Designers are those creative folk that bring the magic to a barren stage; that element of ‘wow’ when a really great set is revealed and we are transported into the world of Maria Callas in Master Class or Claudio and Isabella in Measure For Measure or Yasmina Reza’s world of Art or legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick’s office in Moonlight and Magnolias
Shaun Gurton is responsible for designing these sets and many more in an award winning career of design. His most recent design was for Red Stitch Actors Theatre’s The Flick – Annie Baker’s play that is set in a run down movie palace in Massachusetts and follows three underpaid movie ushers who do the humdrum and tedious labor necessary for keeping it running – and he talks about his process:
The Red Stitch production of THE FLICK began its life in a site specific venue A small bar in Hardware lane in the city called SHEBEEN.
The director Nadia Tass and I had recently collaborated on a production of THE OTHER PLACE for MTC. It was performed at the Playhouse at the arts centre.
Nadia works very closely with actors and is always stimulated working with Red Stitch in a small and intimate space. I have designed for the company before and always enjoy the challenge of creating a space that works for each play.
The production in SHEBEEN was a joint effort with MIFF .The obvious film link made for a good marketing ploy. The venue proved to be difficult both technically and as a working environment for the actors. The performing space was a band room used a lot on weekends. It sat below a very noisy bar and the atmosphere was atmospheric but distracting .
THE FLICK set demands that the designer creates the auditorium of a small run down cinema. The actors use the cinema seats as the basis for their actions in the play. Sweeping between the aisles sitting on the seats etc. A workable projection booth at the back of the set is also critical.
Sightline issues proved to be a problem in this venue and needed constant attention from the stitch production staff. Also the set had to be struck and rebuilt to allow for band nights. Nadia and the actors overcame these problems and created a memorable night in the theatre.
Because of it’s success Red Stitch decided to remount the play in their own theatre. It was the perfect venue for this play.
The very simple but dramatic image of old style orange cinema seats facing the red seats of the auditorium brought the actors and audience together and the focus could always be on the actors without any distractions.
We built the projection booth into the back wall .created a cinema style swing door in one of the side walls ,painted the whole room black and hung a faded dark poster of the film JULES AND JIM on the back wall. The design is stripped back to the essentials. Actors Theatre.
Early in the planning of the first production the production manager bought some secondhand 1960s cinema chairs . They were bulky, made of cast iron difficult to manage but proved to be the most important part of the set.
As Red Stitch is a very hands on company the set builds have to be easy and inexpensive. They have to be be built in a small shed behind the theatre and also in the venue during production week.
Some designers build their own sets. For this production I supplied technical drawings of the set requirements and they were built by a small team of people from the production dept.
David Parker the lighting designer had a lot of input into the set positioning as light from the projector played a critical role in the production. The freelance costume and sound designers requested by Nadia also brought their attention and skills to create a small piece of cinema magic in this perfect intimate theatre.
The Flick runs till May 23 at Red Stitch Theatre Chapel St St.Kilda