Fault Line Theatre, which has been around for just three years, is already beginning to shake the ground of the New York City theatre scene. Aaron Rossini and Craig Wesley Divino, who studied acting in the Brown University/Trinity Rep programs, and Tristan Jeffers, a designer who assisted Eugene Lee for five years, collaborated for the first time on a production of Henry V, supported by Brown/Trinity. Jeffers’ minimal set for Rossini’s tiny-budget production (with Divino in multiple roles) consisted of an overhead projector, a handful of chairs, and a rolling scaffolding unit. “We were very proud of our final production,” says Jeffers.
When they reached New York, they each had frustrating experiences with production groups that didn’t explore texts or center on actors. “If you’re not finding the opportunity, make the opportunity to do the work you want,” Jeffers says they decided.
Resourcefulness would have to substitute for resources. “Whether it’s your own Off-Off-Broadway company or someone else’s, the thing every design department is always running up against is not a lot of time and not a lot of money,” says Jeffers, who thinks the limitations encourage imaginative solutions. Fault Line’s first production in March 2011, Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, “when we had the least money and the least helping hands,” is one of his favorites.
Fault Line rents space for each show, something that Rossini compares to renting a new apartment: in New York, spaces get snatched up pretty quickly, so they have to jump on whatever they find. This time, they found the American Theatre of Actors, which Jeffers describes as a small space with a suspended ceiling about 15' high, with half the tiles missing, walls with cracked paint, and wood boxes that hold seats, but it soon became clear that the space was ideal. “It made you feel you were in the forgotten corner of some very old library,” says Jeffers, where a scholar who has sold his soul is at work, obsessed with arcane secrets. “We would have had to make a clean theatre look less clean.”
Two large rolling chalk boards created other locales. “The boards could be walls, and a space in-between could be a doorway. Actors could flip them around to make them something else,” says Jeffers, who wanted to provide a flexible set that could conform to whatever actors discovered in rehearsal.
“The decoration of the play grew from that,” adds Jeffers. We painted every black surface with chalk and went to town on the walls with [symbols from] astronomy, alchemy, and demonology. It was pretty clear a crazy person did that. We added a ton of books, stacked in and around a hollow black case that looks like a clock. We stacked more books on top of that.” Jeffers says books were stacked so tightly that they were impossible to knock over, even though they didn’t use glue or a single nail.