the set, but during rehearsal it was determined that they didn't wish to use it so much of the debris in the design never materialized.  I would have liked to see how the characters would have navigated the set with a great deal of rubble to go around or climb over.

For the altar in the nave of the Parrish church, I designed what we called the Apostle Altar.  There was a fast trap on the top of the altar which, when the brake was released, both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were able to step on it and immediately disappear from view, thus they met their end.  I made the apostles out of old G.I. Joe action figures.  A tutorial on how we made the Apostle Altar can be found here.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern flipping the coin in front of the Apostle Altar

The set for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead



Using the debris

The set and the players
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is one of those plays that theatre people typically have on their bucketlist to produce.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to work on this show.  I like the design and I also liked our production.

Production Details
Directed by Trevor Hill
Scene Design by Gary Benson
Costume Design by Kathy Schmid
Lighting Design by Ray Versluys
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall