Welcome back to the
I worked here 10-12 years ago doing Little Foxes, and I hadn’t been back until Geoffrey arrived and you produced Beauty and the Beast. Geoffrey and I have been working together since the late 70s, and so you could say I’m here because Geoffrey is here. You have a beautiful facility, and it gives a designer the opportunity to do more.
Were you trying for a historically accurate set from when the show first premiered?
Yes, I did go with a ‘50s feel. When I was growing up, West Side Story was the original production. I was from
I’ve seen a number of West Side Story productions over the years, and it has turned into a caricature of what life might have been like in
I think if there is anything I’m trying to do, [it] is get it back to the grit and slightly scary atmosphere of what that life might have been like, instead of stepping back and looking at a cartoon version.
What places in
The buildings themselves were not particularly important as much as [were] the laundry hanging from the windows and the desolate alleyways. This is the part of town that isn’t the beautiful city that you think about; [it’s] the area where people are a little poorer and live hand-to-mouth. So it’s not so much the city skyline but the texture of the neighborhood and what that feels like that inspired the set.
How do you go about designing a show?
The first thing is [to] develop the machine of the play so that it moves efficiently. This has nothing to do with decoration or emotion or anything; it’s how to get from one scene to the next. This play has 15 to 25 scenes, and the problem is how to keep it flowing magically so that you don’t lose momentum. A piece can die if it takes 30 seconds to change the scenery because you lose the attention of the audience.
In West Side Story, once the ball starts rolling you don’t want to stop it because it’s scary, you know – there’s going to be death out there, and if you wait five minutes for a set to change, then you lose the momentum and it’s very hard for the actors to bring it back.
Then, secondly, you are trying to do things that allow the director to have interesting playing spaces and interesting confrontation amongst the actors. Again, that’s not an aesthetic consideration but [finding a way to give] the director get the variety she needs.
And finally it’s getting the environment, the colors, and also coordinating with the costume designer to make sure that the set doesn’t overpower the costumes, because you don’t want to make the set the most important.
You always design around people. You make the set feel like it’s only finished when an actor stands in front of it.
Is there a piece of the design that you are particularly proud of?
Some of the backdrops in this particular set are some of my better. That doesn’t mean that on stage it will be the same, because there’s the translation between what I paint and what can be painted on stage.
How did you design the lighting to establish the feel of the play?
In this case, it’s really in what you see and what you don’t see. It’s more of a matter of shadows and darkness that people come in and out of. It mostly takes place at night, so I tried to give spots of light and dark that people come out of, like what happens in a horror story.
Not that West Side Story is a horror story, but it is a sinister place where people are hidden in the dark and they come out and snatch and hurt you.
How much imagination is the audience going to need to see the world of the show?
I think you see the entire world. Each scene’s set feels like it’s a full stage. For the most part, I think this is going to present what life in
What do you want the audience to feel when they fist sit down and see the set?
I won’t say fear so much as trepidation about what’s going to happen. I’d like the environment to set up a feeling that there is something hard about living in this city, and that it’s a place where life can be taken away very quickly.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And Paul's set is truly amazing; it is so very complex and looks so very real. You'll just have to see the show to really appreciate it. As always, if you have any questions for our actors, designers, builders, or anyone who makes these shows happen, then comment here and I'll be sure to get you an answer.
Remember, West Side Story opens on July 18th, so if you haven't gotten your ticket yet you'd better hurry. Specials are still good for the first two Tuesday nights, so go to www.asf.net or click the BUY TICKETS link in the sidebar to get your tickets today!