SET AND COSTUME DESIGN FOR A... MY NAME IS ALICE by CONLEY DUAINE COOK, S.M. A THESIS IN THEATRE ARTS

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1 SET AND COSTUME DESIGN FOR A... MY NAME IS ALICE by CONLEY DUAINE COOK, S.M. A THESIS IN THEATRE ARTS Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of Texas Tech University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of MASTER OF FINE ARTS Approved Accepted May, 1992

2 ACKNOWLEDGMENT For all her love, support, patience, and understanding I am forever in debt to my wife, Donna Kaye Cook. Without her I would never have been able to finish this degree. For recognizing and encouraging the artist within me, I would like to express my gratitude to Sally Lynn Askins... 11

3 CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGMENT I. INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM II. THE PROBLEM: REQUIREMENTS AND LIMITATIONS OF THE DESIGN Ill. SOLUTION OF THE DESIGN PROBLEM IV. EXEClffiON OF THE DESIGN V. CONCLUSION AND EVALUATIONS WORKS CONSUL TED APPENDIX

4 CHAPTER 1 INfRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM The project is concerned with the scenic and costume design of A... My Name Is Alice for the Texas Tech main stage season of Dr. George Sorensen was the director; Susan Robinson was the musical director; and Patrick Vaughn was the lighting designer. A... My Name Is Alice is a musical revue conceived by Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd and was written as part of The Women's Project at the American Place Theatre. Credit is also given to twenty eight others for contributing material to the finished work of A... My Name Is Alice. The Master of Fine Arts program at Texas Tech University requires the recipient of that degree to show a proficiency in all aspects of designing for the theatre with a specialization in one. The reason for this requirement is to ensure the candidate has developed a working process that will carry him or her through an entire career of designing for the theatre. 1

5 The development of a design process is a complex and time consuming process. The designer must glean from his training, a process that will include all the basic steps of designing and constructing sets and costumes. The prob I em in most academic programs is the touting of theatre trainining over formal art instruction. It is difficult in most programs to be able to study both and still meet the requirements for the given department within a reasonable amount of time. This makes it all but impossible to have an equal footing in both, yet it is necessary for the scenographer to have a good foundation in both fields to achieve a truly artistic approach to designing for the theatre. A student of theatrical design must realize that to be a good designer his or her education must never be completed. No matter how prepared a designer may be at the completion of his degree the designer must realize that it is only a starting point in his design education. The problem of designing for a musical revue becomes evident when looking at the nature of a musical revue. The musical revue is an episodic series of sketches with songs and dances interjected; its unity is usually stylistic rather than formal. The designer for a musical revue 2

6 must keep in mind during the design process that the action of the play cannot stop for major set and costume changes. The Problem Statement of the Problem As the completion of the educational program comes to an end, the student must fmd a vehicle with which to demonstrate the design process that he or she has garnered from the program. The vehicle must show the designer's ability to follow the design process from the conception of a design to the realization of those designs. The designer must prove not only his or her design abilities but also his ability to work with and adapt to the ideas of others on the production team. The thesis is that it is possible to design a stage setting and costume design that will allow the production to flow in the manner that is necessary for a musical revue. Limitations of the Problem Planning a workable space for multiple scenes, each requiring space for dancing as well as dramatic action, within the confines of the 3

7 Texas Tech Main Stage Theatre's proscenium arch presented certain physical problems. The designer had to provide such various scenes as the interior of a woman's bedroom, a nightclub, a street scene and an office building as well as costumes to be worn by characters as diverse as a French chanteuse and a secretary. The requirements of multiple scenes and quick changes posed many problems; time constraints of set and costume changes, accessorizing a generic costume in a way that would portray the character; providing set dressing that would portray the location of the scene and maintaining a continuity to all the designs. In addition to the physical limitations of the script, the designer was also bound by the limitations of a small budget and the requirements of good design. The Requirements of Scenic Design The main function of the scenic designer is to create a setting that is true to the vision of the playwright and the director of the production. This is accomplished by careful analysis of the script by the designer and close communication with the director. The scenery should be an artistic expression of the mood and theme of the play. 4

8 The theme of A... My Name Is Alice, the subject that keeps recurring throughout the work, is that of women's issues. This theme was used as a guide that led to visual ideas for the scenic designer. The mood, or the prevailing emotional tone of the production, was one of a celebration of women. The emotional tone of the separate scenes varied greatly, but to give the overall production a festive mood, bright colors were used. The set was designed to elicit an upbeat emotional response from the audience at first but then become a neutral area that would act as a background for the action of the play. The Requirements of the Costume Designer The main function of the costume designer is to design costumes that support the mood and spirit of the play and to take into consideration the needs of the actor. The mood of the play can be supported by costume choices of color and fabric. Rough, heavy fabrics in dark colors may be suitable for a tragedy, whereas bright colors in soft flowing materials would be more suitable for a musical comedy or in this case a musical revue. 5

9 J. Michael Gillette presents a checklist of those qualities that can be found in a good design that is equally applicable to scenic and costume design. 1 These are: Does the design express: A. The mood and spirit of the play? B. The historical period of the play? D. The socioeconomic status of the characters? E. The season of the year? Is the design based on the elements of good composition? Practically, does the design meet: A. The needs of the director? B. The needs of the actor? C. The technical demands of the production? D. The fiscal and time budgets? The ultimate goal of the designer is to present well-designed visual elements that create an environment which serves the play, the playwright, and the audience. These elements should communicate the mood inherent in the script and present a unified visual picture that conveys the particular mood the designer and director wish to communicate. 1 J. Michael Gillette, Theatrical Design and Production. (Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Co.,1987). 6

10 Definition of Terms Blocking: The actor's movements on the stage. Costumes: A set of clothing typical of a certain country, time period or profession worn in a play. Director: Person responsible for interpreting the script, creating a viable production concept, and directing the actors. False Proscenium: A rigid frame work that is used to adjust the height and width of the proscenium opening. Masonite: A registered trade name for a sheet stock made from binder-impregnated wood pulp compressed into sheets. Mood: A particular state of mind or feeling. A pervading or predominant feeling, spirit or tone. Production Meeting: A conference of appropriate production personnel to share information. Proscenium Arch: The opening in the wall between the stage proper and the auditorium. The picture frame through which the audience views the play. 7

11 Scenery: The painted screens, backdrops, hangings, flats, etc.. used on the stage to represent places and surroundings in a play. Scrim: A drop made ftom translucent or transparent material. Procedures Scientists and engineers approach their problems in an orderly process usually based on mathmatics. Art is generally more intuitive in nature. but the design process follows orderly procedures not unlike the sqcientists use. In both areas, the development of a solution is a matter ofproblem solving. The working procedures followed in the design and construction of A... My Name Is Alice are listed below. The items did not always occur in order, but often occurred simultaneously. The designer began by reading the script at least three times and listening to the musical score. The first reading was for the sheer enjoyment of the artistic merit of the play itself and to become familiar with the general story outline and nature of the characters. During the second reading, the designer kept a sketchbook and notes were made of the requirements of the musical and the moods of 8

12 each vignette. One of the main requirements noted at this time was the need to keep the action of the play flowing from scene to scene. It was noted that the set would have to be a unit set and the costumes would have to be generic costumes that could be accessorized to portray different characters. This notebook was kept with the designer from this point until the designs were in the building stage, knowing that the creative muse is mercurial and one can never tell when inspiration will come. Details that would have to be considered when formulating the design were searched for during the third reading. Moments in the play that stimulated the imagination were searched out as were impressions of texture, color and line impressions. Notes were made at this time on particular designs that would take extra time or money. Mter becoming well acquainted with the script, a character analysis was done. Doing a character analysis for a musical revue presented unique problems in that each character appears for only a short time and only minimal exposition is given. In response to this problem background information was created to provide a deeper understanding of the characters being portrayed. 9

13 Rules of judgment were then taken into consideration at this time as were constraints of budget and time. The director was questioned during production meetings as to his vision of the production. Designs were then analyzed as to how they fit with the concept of the production team. Adaptations were then made in the designs to make them work better in the overall concept of the production team. After exploring visual metaphors for the production with the production team, preliminary drawings were done. Multiple design solutions were investigated and discussed with the director. A model was done out of foam-core and taken to a production meeting. The director liked the idea of the platforming and felt it would work well for the production. At this point, Dr. Sorensen studied the p latforming while taking into consideration the staging he had in mind and small changes were made to facilitate the blocking. Because of the nature of the foam-core model, it was possible to make the changes during the meeting and Dr. Sorensen could see the changes immediately and approve the changes at that time. The final design was then approved 10

14 by the director and the design faculty and the building process was entered. It was very important at this point to keep on top of every aspect of the building of the set and costumes. Lists were made of exactly what had to be done and sub lists were made of jobs that could be done by those of differing levels of experience and expertise. Organization of Thesis The information collected in this project is reported in the following form. Chapter I presents an introduction and a presentation of the problem, definition of terms, procedures, and the organization of the thesis. Chapter II is a presentation of the problem. Chapter III describes a solution to the design problem, presentation of the solutions to the limitations imposed in Chapter II. Chapter IV includes the execution of the design and includes a description of how the design was achieved. Included in Chapter IV is a discussion of certain 11

15 problems inherent to this production as well as any alterations that were made in the design during its execution. Chapter V presents a conclusion by the designer and evaluations by the designer and the director. 12

16 C..llAPTER II REQUIREMENTS AND LIMITATIONS OF THE DESIGN As in every production limitations were imposed on the designer. These limitations included those placed on the designer by the script, the director, the time allowed for construction and the budgetary considerations of the production. Another limitation placed on the designer was that of fitting the designs into the director's concept for the production. It was necessary to think of the design process as a cooperative effort. Requirements of the Script A... My Name Is Alice has a total of twenty four different scenes ranging in milieu from dramatic monologues to dance numbers involving the entire cast. Because of the number of scenes, each in a different setting, the time between scenes had to be kept to an absolute minimum. This in itself placed strong limitations on the set and costume designs. 13

17 Requirements of the Director Dr. Sorensen felt strongly that the production should be treated as a theatrical performance and not as a realistic slice-of -life theatre. The acting style would allow heightened moments of interaction between the actresses and between thae actresses and the audience, introspection and acting choices made as actresses and as women. Sorensen intended to emphasize the interplay of the individual women working through stereotypes in the production. Great care would be made to make no judgements on the women as characters. The production would be treated as a celebration of women. Limitations of the Facility The construction of the set and costumes for A... My Name Is Alice took place in the University Theatre complex. The scene shop for the theatre is located off the side-stage area of the Main Stage. The costume shop is located in the basement of the theatre complex directly beneath the Main Stage. This presented a problem for the designer in overseeing the construction of both set and costume construction. When questions arose it was necessary for one of the crew 14

18 members to locate the designer and the designer had to leave one work area and the work he was doing at the time to go to the other work area to answer the question. This resulted in time lost by the designer and the crew member. Limitations of Time Four weeks from the time of the closing of the preceding show all sets and costumes had to built. The general shop hours for the set and costume shop were from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00p.m. Monday through Friday. During the building period, there was one work call held on a Wednesday evening from 7:00p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Limitations of the Stafi In addition to considering time limitations, the designer needed to consider the limitations of the technical staff of the University Theatre. The University Theatre was privileged to have a very talented technical director in Ms. Christine Hewitt. An extremely talented seamstress, Mrs. Nancy Meyer, acted as the costume building crew head. The majority of the staff was made up of practicum students who 15

19 were working in the building process as partial fulfillment of their respective degrees and had experience varying from none to expert. Limitations of the Budget As in most University productions, one of the most severe limitations was that of budget. The budget for set and costumes was set at five-hundred dollars each. This became a limiting factor in the selection of materials for both the sets and the costumes. Propitious use of stock materials was necessary for the building of the set and many options were ruled out because of budgetary limitations, even when the first choice was by far the better. 16

20 CHAPTER III SOLliTION OF THE DESIGN PROBLEM Design Concept The design concept for the production of A... My Name Is Alice was that the play was a celebration. The celebration was to take the form of living portraits of women in varying stages of life dealing with problems that are common to women. The Set Design The stage setting for A... My Name Is Alice was based on a series of platforms with gentle curves in much the same shape as an amoeba. By placing these platforms one on top of the other, a variety of placing spaces were created. The bows in the platforms curved into each other creating a set with no beginning or ending to the curving line. The undulating curves created a strong female line and ambiance to the set. A false proscenium was employed to achieve a more intimate playing area. The false proscenium was built inside the architectural proscenium in the form of a frame that mirrored the shape of the 17

21 platfonning and reinforced the concept of the play as portraits of women. To close in the stage setting further a draped scrim was hung behind the platforms, closing in the back of the theatre by thirteen feet. The draped scrim was used to soften the background of the setting and give the set a backdrop that was reminiscent of the drape backgrounds found in portraits. The lighting designer was able to create varying moods by placing colored lights behind the scrim creating a wash of color on the scrim. A variation of the tradition in musical theatre ofplacing the name of the productition prominently on the set was employed in the incorporation of an A at the top of the false proscenium. This reinforced the idea of the frame in that it was much like a monogram that would be found on a picture frame. To accentuate the various heights of the platforming, varying shades of grey were used to paint the platforms. The stage floor itself was painted black and each platform was painted a lighter grey as it increased in height. To give an illusion of texture to the set, it was spattered with the same jewel tones that the costumes were made of. 18

22 The desired effect was one of brightly colored confetti spread across the floor of the stage. To add to the celebratory feeling, the false prosceneum was spattered with the same colors and ribbons of color were painted along the prosceneum opening giving the effect of streamers falling from the monogram. This reinforced the production concept of the show being a celebration of women and worked to give a sense of unity to the production as a whole. Floor Plan Design The floor plan of the set design as approved by the director, contained the aforementioned scenic elements of the unit setting. Playing areas consisted of the stage floor, a step unit wide enough to be used as a playing area and two platforms. A scale drawing of the floor plan is included in the appendix Costume Design Mter studying the cast list and the short amount of time the actresses would have between scenes, it became obvious that traditional 19

23 costumes would not be feasible for this production. The costume designs were based on the idea of modular clothing. The three basic costume pieces would include: (1) a tunic dress that would come to just above the knee, (2) a long full skirt with the hem at mid-thigh that could be worn over the tunic dress and, (3) a jumpsuit. 20

24 CHAPTER IV EXECliTION OF THE DESIGN When the design process was completed, it was the designer's responsibility to ensure the designs were built according to his specifications. It was also the responsibility of the designer to remain flexible during the building process allowing for alterations in the designs that would facilitate the building process. This chapter deals with the construction process of the scenic elements and the costwnes. Working drawings and production photos are included in the appendix. Construction of the Platform Area The majority of the platform area was pulled from existing stock. The stock platforms were constructed of a two-by-four frame and topped with three-quarter inch plywood, three-quarter inch black cellutex and one-eighth inch masonite. The curvilinear units were built to fit into the existing platforms. These built pieces completed the amorphic design of the patform area. These Wlits were constructed in a 21

25 method consistent with the construction of the stock platforms. The facings of the platforms were finished in one-eighth inch masonite. Once the platforms were raised to their desired height, the seams were hidden with dutchman's and a paint-and-glue solution. The last step in this process was to paint the set according to the design. Construction of the False Proscenium The main body of the false proscenium consisted of stock flats and b lueboard. The flats made the basic shape of the false proscenium and blueboard was carved to complete the curves in the opening. Once the flats were connected the same process of disguising the seams was used as that employed in the platforms. At this point, the false prosceneim was painted according to the designer's elevations and the monogram was completed. Construction of the Tunic Dresses The costumes were constructed of a polyester and cotton blend material with a fifty percent stretch. A detailed list was made of exactly how many of each costume piece were needed in what size and color. 22

26 The tunic dresses were made up of four pieces including the sleeves. The pattern pieces were put together by sewing the shoulder and armcye seams with a straight seam and then topstitching the seam allowances down using a zigzag stitch. The sides seams were then serged closed. The neck and hem of the garment were finished off using the zigzag stitch. Construction of the Full Skirt The full skirt was made of two pieces serged together. Elastic was then measured to the actresses' waists and the top of the skirt was turned down making a waist band. The elastic was then placed in the waistband and it was finished off with a zigzag stitch. Construction of the Jumpsuit The jumpsuit was made of six pieces. The jumpsuit was contructed in the same manner as the tunic dress but with a zipper in the front. The zipper was put into place by placing the zipper along the center front edge of the garment piece and pinning it in place. A zipper foot was then used to stitch each side of the zipper to the seam 23

27 allowance, sewing as close to the zipper teeth as possible. The zipper was then pressed into the finished position and was topstitched into place. Construction of the Short Jacket The short jackets were constructed of six pieces. The basic construction followed that of the tunic dress with a hood added by stitching the hood into the neckline of the jacket and using the zigzag as a topstitch. A drawstring was added to the bottom of the garment. Construction of the Long Jacket The long jacket was constructed exactly the same as the short jacket with length added. The hood and the drawstring were not used on the long jacket. 24

28 CHAPTERV CONCLUSION AND EVALUATIONS Designer's Evaluation The production as a whole was a success in that it satisfied the needs of the script and the director. The use of a unit set was successful because it allowed for a variety of playing spaces and made it possible for the action to flow quickly with little or no break in the action. 'The set portrayed the concepts of the production team as they were discussed in the production meetings. The concept of the portraits was represented by the false proscenium in the form of a frame, the scrim draped in the background and the monogram at the top of the false proscenium. The concept of the production being a celebration was carried out by the use of the bright jewel tones in the costumes, the spattering on the set and proscenium and the ribbons of color falling from the monogram. Overall, the designs were successful in that all of the scenic elements worked together to produce a unified production. The unified 25

29 design picture heightened the production concepts and the spirit of the performance. Evaluation of the Designs by the Director. Dr. George W. Sorensen As scenic and costume designer for the production of A... My Name Is Alice, Conley Cook fulfilled the requirements of his role very effectively. His use of a picture frame as a proscenium was very important in heightening the sense of portraits of the various vignettes that comprise the production. The frame's style and design provided a sense of vertical movement to contrast with the horizontal movement in scenes and transitions. The curved stage complemented the proscenium frame. There were numerous performance areas cleverly designed into the platform that permitted variety in staging. The costumes were colorful and flexible. They helped to define the women in the varied roles that they performed without forming stereotypical evaluations. They truly served to create a visual brilliance, heightening the talents of the women. The costumes were adaptable and easy to accessorize. 26

30 WORKS CONSULTED Barranger, M.S. Theatre a Way of Seeing. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, Burris--Meyer, Harold and Cole, Edward C. Scenery for the Theatre. Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company, Gillette, J. Michael Theatrical Design and Production. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, Payne, Darwin Reid The Scenographic Imagination. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, Pecktal, Lynn Designing and Painting for the Theatre. Fort Worth, Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc Parker, W. Oren Scene Design and Stage Lighting. Fort Worth, Texas: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc

31 APPENDIX RENDERINGS AND DRAFTING OF SETS AND COSTUMES 28

32 28

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