Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer
While professionals in the theater industry design Chautauqua Theater Company’s three full productions, four up-and-coming designers create the set, costumes, sound and lighting of the New Play Workshop’s Signature Staged Readings.
The two readings feature debuts of new plays in the form of miniature productions so the playwright can see his or her piece on stage for the first time. Instead of full-scale designs, the four design fellows of CTC present a smaller-budget sketch of what a full production would entail.
The first reading, Everything is Ours by Nikole Beckwith and directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, premieres at 8 p.m. Thursday in Bratton Theater and runs through July 14.
The play follows a couple’s alienation after financial success and how a small girl and a domesticated couple do and do not change their haphazard life.
“I love this play. It’s funny. It’s surprising. And in the end, it’s very moving,” said Reid Thompson, the scenic design fellow.
Thompson and costume fellow Sabrina Zain spoke on their experiences designing the piece and how they found their passions in design.
Sabrina Zain — Costume Fellow
Zain has two short weeks to shop, find, fit and alter all the costumes for Everything Is Ours, which not only spans over several days, but features actors who play multiple parts.
“The biggest challenge has been the sheer number of costumes for this show,” Zain said. “It’s a contemporary show, but it’s such a surreal play. That’s been a challenge too.”
The full process for Zain includes reading the play several times, researching, meeting with the director to discuss the play’s vision, concocting a costume plot breakdown of what characters will need when, creating a list of general needs and starting to pull from the costume shop and shop around, Zain said.
And all while maintaining her $125 budget.
“It’s a crazy process, but it’s great because it’s teaching me to think on my feet … and to trust my instincts,” she said.
She found her way to costuming after entering the world of theater as an actor. She studied it as an undergrad at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She continues to study costuming in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University.
“I love that clothing tells a story … Clothing says something about you,” she said. “For better or worse, people do judge others based on what they wear … and to be able to manipulate that in the form of theater is a unique and very insightful experience.”
Reid Thompson — Scenic Design Fellow
Thompson fell in love with scene work while he painted backdrops at the Metropolitan Opera. A trained painter from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he started painting backdrops as a day job so he could paint by night, but he fell for the arts.
“I started getting really interested in the shows from working on them in the scene shop and trying to understand what the designers were thinking — why they made the choices they did,” Thompson said.
He now studies design as a graduate student at the Yale School of Drama. His mentor was Ming Cho Lee, an 83-year-old scenic designer.
“(Lee) says, and I agree with him, that ‘Design is an act of transformation,’ ” Thompson said. “What you’re doing is transforming words on a page and the spoken word into visuals. The goal of good design, in my opinion, is to bring something more to the work.”
For Everything is Ours, Thompson’s goal is first to provide the needs of the play, creating the living room set and then to add his ideas to deepen the audience’s understanding of the text.
In that case, he and the director, Campbell-Holt, draw inspiration from the work of Gordon Matta-Clark and Louise Nevelson. Both artists collage household objects and actual homes into works of art.
Because Everything is Ours follows a couple who piece together a life of domesticity they don’t quite grasp, Thompson hopes to reflect their hodgepodge lifestyle with a collage backdrop made from various textured wallpaper, molding, frames, clocks and more.
For Thompson, collaborating with the other fellows and the designer on the play is one of his favorite aspects of the process, and it’s one of his favorite facets of design as a whole.
“The production of the play is made up of a lot of elements, but it’s not until they all come into the room … that’s when the play comes together,” Thompson said. “There is some magic point where it just becomes a play, and it’s very exciting.”