After several years an associate and an assistant LD on Broadway (working primarily with Brian MacDevitt on such shows as The Pillowman and Fiddler on the Roof), you've had two shows open on the Great White Way this season, Barefoot in the Park and The Threepenny Opera. What has that transition been like?
I feel very lucky to have had the opportunities that I've had. I think the fact that I've worked with most of the people involved in both of the shows for several years (i.e., director Scott Elliott, costume designer Isaac Mizrahi, set designer Derek McLane, and sound designer Ken Travis) has made the process even more enjoyable.
Threepenny and Barefoot are two very different animals. What was your approach to each?
Well, for Barefoot, we were dealing with a style that was very concrete. We were in an apartment with walls, doors, and a skylight. The goal was to create an environment where we could feel the ecstasy of being in love and the fear of uncertainty along with them, while believing where we are in a realistic world. Threepenny was all about creating a world: completing compositions that would help us understand places that didn't literally exist onstage and making a statement with each scene.
This production of Threepenny is especially presentational, if not confrontational. Does that give you more leeway as a designer, or is there a need to rein things in a bit for fear of going over the top?
I think it's a good balance of both. There are places where Brecht obviously wants you to hit the audience over the head, but a big part of what this production is about is also understanding the cultural differences between when The Threepenny Opera was written and now. There are words, ideas, and images that have completely different meanings now, based on history and experience. It's been pretty wild to have to think about that while writing each cue, rather than just deciding that a cue goes somewhere, because it's “in the music” or “it feels right.”
You served as Brian MacDevitt's associate and assistant designer for several years. What did you learn from him?
It might take pages to answer that one. I think one of the strongest lessons I learned was to not forget to step back and look at the big picture. The production process can sometimes be intense and grueling, and it's very easy to put blinders on and just concentrate on your own work. You need to be able to step back and look at what everyone else needs, too.
Now that you're the lead designer, what sort of wisdom do you find yourself passing on to your associates and assistants?
If we're not having fun, why are we doing it?