Mr. Burns was an exercise and exploration of many looks I could establish within the greater shell of the world I had created. Through flying scenery and actor manipulated set pieces this show required 8 distinct looks some of them varying greater than others. Thus, my goal in designing this show was to create a unit set and experiment with how much these elements can then transform the space.
This unit that remained on stage the whole time ended up being the shell of an abandoned warehouse with broken windows and crumbling brick walls, the location for the entirety of act two. This was shuttered off during act one by a series of tree drops and black scrim to push the actors closer to the audience, giving a sense of intimacy while the black scrim allowed for a void to fill the space also bringing in the fear of what lies outside the immediate area. In act two, I focused more on the actor manipulation of the space. Designing scenic units that could be moved throughout the space for the characters to then stage the various scenes that they needed to rehearse. Act three was an exploration of flying scenery. I began with a large, aged drop as far downstage I could manage and worked with the lighting designer to utilize footlights to largely light the actors during the very vaudeville intro. Once that flew out, we returned to the warehouse space albeit altered with an addition river drop, house boat unit and blue silks to imitate a river. During the final moments, the house boat would leave the stage, three battens of assorted practical lights would fly in and the river drop would fall transforming the space from a dark musical about loss to one that was open and filled with hope and light.
Through this design I learned that large, sweeping gestures can manipulate a space just as effectively as removing similar gestures. Removing scenic elements and opening up the space can have as much meaning as adding additional scenery. This show, more than others in the past has reinforced the necessity to collaborate as closely as possible with other designers, the director as well as stage management to make the most out of scene changes. How, when and the quickness of scenic changes as well as the lighting to pull focus to specific areas can greatly enhance the perception of different looks and moods of the play.
Mr. Burns, a post-electric play
E.C. Mabie Theatre
Copyright 2017 Nic Wilson