Marisela Treviño Orta
Director: Erica Vannon
Stage Manager: Adam Koob
Scenic Design: Lindsey Larissa Kuhn
Costume Design: Zamora Simmons
Lighting Design: Courtney Gaston
Sound Design: Wade Hampton
New Play Festival
Budget for this Design Area
Comments by the Designer
Imagine living inside a double-wide trailer with your entire family. This is the suffocating reality for Marta that Shoe displayed onstage for the audience as part of the New Play Festival lineup. An intimate depiction of the struggles of LatinX families in America, this play follows a woman who has given up her life and dreams to care for her sharp-tongued mother and family. Through emails that Marta exchanges with a mysterious stranger, the audience gains insight into the resentment and resignation that she feels for her family. The laptop she uses was intended a tool for her younger sister’s escape from this world through college acceptance, but it is lost when she irresponsibly becomes pregnant and fails to even apply. The family is forced to move back home to help support each other and Marta finds herself feeling even more used and abused. Empowered by her secret internet confidant, Marta finally amasses the courage to leave her family and strike out on her own.
It was important that this production embodied confinement and suffocating qualities of the trailer which Marta seldom leaves. I used dingy amber lighting that felt like the interior of an old home in which the windows are never opened. There was not much change from scene to scene, with the biggest difference being the moments late at night when we see Marta sleeping on the sofa. It was also integral that I showed the passage of time that implied Marta went through the same routine day after day. Slow transitions from night into morning gave the audiences a glimpse into a day in her life. It is the first time the audience sees her step through the front door downstage center when she finally decides to leave her family. This was the climax of the play and it was important that the audience felt the breath and freedom of that moment. I achieved this with twinkle lights strung above the seating. As Marta sees the stars, so do we.
The most exciting challenge for this script, however, was the computer. How would we communicate that these monologues of reflection that Marta delivers are to a person on the other end of a computer screen? I chose to use a small, techno-blue footlight that looked as if she was staring into a computer screen as she stood downstage and spoke to the audience as if they were her confidant. Introduced in the first moments of the play, it becomes clear over time that these are intimate conversations held within a computer screen.
This was my first New Play Festival at the University of Iowa. This festival takes place over five days, during which four fully realized plays are produced along with a number of readings. Each production has two days to load in and tech ending in a third day with two performances followed by strike. A repertory lighting plot is provided, and each team is allowed a small number of show-specific additions to their inventory. Shoe was booked in the Alan MacVey Theatre. This venue is a small, but wide proscenium-style theatre with no wing-space, which presents both challenges and opportunities. The shallow depth of the stage requires careful consideration of lighting positions in order to avoid unwanted light spill, but also requires the designer to be aware of sharp angles and shadows on actors’ faces. Having designed two previous shows in this space afforded me an advantage going into this truncated process.
New Play Festival is fast-paced and exciting. It was a schedule that required that designs simplified in order to execute them effectively. There were several ideas regarding emotional tone and the window to the outside world that ultimately ended up on the chopping block as time became more precious. It was in these moments that I gained a clarity about what truly “supporting the text” meant. I had to stop many times and ask myself what was necessary to tell the story. For myself, understanding the escape from isolation that Marta felt when she opened the laptop became a top priority. The audience needed to feel that freedom with her and so I focused my energy of making those moments look completely different, spending time to find the right angle and color for the “laptop light”. In this vein, New Play Festival taught me to prioritize my choices and make careful decisions about how I spend my time.
Copyright 2020 Courtney Gaston