Perseverance Theatre’s statewide season allows designers the opportunity and challenge to build a set that works in two very different theatres: the modified thrust stage of the theatre’s Douglas, AK space, and the traditional proscenium in the Sydney Laurence Theatre at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts–Perseverance’s Anchorage home. We asked Artistic Director Art Rotch, the set designer for Annapurna, to talk about the process of designing in two places. Here are his thoughts and a few behind-the-scenes photos.
Annapurna’s design was made for both theatre, as always, and we work in a scale model, in this case 1/2” to 1’-0”, a relatively detailed scale, which was great for this show because the interior of the trailer where the story takes place lets us do slice-of-reality-type theatre, as if when you see the play it’s like a big a can opener had been taken to the trailer so we can peak inside. Lots of details to render, very fun, and to make the greatest effect of sliced away reality, our set piece trailer has a partial roof as well as walls and a raked floor for the effect that rakes have of visually pushing the action closer to us watching.
I wanted Emma’s arrival and presence to change the space, by cleaning it up, so we put a lot of stuff in a great state of disarray. In Anchorage, the stuff was harder to see, but in Juneau, we added details like labels on the pill bottles and book titles that the audience could actually read because they sit so close.
The story includes references to two mountains: One is a peak in the rockies that Ulysses describes his attempts to climb and can be seen out the windows. The other is Annapurna, the 8000 meter Himalayan peak that is the title of the play, and that Ulysses names his final epic poem for. Being able to see the mountain while watching was important, so I designed a drop that the shop painted beautifully. The trailer set piece was tall, so the peak of the mountain had to be placed high on the drop to be seen above it. This took a lot of trial and error in the model making phase, looking at where to place the mountain in the stage picture. Kevin and Rebecca did a great job of rehearsing the places where the mountain is referred to by the characters even though we did not see it until the last day of rehearsals on stage in Anchorage. Because the Anchorage theatre is taller than Perseverance, the drop is taller than the space, so you can see some of it rolled up when you see the show.
Finally, we added an old scrim, a type of translucent fabric, that is torn, patched, and dipped in earthy browns, that hangs in front of the drop and frames the trailer piece. The idea is to separate the outside world of mountains and the trailer park that Lucy Peckham’s sound design brings to life (Sounds of dogs barking, cars starting, birds and cicadas, etc) from the world of Emma and Ulysses’ interaction–which is a world unto them as a couple and separate from others. The scrim shape was quite different in the Anchorage space, and had to be adapted to fit, kind of the reverse of how we usually do is when the sets go from Juneau to Anchorage
As we put the set in and began working with it, we were able to add more details to the set dressing, to how the actors played moments could be more subtle and detailed as well. The show was very good in the Anchorage space, but being closer to it and being able to read the details more intimately makes the experience in the Juneau theatre space really special. You can see Annapurna through May 29 in Juneau.