John Devlin: Creative Solutions to designing
Over the years I’ve worked on a fair number of shows with Vermont Stage and the FlynnSpace has become a second home of sorts to me as a designer. My first home is the McCarthy Arts Center at Saint Michael's College—with a 35’ wide proscenium stage, full fly loft and fixed seating. FlynnSpace, with its flexible seating, four columns in the middle of the room and 10’ ceiling offers many opportunities for creative solutions to productions, and Shirley Valentine has offered another.
I lit the production of The Miracle Worker in which Bob Woolf created a set with a “second floor” that worked; I designed the scenery for The Foreigner with a trap door to a root cellar and stairway to a second floor that worked. Now with Shirley Valentine I’ve been challenged to create a design for a show in which a working kitchen disappears between acts. No problem, right? I’ll just teleport the set somewhere or reprogram the holo-deck.
As interesting as those high tech solutions might be, they’re also just a little beyond our budgets and technological capacities. Instead I’ve chosen to rely on old fashioned techniques for changing the scenes: use a roll-drop to cover the stage. Other challenges are mechanical. Figuring out how to make a stove work (electric stoves require 220 power); how to make a sink run water; how to get an umbrella on a column…now that’s out of the ordinary too.
Like many Vermont Stage productions, this show has a number of challenges fitting into the space. It was also produced in the Town Hall Theatre in Middlebury before coming to Burlington with the same director and actress. I think we were successful in creating a sense of claustrophobia in Shirley’s kitchen—we want a crowded or trapped feel in Act One. This would be in contrast to the open setting and liberation of the beach for Act Two.
We’ve blended elements from the Middlebury production with pieces found closer to home. Building kitchen cabinets is for the FlynnSpace is starting to become a theme for me—I also designed and built True West a few years back. But the sink and island for Act One and the boat for Act Two came from Middlebury; the fridge, table and chairs for Act One and the chair and rock for Act Two came from Saint Michael’s.
As always it is exciting to see the pieces come together in the week before a production opens. It truly is amazing what a small group of dedicated artists, working together under a tight deadline, are able to accomplish.