Two weeks into rehearsals for our production of The 39 Steps (with two busy weeks of rehearsal, tech, and previews still to go until Opening Night), this is the last installment in a three-post series directly from the fingers of our 2013 Stage Door Design Project students, who worked in production teams to create three unique and cohesive sets of scenic, lighting, sound, and costume designs for the The 39 Steps last spring, under the guidance of Geva’s own professional staff and designers.
Team C designed for scenes 30, 31, and 32 – the road to London, the call box in London, and inside the London Palladium Theatre. Below, the students of Team C describe their artistic and technical approaches to these scenes:
Costumes: “I started by doing plentiful period research, focusing mostly on clothes. I checked out an entire book of Sears clothing ads from the mid-1930’s on the suggestion of Amanda Doherty, Geva’s costume shop manager, which was incredibly helpful in learning exactly what people wore and looked like (side note: seriously, the shoes in 1935 were really cute!). At our team’s first design meeting, after some lengthy discussions, we came together with a central concept for our production. My final designs were inspired mostly by my period research and images of old-fashioned horror movies. My favorite costumes were those I designed for the ‘clowns’ who need to be able to change quickly, sometimes into the opposite gender. I had a lot of fun coming up with simple yet effective accessories and props to bring their characters to life.”
Lighting: “Lighting Designers have both a difficult and a fun job. Lighting is essential for a production, however, the designer must remember it is also a collaborative form of art and cannot be so bold that it distracts, rather than adds to, the story. The designer must think of how the lighting they are using will come across. Lighting can represent a mood, a theme, a setting, and many other things. Lighting also affects the way the performance is viewed by the audience. Some questions I considered while designing the lights I wanted for our scenes were:
- What is the main feeling in this scene?
- What colors will help project a particular emotion?
- How can I use the lighting to show a change in scenery?
- How much lighting is necessary for the scene to run smoothly, yet still be mysterious when necessary?”
Scenic: “One of the major things that I am taking away from this experience is the knowledge that all elements of the set have to flow with the words. By that I mean that, being in high school, what we normally do is put together an exceedingly stereotypical set. Such a set gives the piece a location and gives the audience an idea of the time period, but usually not much more. Through this experience though, a door opened, allowing me to see the concept of a play take on a whole new light. Instead of explaining just the where and when, I have learned that you must also explain background information, what the theme is, and how the characters got to where they were, as well as the where and when through the set. Also, all the time, you must question ‘why’? Why use this? Why put this there? Why that color? Why that texture? And so on. At the same time, you must make sure the feel of the play is translated effectively onto the stage…and then do all of this without giving away too much of the story. Throughout this experience, I took into account, or tried to take in to account, all of these things. Maybe I succeeded, maybe I didn’t. But I am now able to come away with all of this wonderful new information that I can apply to future shows!”
Sound: “With an elaborate car chase, police sirens, and screeching car sounds at the beginning of our first scene, we decided to tell the story of the chase using the two clowns – holding flashlights to look like headlights – and add exciting sound effects and lighting to give the intense, chaotic feel the scene requires. At the start of the scene, a European police siren is heard in the distance. Almost suddenly, flashing police lights and wind shield wipers appear via the clowns. We hear the sound of car tires screeching as the commotion begins, and then, almost as suddenly, the commotion ends.
After the chase scene, Pamela’s telephone call box scene goes right into the London Palladium scene, where Mr. Memory is giving his show. Throughout the dialogue, front-of-house bells are heard. They get continually, though almost unnoticeably, louder as the tension and pressure Hannay feels increases. When Hannay jumps onto the stage with a rope, a ‘thump’ is heard. In our interpretation, a stagehand offstage will create this sound to make it sound very authentic and surprising. When the gunshots ring out, we planned to have speakers strategically placed so the shot sounds are the most surrounding and accurate as possible. Something our team decided that is very different from the typical stage production of this show and the movie is that Mr. Memory will have an Arabian/Middle Eastern look. He has a theme song that is played when he is announced and comes onstage. This happens twice in the show and the same Middle Eastern style music will be used both times. After the gunshots, the orchestra will play the classic, jazzy ‘Charleston’ or ‘Can-Can’ while the dancing-girls come onstage to dance.”