Antonio Marion was scenic , lighting, and costume designer for a production of Alice in Wonderland at Glen Oak High School in Canton, OH, at the school’s new state-of-the-art facility with a 50’x50’ black box space, the only one of its kind in the entire state. Marion worked with assistant Darryl Parson, a 3D expert who did all the 3D work/painting.
LD: What was your role on this production?
Antonio Marion: I was the scenic and lighting designer. The way out team worked is, I designed the sets, came up with a concept/vision for our director, Carla Derr to work off of, and created the “world” of Alice in Wonderland. Then, I would give my renderings and models to my co-designer, Darryl, who took what I came up with and made it come to life in 3D format on the stage.
For lighting, I acted almost as the technical director as well. Because the show was lit with only black lights, it was tricky to try and put it together in a house rigged only with dimmers that were high-voltage. We had to have had a couple dozen Edison-to-stage-pin adapters up on the grid. It was a wired mess. Then Darryl, Carla, and I threw projection into the equation for scenes like Humpty Dumpty. Darryl then came up with the vision for the opening sequence in which Alice was filmed, as a normal girl, in a classroom, drifting off while the teacher was teaching the class about Lewis Carrol’s actual book Alice in Wonderland. As she dozes off, she is in her “Alice” costume, and then the door to the classroom is the famous door that she opens. When she opens it, the show shifted into real time on stage, and Alice was in Wonderland. Darryl had a great vision for this.
LD: How were you involved in the planning stages?
AM: One of my friends, who was a carpenter on the project, threw out the idea of playing with what the physical stage would look like or be. The way that I design is, I go straight into model form; it’s just easier for me. So, I came up with the base of the set, which was a massive open storybook that floated in the air at an extreme rake that acted as the main playing space. Then, to give the show its “wonderland” vibe, I threw in some floating discs that acted as steps to get down off the main deck. After model form, I drafted out about 100 individual pieces that would move in and out of the stage, such as flowers, playing cards, tea cups, anything that was used in Wonderland. After all my plans were made, they went off to the 3D department headed by Darryl and came to life. After the plans were out the door, and the show was taking shape in the shop, I took on the task of lighting. Darryl handled the projection portion. We mulled over what and how the lighting would work, and then I went off to my little booth at the back of the orchestra and went to work. In the end, I ended up calling and running the show, it became so technically intense, I could not have taught an operator to operate and call the show in time for opening.
LD: What were your design goals?
AM: My design goals were to create something that has never been seen before…the show was produced in a high school—a 50’x50’ black box, with a grid high above. I really wanted to take that space and really make it a black box, where all you could see was the set. Everything else around you was a dark obis. I wanted no glimpse of light coming from anywhere in that space. I wanted the audience members to feel like they were floating with my floating set, like they were actually in wonderland, like this was a dream. I took inspiration when Darryl showed me some of his work at a local haunted house he designed, which I believe is in the Guinness Book of World Records, from this tunnel you entered, where a cylinder spiraled around you, and you felt like you were falling down a hole. I wanted the audience members to constantly feel like they were falling down that rabbit hole even though they were sitting in their seats.
LD: How, in both the design and technical aspects, was three-dimensionality achieved?
AM: Without giving away too many secrets, a special paint, mixed with black lighting made a one-dimensional piece of Luan, pops out at the audience. To give a perspective of how 3D live on stage looks—many say shows are already in 3D—during the card scene, it looked like cards were scattered all over the theatre, popping out at you, like you could touch them. The same applied to the teacup scene, clouds, flowers, everything. It felt like the set was all around you, rather than being restricted to the proscenium and lip of the stage.
LD: How does the lighting integrate with the set, both artistically and technically?
AM: Without the black lights, there is no 3D show. The lighting could not be seen, to go along with my design of the “dark obis,” we hung the lights on the grid, which has no headers or teasers to hide the lights on it, and hung black curtains in front of each sets of black lights so that you could not see them. Technically, having a grid with only black lights on it was a disaster, it seems simple, but it was much more complicated than you think. The special paint that was used, glowed in the dark, so if any of that shed off pieces, got on the floor or pieces painted black, or if it wasn't properly masked backstage, you could see it from the audience. There was no control of where the black light went, so we had to be very careful when we lit the show.
LD: Any programming issues or challenges?
AM: We could not dim the lighting. There was no control over the intensity of what we had. If you dimmed the black lights that we were using, which were your standard party store black light, just on a much larger scale, the bulb would bust. That was the part that I was most displeased with. I did not have what we needed to control where the light was going on stage—the intensity or where I wanted it focused. We tried using purple gels in lights, but it did not work light the black light did. So, we had to put up with it, and it is something that is being re-conceived and developed.
LD: Any particular use of color or interesting color choices for the set and/or lighting?
AM: Darryl and I did use some Parnels to wash out the set with red light before the show. The red light didn’t allow the audience to see any of the 3D until we got to the Wonderland sequence. It worked beautifully and looked really awesome. From there, during the scene changes, the creative team agreed to basically turn the room into a disco. When Alice would go from location to location in Wonderland, we wanted to make sure it seemed like the room is spinning. Gobos and strobes achieved exactly what we wanted.
LD: What was in your lighting rig?
AM: Four Parnels, which included barn doors , four Eliminator Lighting HULK 150 moving heads, seven strips of black lights, four ERS units, and one projector. The lighting was very simple, yet some of the most complicated lighting I have ever worked on. An ETC 42-channel console was used. I just needed the lights to go up and then go down. Everything was recorded on one channel. It was thankfully very simple to run, lighting-wise. From there, we also used some small moving head lights, which were operated on a separate system for various reasons. Those were operated by an Elation Professional Magic 260.
LD: What were the main design or space challenges?
AM: The main challenge was, bringing the audience down to a lower level of 3D. Everyone is used to this insane, very technological and frankly very good 3D in movie theatres. The 3D that our audience saw was almost a funhouse type of 3D. It was very simple but 3D nonetheless. We also had to make sure that things kept moving on stage. If a piece sat there for a long period of time, then the 3D would lose its effect. So we had to make sure that pieces were constantly moving in and out of the playing space. Darryl created “stage ninjas” that were basically stage crewmembers dressed all in black. Remember, when black light is used, whatever is black cannot be seen no matter how many surfaces it hits. So these stage ninjas took pieces like the clouds and slowly moved them across the stage, so it looked like the clouds were really blowing with the wind. The same technique was used with puppets and other pieces. It was the most amazing thing for the audience, not only to see the 3D, but then take a second look at it, and realize that it is all moving. This gave good support to my entire design ethic, to make it seem like everything in the room was floating, including the audience.
LD: What were the biggest challenges of this project overall?
AM: This was a new genre of theatre; nobody had seen it before, so it was interesting to watch the audience react to seeing this live. The most amazing thing was at the start of the shows, every night of the run, when the black lights turned on, and the 3D was first exposed, the audience gasped and cheered. It was the most thrilling experience. The largest challenge, I must say, were the costumes. The costumes were designed through a collaboration between our 3D expert Darryl and me. It was interesting, because the costumes had to be movable, and that is that, for me, was the biggest experiment. Some turned out great, and the actors could move, some turned out stiff and bulky. We airbrushed them, as well as the performer’s faces and hair, with the 3D paint. This was perhaps the most challenging, and the part that did not turn out to our liking. The method worked, but we needed more time to fully focus on the development of the costumes, hair, and makeup.
LD: Will the production run again?
AM: Yes, it’s currently being developed and prepped to open either On Broadway, or Off Broadway in 2011/2012.