William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is a kind of playground for designers. The play's rich text and loosely defined location offer endless possibilities. Illyria has been envisioned as a bare landscape inhabited by Puritans and a Victorian county estate, among other things. Yet none of these concepts was as magical as the recent revival at Lincoln Center Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner. Scenic designer Bob Crowley's Illyria was a floating world, a network of islands defined by a variety of Eastern influences, including Oriental carpeting, Buddhist temple lamps, and wall patterns from India. Natasha Katz matched the richly sensuous palette of Crowley's work with her own voluptuously colored lighting design. Most designers working in the cavernous Vivian Beaumont Theatre force the action as far downstage as possible, to create a sense of intimacy. Crowley and Katz boldly used the entire space, turning their Illyria into a limitless vista of magic and romance.
Aside from Crowley and Katz (along with costume designer Catherine Zuber and sound designer Scott Stauffer), a large team of professionals, with a vast array of skills, was assembled to realize the designers' vision. The stage floor, with its brightly colored red, blue, and gold carpet design, was one of the design's most eye-catching aspects. An amalgamation of Indian and Persian tints and textures, it was painted by Jane Snow, the charge painter, from Hudson Scenic Studios. Snow also fabricated the Alhambra-like walls of Olivia's palace, with their delicate, filigreed patterns. The ever-shifting landscape of Illyria, with its moving bridges, was the work of Scenic Technologies (Fred Gallo, VP of production and Geoffrey Friedlander, project manager), whose Stage Command System(R) made two serpentine ramps and four walkways move seamlessly throughout the play.
The job of installing the elaborate setting--an epic feat of coordination and technical skill--and making sure that everything went smoothly and according to schedule fell to Walter Murphy, production carpenter at the Beaumont. Similarly, production electrician Patrick Merryman was charged with the installation of Katz's design. Both men had their work cut out for them, since the production featured, among other things, over 1,200 lighting units and an upstage pool that held 8,700 gallons of water (not to mention a downstage pool, suitable for dipping). While Murphy got the pool installed and filled, along with the scenery and all of its moving components, Merryman made use of a multiplexing system that allowed him to provide power for the huge light plot as well as the rain system, hazers, pool pumps and heaters, scenery automation winches, and 220V lightning strobe system.
The changing atmosphere of Illyria was a key component of its design; Katz in particular made brilliant use of rain and fog effects to give an extra layer of complexity to her lighting. These effects were the work of special-effects maestro Gregory Meeh; in one of the production's most magical moments, the shipwrecked Viola (played by Helen Hunt) appeared out of a blue-tinted mist, like a creature born of the elements.
That moment perfectly illustrates the success of Twelfth Night, in which all the design elements blended to support the director's vision. But it also illustrates the technical teamwork that supported the designer's vision, as well. The members of the Twelfth Night technical team represent a kind of state-of-the-art lineup of what we used to call theatre crafts--from the old-fashioned skill of scenery painting, to the modern techniques of computer-controlled scenic movement, to the always necessary technical support from carpenters and electricians, to the magical illusions created by effects specialists. Each skill is unique and irreplaceable in the creation of magical theatre.