Set designer Beowulf Boritt talks about his role in the design of Rock of Ages, where the scenic elements blend with the video and lighting.
Live Design: What was the basic design intent for the set?
Beowulf Boritt: I often think that a set ought to be the “temple of…” Is it a story about money, about power? And I try to make the set reflect that in almost a religious way. Rock of Ages starts with the narrator, Lonny, saying we are in the “Temple of Rock And Roll Kiss Assery,” so that was my defining image!
LD: How did you design one set to morph into various locations?
BB: The play goes to many locations, but we tended not to try and realistically reflect that. A few locations were important, so I created a flipper wall with a wagon attached, which could instantly pivot little locales onto the stage. It reveals the bathroom for the all-important sex scene, but also provides us with several other locations in the show. The emotional world of the rockin’ 80s on the Sunset Strip was the defining and controlling image of the play, and lighting and projections gave hints about location when needed. When we moved the show to Broadway, I added an enormous sparkly sheer curtain, which blocks out most of the set for the strip-club scenes. It looked like a curtain made of underwear or worse!
LD: How does the video integrate into the scenic concept?
BB: The video wall is dressed to look like a big window in the Bourbon Room, our main location. When we are in the club, often the window just shows an LA vista of palm trees, but it can provide other locales too—and more importantly, the video provides lots of great references to 80s rock videos.
LD: Was it a challenge to (almost) always have the band on stage?
BB: Visually, the band on stage was great, except for dealing with the sound baffle for the drummer. It turned out we had to completely encase in the drummer in a Plexiglas box to control the sound. I hated that and always disparagingly called it the big ice cube center stage. First we tried to feature it, but it didn’t look so great, so in the end I did everything I could to minimize it. Luckily, the show is so busy that the drum box kind of blends in and disappears.
LD: How did you work with the lighting designer to define each area and locale?
BB: Jason Lyons and I have worked together many times, and we kept in touch about practicals and a lot of set-mounted gear. Luckily, because the main set is a club, there was nothing weird about visible lights and speakers in the club—the more the better. We also worked together on custom templates to wash out the gritty Sunset Strip signs for the final countdown when the show’s villain is trying to clean up the Strip and replace the strip clubs with Toys ‘R’ Us, and that kind of thing.
LD: Is there a specific inspiration for the look of the club and how did you research all those fabulous props on the walls?
BB: Early in the process, I went to LA and spent an evening on the Sunset Strip with Kirsten Hanggi, the director, and Chris D’Arienzo, the writer, looking at clubs that are still there from the period. I took a lot of pictures and then watched a lot of 80s videos to get the flavor of the world we wanted. Motley Crue's “Girls, Girls, Girls” video was a key piece of research. It’s clearly the 80s, but still a pretty cool video, and I tried to make the set feel that way—80s without being kitschy and dumb looking. I had a fantastic props man Off Broadway, Buist Bickley, who found all the fantastic bar dressing for us. It was a monumental job, and he was a huge asset to the production! My associate designer, Jo Winiarski, did a huge amount of the dressing too. One day I sent her to 34th Street to buy $100 of women’s underwear to drape around the set. She said it made her feel dirty, but it looked great!
LD: What do you think works best about the scenic design for Rock Of Ages?
BB: I love to sit in the mezzanine at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre because you really get the sense of the whole Sunset Strip stretched out before you, with the Bourbon Room club right at the focus of it all. With all the crazy billboards through the house, and the posters on the walls, and the giant neon signs, you really feel the energy of the Strip, I hope.