When the creative team set out to conceptualize this book into a piece of theatre we accepted the world of the novel as a given. That Medieval world of the story was something with which we would need to come to terms in order for the play to be realized and eventually be made visual for our audience.
The core creative team got together for a two days of meetings in early June, 2011. The director, movement specialist, mask-maker, costume designer, composer and myself, the scenic designer. We knew at the time that we would also need a choreographer, and we had a student in mind for that role. We would also need a lighting designer, but at this point we had no earthly idea who that would be.
Our meetings were spent dreaming and looking, talking and listening. We poured over images of the medieval world and came to some mutual decisions about how that world could function, and hence how that world would look. What must the animals do in the play, how must they behave and move? What color palette would we use, and what design area would become the dominant user of the colors; would it be the scenic world or the costume world, or would we “just use light?” (this always seems like a good idea in the early creative meetings, but it fairly certainly will disappoint, in the end if light is counted upon to do too much.) We thought about the similarities between our production and the traits of the Medieval period, and agreed that water would be a very important image in the telling of this story. The machines of Leonardo Da Vinci fascinated me, and I found an odd correlation between them and the mechanization that man places into the natural world, particularly when it comes to war machines. It seems we go to great ingenious lengths as human beings to stamp out other human beings. Why is that?
For the scenic design of this production, there were some givens and some discoveries. In our June meetings, we talked about the three levels at play in the book: the level of the earth, of course, but a level above the earth and a level below it. In terms of the tactile, visual world, or the physical environment for the play, I knew that we would be using the Lab Theatre, which had, just a year previous, been outfitted with a hexagonal playing space and six seating banks in-the-round. Above and behind the top level of seating there was a playing space, a platform/walkway all the way around the audience space, so the audience could be included in the action of the play, a sort of theatre “in-the-surround.” This solved the issue of action all around and above the audience, but what of the central playing area? It was clear that we needed a raised playing floor that could be accessed by way of the offstage space and by way of trap doors in the floor, so that actors could both “appear” from below and “disappear” to the below.
It dawned on me that were talking about a world with, “the Heavens above, the earth beneath, and the waters under the earth.” All three would be necessary to tell this story.