Sunday in the Park with George
Sunday in the Park with George
Director: Alan MacVey
Stage Manager: AJ Near
Scenic Design: Nic Wilson
Costume Design: Lindsey Larissa Kuhn
Lighting Design: Bryon Winn
Media Design: Courtney Gaston
E.C. Mabie Theatre
Budget for this Design Area
Comments by the Designer
Sunday in the Park with George fictionalizes the struggles of the famous French artist, George Seurat, and his journey to the completion of his greatest and most popular work, “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte”. Juxtaposing the stories of both Seurat and his great-grandson across two acts, Sondheim illustrates the tortured artist and highlights the process by which art is created.
The audience gains insight into the mind of George Seurat throughout the first act as he observes the world around him through his sketching and painting. Frustrated by his inability to step away from his art, his muse Dot pushes him for emotional connection and finds herself wanting more. As she slips away, Seurat comes closer to finishing the painting, ultimately assembling the figures in the park onstage into the perfect composition of color and light.
The second act follows the supposed great-grandson of Dot and George Seurat on his own artistic exploration, culminating with a merging of the two Georges on La Grande Jatte. When young George visits the island as it appears in the present, he is surprised to find it much different from the iconic image. The juxtaposition of the post-impressionist painting with the harshness of a new world again keys the audience into the world as seen through George’s mind.
Using Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday of La Grande Jatte”, I created digital versions of his landscapes that we were able to change and evolve over the course of the show. Each backdrop was created using a Wacom drawing desk and the photo editing software Photoshop. Sketches in the style of Seurat’s charcoal studies were created in layers so that they could be “drawn” onto the landscape as he worked onstage. I wanted the audience to see the world as if through Seurat’s eyes; they saw as he did in brilliant, individual colors.
Using a 40-foot-wide rear projection screen, four 12k laser projectors, a scrim, and four 7k traditional lamp projectors, I was able to immerse the stage in a world framed by art inspired by Seurat’s unique style of pointillism. The laser projectors allowed me to create a changing landscape that was bright enough to compete with the stage lighting and the projectors on scrim created the illusion that we were seeing through the canvas that George was working on.
One of the challenges of this set-up was how to make a large projection screen appear as a cohesive element of the stage picture. I achieved this by manipulating the images to match the quality of light onstage, just as a traditional drop would change with the lighting. By adjusting brightness, contrast, and color balance, I was able to shift the backdrop into blues or remove the vibrance to lessen its presence as the moments required.
As the painting evolves throughout the first act, we needed multiple versions of Seurat’s work at varying stages of completion. While the park landscape used for the majority of the scenes was based on one of his studies of La Grande Jatte, we see George in his studio while he works on the final painting. This was projected on the front of a framed scrim so that we could see George as he worked. This also meant that the painting had to be inverted to be in the correct orientation. In the final scene of Act 1, the characters take their place within the painting. In order for them to complete the picture, it was necessary to have an empty park to work with. Each painted figure had to be carefully removed from the image and a recreation of the background was necessary. This resulted in a nearly completely digitally repainted version of “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte.
Moving into the second act, I created the backdrops for the museum and gallery from scratch using digital rendering techniques like custom photoshop brushes and gallery effects. The modern park landscape was created by compositing over 30 different images, some from La Grande Jatte itself, resulting in an image in which individual components could be animated independently as the city emerged in the distance.
This media design was one of my greatest undertakings in graduate school. I developed my own techniques and tools to build the world of the play resulting in a landmark moment of my career. This production convinced me of the validity of media as an independent design field in the theatre and has inspired me to continue moving forward in developing this skill and discipline.
Copyright 2020 Courtney Gaston