by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
Ever wonder how the design of a show comes together? Beginning with individual conversations with the director, through regular production meetings, into tech week, previews and, finally, opening night, designers and production staff are constantly collaborating and fine-tuning to create a world that is simultaneously stunning, functional, subtle and lush.
In our first Designer Roundtable, Set Designer Dan Conrad, Costume Designer Kathleen Geldard, Lighting Designer Mark Lanks and Original Music and Sound Designer Elisheba Ittoop talk about making theater magic for Love in Afghanistan.
KG: Early on, Lucie [Tiberghien] and I talked a lot about the fact that the actors were never leaving stage, and that it was a memory play going back and forth between the interrogations and the action of the story, so I was creating a look for each character that could withstand the entire act and the timeline of the play, as well as being visually interesting. We also talked about color really early on. What the rug was going to be and how that was a big canvas for what I should and should not do with color. I think the same is true for Mark and Elisheba.
EI: In terms of music and sound, Lucie and I were talking very early about what that was in this world and how music informs the characters. We have a character [Duke] who is a hip-hop artist, which is a genre of music that I know really well so, at our first meeting, we were talking about Duke and we were talking about what hip-hop artists he might be a mix of.
ML: Dan provided a really great base to be able to build different looks upon and create variety and texture of location. We had a clear understanding of how we were going to set in each different location and we carried that through to reality. I played with that a lot actually through the process.
KG: Going along with that there was a lot of talk about absolutely nothing to say “this is a hospital” or “this is the Air Force Base” so location-wise, it was a wide open canvas.
DC: This production’s a really good example of how very little you need to tell a story. The actors tell the story primarily and then all the elements are supporting elements to that. There is nothing more than four chairs onstage and I think Lucie does a brilliant job of staging it.
KG: Charles [Randolph-Wright] has written some really fun characters. If I only get two costumes each I think that those characters he’s written are so specific. There are definitely different directions you can go in but some of them are a little bit more specific than others. Like with Duke – what’s his music was my big question. What music is he putting out? Because that would help with the nuance of what exactly his hip-hop style is.
EI: That was such a big question for a while. What kind of hip-hop artist is he? There are so many forms of hip-hop. I feel like that was the overarching question for the first few meetings.
DC: And where did you land there?
EI: He’s kind of a mix of Kanye West and Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Lucie was reading about this group out of Los Angeles called Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All – or just Odd Future for short. They’re a conglomerate of hip-hop artists. They’re really weird and intellectual and their music is kind of what Charles writes about in the show. Duke at one point says his music is a bunch of stuff mashed up on each other and that’s Odd Future. It’s been interesting having that ongoing conversation with Lucie.
KG: Is that Frank Ocean too?
EI: Frank Ocean’s one of them, yeah. My favorite thing was having this ongoing dialogue with a director who very much wants to hear your opinion. I did a couple of days of table work with the cast and I never do that – my schedule just doesn’t allow that. I made sure I was there because I was really interested to see how these characters developed. So that’s been really exciting, being part of the new play process.
KG: Yeah I would second that, in terms of developing who these people are and working on a first production. Just seeing these people morph from the page into real, flawed characters and how they live and manipulate each other in space and just getting into the core of them through Charles and Lucie and, of course, four actors who have a lot of opinions about who they are. I love that.
ML: I love how we embraced the theater space.
ML: It really became such a part of the set itself and then to be able to play with lighting the walls and not lighting the walls, and the kind of undulating curvature that exists within the space. It was just beautiful.
DC: This is the simplest set I’ve done in probably 10 years. I haven’t done minimalism ever – I like scenery!
EI: This is one of my favorite sets of yours.
DC: Oh really?
EI: The rug is so warm and the metal is so cold and it informs me quite a bit as to what I’m going to make.
DC: The great thing about such a minimalist set is that everything is done by everybody in a fairly equal way. We all do a fair amount of storytelling, but it’s in a really nice, complimentary way. You can’t really tell where one idea ends and the next one begins.