More Monkeyhouse Connections to Shakespeare (part 2)

by Karen Krolak

continuing on with our discussion with Jason Ries, Production Manager for Actors' Shakespeare Project and Monkeyhouse about his set design for Taming of the Shrew...

karen Krolak: Of course, you have designed set elements, e.g. painting the floor, striping the marley, hanging a myriad of mylar curtains, for Monkeyhouse pieces. Are there any major differences between designing for theater and dance projects?

jason ries: The most compelling difference to me between designing for theatre compared to dance is the timeline/lifetime of how work is built and pieces endure.

kK: Can you give me a specific example of what you mean?

jr: Even at the most basic professional levels, theater involves a couple weeks of intensive rehearsal (with concurrent design implementation), a week or so of tech (where all of the elements get fully integrated with the staging), and 4-6 weeks of multiple performances before it basically goes away forever. At least that is what I have experienced. Being mostly a dance novice until working with Monkeyhouse, I was completely caught off guard as to how ABSOLUTELY different this is from the dance process.

kK: And that surprised you?

jr: Yes, the two are so often lumped together as performative arts.

kK: So how would you describe the design process for dance?

jr: Dance pieces, as you know, are often built slowly over months, sometimes years. The rehearsal process requires more recuperation time and there isn't the same written document giving you words (and stage directions) to lean on. This gives plenty of opportunity to a designer who is integrated in the process to have a lot more time to mull over challenges and be part of the discussion on how a piece evolves and is build. Then, as performances tend to be one or two nights only and designed/expected to be able to move from venue to venue, it's assumed that the tech process only needs to be a couple hours (often the day of the performance). I expect that at the Boston Ballet or for any touring show with a trucked-in set, that the tech process expands out to something more akin to theatre, but most dance companies are charged with being able to go into any space easily and "make it happen" quickly. That, and the fact that a dance piece often has a repertory life of years once it's built, certainly puts a premium on making visual items light and incredibly mobile while, paradoxically, super-durable. Hence, the immense importance of achieving this through the personal (costuming) and transient (lighting).

kK: You are right but it took me awhile to grasp that distinction with my costume designs. Was this difference immediately obvious to you?

jr: Not really. It feels silly saying it now, since "bodies moving through space" would necessarily have different needs than "words delivered through air," but I remember the challenge of conceptualizing Always and A Day with Monkeyhouse. I wondered why some of my suggestions seemed somewhat radical. As you know, I was very satisfied with big elements of what we came up with, but it certainly was a hybrid of sorts. The elaborate installation basically dictated that those two weeks in February `05 at the Multicultural Arts Center in Cambridge would be the only life those pieces would likely have.

kK: Can you describe ideas or attitudes that unite your approach to designing for these disparate forms then?

jr: I love embracing and/or uncovering the architecture of a room. Using unconventional spaces to put patrons into situations or positions that almost force them to be observing and experiencing different things than, maybe, the person next to them and, certainly, the guy three rows down or on the other side of the room. That's my philosophy, and it certainly isn't one that everyone recognizes or appreciates and I guess that certainly is a challenge.

Photo Credit: Stratton McCrady
to be continued...

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