Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 1: Entry 3: Set

So Frank Wedekind loved the circus: for him, there was something erotic and mysterious about the way in which a tightrope walker or a trapeze artist defied gravity. He frequented circuses, and as a young man in Paris, he haunted the cabarets of Montmartre, the images of which are familiar to us with the paintings of Toulouse Lautrec.

When I first started writing Tilly No-Body, I knew that the set needed to be a fluid space. The storytelling is very fluid - the very first scene involves a pharmacist's shop, a busy street, a hotel lobby and a hotel bedroom, all in the space of 2 minutes. Working with Miles (the director) and John Iacovelli (the Professor of Scenic Design at UC Davis), we fixed upon a faded circus ring. In this ring, we have a large trunk - originally alluding to a touring troupe, now veering towards a box depicting caged tigers as seen in a multitude of period circus posters. We also have what we've come to call the 'elephant podium' which is essentially a series of circular steps with a top platform, which becomes all manner of both real places (e.g. the banks of the river Spree) and metaphoric places (e.g. something alluding to a musical box with one of those tutu-ed ballerinas on top, to give a sense of Tilly being both a doll and something mechanical).

John Iacovelli is a multi-award winning designer, with a flair and a passion which are very infectious. He works fast and mercurially, and it's extremely exciting and daunting working with him. He absolutely understood the atmosphere of the piece and the palette of colours which would be appropriate - blues, golds, reds, silvers. And the images that he initially showed us of circuses, animals and artistes engaged all of our imaginations powerfully. Being such an incredibly busy man, he's not had a chance to be in rehearsals yet, as he has a number of shows opening, both in and out of state. However, we've mocked up the 'elephant's podium', and we have a great rehearsal trunk which we're customising as we need.

With any piece of new writing - particularly such a multi-location piece as Tilly No-Body - a creative team is always aware that things may change in rehearsal. As it is we've been able to be quite clear of our intentions re: the storytelling, atmosphere and style, and by the end of the first week, the images that resonated round my imagination for the months of development are beginning to take potent and vivid shape. We also have a great shop team here at UC Davis: our production manager, Eric Steggall arrived less than a year ago, and yet it's hard to imagine life here without him. Eric has an ability to spot potential troubles a mile off, and shoot them square in the face. The team responsible for building the set - Daniel, John and Bryon - are a great cocktail of personalities. Daniel's quiet-spoken reassurances when suddenly the elephant podium looked a little precarious for the amount of running up and down involved in the mise-en-scene were a blessing. Byron is always funny and provocative, and when back in the spring I was learning to walk on a walking globe (an activity that Frank taught Tilly to do for his play The Stone of Wisdom), Byron was often at hand to throw the appropriately supportive - or gently mocking - comment.

The third part of the triumvirate - John (also known affectionately as Murph) - is doing the most amazing job on creating 2 figures/puppets to look like Frank and Tilly. John studied sculpture, and the heads that he has carved for Frank and Tilly render the whole idea of the puppets highly attractive and possible. At the moment, we're having a few problems building the bodies, as there are very specific things that I want the puppets to do - not least, to remain in whatever position I've put them in once I let go of them, so that I can manipulate them in a dialogue without one character 'dying' while the other is speaking. In other words, they can't be marionettes, which lose all life without the operator above them. In fact, John is working on a design not dissimilar to the figurines that artists use to fix in still-life positions for their drawings. I think this is going to work particularly well, given that in addition to the circus there are also references to artist's studios and easels and paintings.

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