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Setting The Scenic
Smith says scenic designer Eugene Lee began looking for ways to stay out of the way of the evolving script. He brought furniture and props from the theatre’s warehouse, and then each actor picked five items his character might have brought into that situation. Getz says there was a mix of nice pieces of furniture, some of which were more industrial, as might be encountered in a warehouse. As the process continued, the feel became more and more industrial: drapes and backdrops from past shows, cots or beds for everyone, and a small stove figured in the design.
Throughout the process, small props were cut and changed or handled differently than they had been at first. For instance, in two scenes, characters chase and kill rats. Getz considered remote-controlled toys, but the controls were unreliable. “The rat is so fast that we don’t really see it,” says Getz, who created rats by enclosing blood-filled bean bags in fur. When an actor chased one, furious movement distracted spectators who saw the rat when it reappeared and was hit with a baseball bat, releasing blood.
Getz adapted Paramount Stage Blood for different scenes. “There was lots of blood going everywhere, and this is very washable,” explains Getz, who diluted the blood for one cue and added chocolate for another that required a dried blood look; he also added chunks of latex to a bucket that contained blood and body parts.
Since some characters have done horrific things in their recent past in order to survive, they don’t use their own names or talk about their pasts. However, each creates a historical record, stories on video, should they not survive. Peter Sasha Hurowitz, Trinity’s sound engineer, who did video as well, says this also allowed the audience to see “the characters’ pasts and how they were different when they weren’t in this pressured situation. A big part of what Drury was getting to in the script was how to get them in and out of this other world and into the world of the play,” he says.
Where would they tell their stories, so other characters don’t hear? And how would these “catalogues,” as the characters call them, be recorded? An early idea was to catch an actor on a live camera while speaking. When they decided to pre-record, they considered synching a live actor with a video, but Hurowitz found coordinating live and recorded lip movements difficult and potentially distracting to audiences. Instead, he shot body parts—the side of a face, eyes, an ear, arms—at different angles. Audiences saw these on banks of monitors on either side of the stage. There was some activity from other actors behind the actor who was speaking. “The idea was to get the sense of the recordings—of them talking on the video without seeing their mouths too much,” says Hurowitz. “We got a sense that they were being recorded and had recorded at other times.”
Drury added three lines to one catalogue a couple of days before opening, so its length would match the length of the recorded sequences. Epstein had wanted everything to feel 100% real but found himself changing as the play changed; he struggled to blend a raw sense of reality while lighting these theatrical moments and finally “created a separate lighting vocabulary for the confessional scenes” before bleeding the two worlds together throughout the play. He says he lit the catalogues to keep them clearly outside the timeline of the play and simultaneously “related to the world we had created.”
Initially, there was to be an enclosure that each character would enter to speak privately. What would it look like? Would it move? Lee drew ideas, and the actors tested variations, but by the time the enclosure was built, it was an isolation cell for those infected by the undead and not a place for the catalogues.
When a character leaves the hideout and returns, he is shoved into the booth. After all, he might have been infected. Later another character with symptoms is thrown into it. They tried a heavy-duty plastic that was hard to light from inside; spectators wouldn’t be able to see into the booth clearly, and sound was muffled, too. Chicken wire was out for an isolation booth, since, in the plot, even breathing on someone can turn him into an undead. Finally, Smith substituted a part plastic, part Plexiglas® 4' wall with a plywood top for the enclosure, so spectators could see through the transparent Plexiglas, and crews could hide materials needed for effects behind the solid portion. They attached this wall material to a rectangular booth built out of steel. Faux plywood would have been easier to work with, but characters get slammed up on a wall inside, and Smith decided strength was essential.
Characters don’t know what’s happening outside the windowless walls in their hideout, so Hurowitz also used footage from security cameras all over the theatre, too, allowing characters and spectators to survey the surrounding environment. Were there threats lurking? Except when the generator goes out, the cameras were always on. The idea was for audiences to feel as the characters did: unsure if they could leave. When the generator goes out, characters and audiences are plummeted into darkness. “We had them sit in a blackout for 15-20 seconds,” says Smith.