More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 1)

by Karen Krolak

Shakespeare and dance seem to be snuggling up more than ever these days. Already this year, we've covered choreographing Coriolanus and chatted with Ashley Wheater about the Joffrey Ballet's production of Lar Lubovich's Othello. Over the next few days we are going to have a smattering of posts related to the subject so stay tuned.

First, we are going to pick the brain of Monkeyhouse's Production Manager and Resident Lighting Designer, Jason Ries. For the last few years he has also been the Production Manager for Boston's critically acclaimed Actors' Shakespeare Project (ASP). After seeing his immersive set design for ASP's Taming of the Shrew, I thought Monkeyhouse's supporters might be curious to know more about his creative process.

Given the length of our email conversation, I have chosen to break it into two parts. If you are curious to see Taming of the Shrew, there are only four performances left so snag your tickets now.

karen Krolak: People have been a bit surprised to hear that you were designing the sets for Taming of the Shrew. Even after all of our collaborations, I associate you more with lighting design. Can you tell us about some of your other set design projects?

jason ries: Most of my previous set design work was, surprise, surprise, at the EXIT Theatre in San Francisco. My first significant design was in `98 for Charles Marowitz' absurdist, deconstructed Hamlet (basically a mash-up with MacBeth), shortly after I fell into the theater life.

kK: Hmm..I am having a difficult time picturing that. Can you describe your design for it?

jr: Lots of draped red and white stretch fabric (with which I had no previous working experience), paper mache skulls borrowed from a South Asian mask artist that Christina Augello happened to know, and about 15 layers of pink and red paint sponged floor to ceiling. With the luxury of a lot of time and the ability/stupidity of being able to stay up for days in a row, it seemed surprisingly easy to make EXIT Stage Left look appropriately like the inside of a crazy brain.

kK: How do feel that early project relates to your concept for Taming of the Shrew?

jr: While directing smaller works as part of the annual Absurdist seasons, I actually did quite a bit of smaller scenic design there. A lot of the love I have now for blurring the lines between "viewers" and "viewed" came from my explorations in those smaller, safe (because how can you really do anything wrong in an absurd setting?) environs without anyone giving me any idea of what was "expected."

kK: What were some of your favorite elements of your earlier design work?

jr: Designing a huge pile of swaying detritus as the centerpiece for the basement space in our production of The Caretaker and then, with a ton more budget at University High, working with the students building a whole world out of opaque plexi-glass.

If folks are interested in any of this, they may be delighted to know that I actually first tried my hand at SOUND design. I was able to take advantage of Bill Swan's access to band's practice room/recording studio until he got sick of shifting director whims keeping us in the studio all night, every night during the tech week of a vanity-production of Caligula, and I had to find something else to do.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady

Actor Shakespeare Project
Taming of the Shrew
NOW extended through November 15th!
Four Shows Added!

11/12, 11/13 & 11/14 at 8pm and 11/15 at 2pm

Directed by Melia Bensussen**
Downstairs at The Garage
38 JFK Street, Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA

Tix by phone: 866-811-4111

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