Of the many challenges faced by the design team on Baltimore's Center-stage Theater production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, working in cramped quarters wasn't one of them. In fact, director Irene Lewis opened up the stage and sent actors up, down, and all around during the production's run from February 11 through March 27. LD Rui Rita says, “The biggest challenge for the show was the sheer space. We're using the entire theatre wall to wall plus the house.” One way Rita managed to cover the space was by using what he calls his “major workhorses,” 5K ARRI Fresnels, two with scrollers and two without. “They can do nearly a full stage wash of color with one light, and the scrollers were true saviors,” he says. They did have one drawback for a rock and roll-style show; they don't do bumps very well. To get around it Rita used ETC Source Fours® for zero-count cues or set them up high before the cue.
Another challenge facing Rita was designing around 10 mirrored door panels that pivoted and moved around the stage. “If you do your homework it is not a complete nightmare,” he says. He uses strip lights to backlight the upstage, frosted sides so that they resemble glowing boxes. During the number “Who is Sylvia,” the mirrors pivot downstage and the designer can light the dancers one way through the mirror and another from the audience side so both images are visible. The strip lights are also easy on dimmers, Rita explains. “With four full stage backlights and three dimmers you can get all the way across the stage and get a good deal of color without a lot of instrumentation,” he says. Another advantage of the backlights is they bring out the texture of the stage, which is painted a metallic gray that resembles the dull side of aluminum foil.
The flying scaffold posed another set of problems. Two Source Four PARs, three L&E Mini-Strips™ and six PAR16s light the platform; the PAR16s serve as uplights and the Source Fours are used as sidelights. To fill in the faces of the actors Rita uses two front of house followspots but as the scaffold travels up into the fly space the followspots can only reach about halfway, the rest of the way has to be covered by two Rosco I-Cue Intelligent Mirrors. To cover the house when actors come out into the audience, Rita crosslit the aisles with a dozen Source Four PARs to create a color wash over everything. “The plan was to invite the audience in with a party atmosphere, create the feeling of a rally, very inclusive,” he says.
The plot takes the participants from Verona to Milan, and Rita uses warm yellow and gold tones with leaf patterns to create a bucolic atmosphere at first and harsher whites, blues, and pale lavenders to create a more modern feeling in the city. The designer's favorite cue comes during the transition between the two places as the choreographer, Luis Perez, has the performers weave in and out of the mirror doors to the song “Follow the Rainbow.” The dancers are caught in the sidelight scrollers doing a slow but constant scroll of rainbow colors to give a sense of movement.
Costume designer Catherine Zuber was happy with the contemporary take on Two Gentlemen, noting that Shakespeare himself makes references to doublets, not togas, in Julius Caesar. For her work on the production she took inspiration from a book in her collection called Fruits by Shoichi Aoki. “It's a great melange of influences and clothing and I showed it to the director and she loved the way it looked,” she says. The book documents a fashion trend by young Japanese fashionistas, known as Fruits, who combine high fashion with vintage clothing and their own creations. Both Zuber and the director thought it was a great base for the rustic milkmaids of Verona. As the characters arrive in Milan, however, the look becomes more sophisticated and modern. The girls have long straight hair, and the boys wear chic, colorful suits.
Because the performers come out into the house and get so close to the audience Zuber spent a lot of time on details, such as cufflinks and jewelry, so that there were no jarring discrepancies in the looks up close. To dress the onstage band Zuber raided a local Baltimore vintage clothing store called The Zone and decked them out in plaid pants and polyester shirts with white shoes. They evoke the 60s or 70s, and, not surprisingly, Zuber says, “They seemed to enjoy wearing them.”
Having a band onstage presented a lot more problems for sound designer David Budries. The band is placed on a moving platform that travels up and down stage, but because of space restrictions only four of the six members fit on it, the sax and trumpet player are on another platform 9' above the stage. “Headphone monitoring became essential so that they were listening to the rhythm section as if they were on the same platform and playing coherently,” Budries says. Three RCF Monitor4 speakers were mounted on mike stands on the stage level platform for the rhythm section, and the sax and trumpet players listened in using Sennheiser HD515 headphones.
Another challenge was coping with actors coming out into the house. “You are always a little a nervous that you are going to be able to keep the sound system stable,” Budries says. “I try to not mix the band sound and the vocal sound in the same hardware, which is a little unusual for a small theatre.” The vocals were mixed on an Allen and Heath ML5000 48-channel console and despite Budries' qualms about covering such a large space, one of the advantages of the performers leaving the stage was a stronger aural connection with the audience. “You are hearing the natural voice of the individual as well as the reinforced voice, that makes it a different kind of experience,” he says.
Budries used Countryman E6 head microphones. “It used to be so taboo,” he says, “but now audiences have come to expect them.” Just because they are commonplace, however, does not mean that everyone is adept at using them. Budries runs the sound program at Yale School of Drama and finds his teaching skills handy in a practical setting. “I go through a little primer with each [performer] so they know what the intention is for how to wear a head mike,” he says. “I take photographs of the actors in their microphones so they can see the proper placement,” he adds. The photographs are hung in dressing rooms so that both the performers and their dressers can refer to them.
The designer also makes an RF manual for the production and gives one to the RF runner, one to the stage manager, and keeps one himself. As well as training the cast and crew to use their sound equipment, Budries approaches his design, dare we say it, visually. “If you have two people coming together on stage it is better to have the mikes on the upstage side, if possible,” he says. An obvious concept that, like world peace and a Tony for Sound Design, seems mostly ignored.
For more on Two Gentlemen of Verona, specifically Chris Barreca's set design, see Problem/Solution on page 30.