by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
When it came time for Artistic Director Molly Smith to choose designers for The Originalist, she knew she wanted Misha Kachman for set design. Having seen a number of his shows around town, Molly was attracted to his intuitive approach to spaces, and knew he would be a perfect fit for the Kogod Cradle. Misha's designs have been featured at the Kennedy Center, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Signature Theatre, Studio Theatre, Round House Theatre, Theater J, Opera Lafayette, Center Stage, The Wilma Theater, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Skylight Music Theatre and Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center, among many other companies in the United States and abroad. Misha is a Company Member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and a recipient of the 2013 Helen Hayes Award for his design of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at Woolly. A native of Russia and a graduate of the Saint Petersburg Theatre Arts Academy, Misha serves as Associate Professor of Scene and Costume Design and Head of the MFA in Design Program at University of Maryland.
How would you describe your aesthetic style as a designer?
I’m sure I have an aesthetic, but it’s probably easier to ask someone else what it is. I think of myself and the best of my colleagues as being in the business of interpreting the text, looking the play in the eye and then coming up with the tool kit that is needed to tell the story. I have a taste, certainly. I’m a painter. I’m a classically trained studio artist who became a designer. This gives me flexibility for choosing the means to tell the story. I don’t see my design work as a purely aesthetic outlet. I’m an interpreter.
What was your inspiration for the set of The Originalist?
My first inspiration was the physical set-up of the space itself—what it looks like, where the audience is. The second is that it’s a performance about a performer. Reading a dissenting opinion from the bench; they’re performing. Scalia certainly is a performer. So I was thinking about the stage as theater-within-a-theater and that’s where the opera curtain came from. The stage is almost like the hanamichi in Kabuki Theater. When the character leaves the proscenium and goes to the hanamichi, there’s a huge semantic texture to that action. And the third element is the design elements that we associate broadly with what we would call American power.
This is the first time the Kogod Cradle is reconfigured in a thrust formation. How did you and Molly come to that decision?
I wish I could claim design credit for that, but it was Molly’s decision. Artistically there’s the power and the personal nature of this super thrust. Large parts of the audience are watching the show in the round. It’s a powerful set-up. People tend to think of the Cradle as a small, intimate space, and it’s intimate alright, but it’s not small. It’s a brilliant combination.
I tend to follow the lines and angles that already exist in the architecture rather than try to fight it. I tend to think of it in an organic manner. The Cradle has so much personality, and you either need to obliterate that with visuals, or you just embrace it. There is no middle way. It is the set.
What attracts you as a designer?
I find interest and pleasure in the text itself. I’m a very literature-centric person. I was brought up this way. I guess it’s a Russian thing. And the work I enjoy most when I see it—my colleagues’ work—is the work that I look at and have no idea how it came about. I don’t see the process, I don’t see the gears. It looks great and I would never have done it that way.