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crazy for you

Role: Set Designer

Project dates: January - May 2020

Performance dates: 8th - 10th May 2020

Company: Exeter Footlights

Venue: Exeter Lemon Grove

I ended up working on Crazy For You by chance. On the creative team interview panel, we realised we were unlikely to find a set designer. Having expressed excitement about the possibilities for building the world of this show to the others, I suddenly found myself on the other side of the table for a set designer interview.

Taking on a purely creative role challenged me, as previously as a producer I would to fall back on admin if my creative ideas reached their limits. However, despite this early uneasiness, I became really ambitious about what I could achieve with the set design.

 

These focused around three main areas:

  • Transformation

    • Desert dust becoming stage haze & glitz (nostalgic film grain feel)

    • Everyday items becoming instruments (suitcase cajons, saloon door washboards, barrel drums, spoons spoons)

    • Reveals through curtain rises or dust sheet pulls

    • Ladders to frame the stage and suggest ideas of construction/progress

 

  • Transportation

    • Suitcases (train, Entrance To Nevada trunks, costumes, Lank)

    • Extension of stage into the venue (path of suitcases/curtains)

    • Authenticity of theatrical world (deed of property, posters, bank letter)

    • Physical transitions in tandem with lighting and sound design

 

  • Theatrical magic

    • Surprising set changes (piano transformation, cuckoo clock explosion)

    • Self-aware theatricality - celebration of theatre making

 

As coronavirus spread, it was becoming increasingly clear that the project would not go ahead. We planned many exciting builds which unfortunately were halted midway. Regardless I have included a couple of them below. Who knows, they may be completed one day in the future!

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"I GOT RHYTHM" REHEARSAL ROOM FOOTAGE

Soon as we were unable to perform the show to an audience, I took the chance to sync up some rehearsal footage with the original cast vocals to give an impression of what may have been.

It brings back lots of happy memories, but also a real sense of creative loss which I am sure is shared by many theatre people at the moment.

the working onstage piano

Due to a shared love of the incredible use of actor-musicians in the UK tour of Amélie, myself and director Liv Koplick decided that we were keen to integrate music into the production as much as possible.

The idea of an upright piano which doubles as a bar in the town, and of the pianist (our assistant musical director Jacob Doleman) remaining onstage throughout was met with enthusiasm straightaway.

We quickly realised that we would not achieve a sense of authenticity by building our own frame around a keyboard, nor would our sound designer let us get away with using a real piano. So we settled, after long discussions, on integrating a keyboard into an existing piano.

One morning at rehearsal we got a tip-off that a masters students in the outskirts of Exeter was looking to get rid of an old out of tune piano before moving house, and we jumped on the idea. Taking an unlikely crew of production and creative team, we made the journey to pick up the piano and store it at my house (miraculously one road away).

Meanwhile, we ordered a keyboard which we could extricate from its plastic casing and attach to the inside of the piano, as well as a wireless audio kit and power supply.

Transporting the piano

Our ever-brilliant publicity manager Susannah Bance decided that the day we transported the piano from my house to the workshop would be a fantastic marketing event for the show. Ratcheting the piano to a dolly and wheeling it down a hill into the centre of Exeter, flagged by our publicity team handing out flyers, has got to be one of my standout memories from university life so far.

We stopped in the middle of Princesshay shopping centre several times so that Jacob could play well-known songs from the show such as 'I've Got Rhythm' as well as some other ragtime classics. Wary of the police, and unsure what the law was on impromptu piano recitals in the city centre, we kept moving the whole time.