Musings of a Set Designer

Frankie & Johnny Set
Here I am doing set design, costumes, color, and props for the play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. My instinct is to have almost nothing on the stage. I never was one for a lot of clutter. I like the idea of one exaggerated bigger than life concept. To me the important props are the bed, the window, the frying pan, a glowing lamp, the phone, and the radio. They hold meaning behind the ordinary. There is no need for walls. I would put the frying pan on a black pedestal, suspend a window larger than life, the radio would glow from within, and the bed would be brimming with pillows. Every other prop could be hidden in a black box and just appear and disappear if needed. I don’t really care that the play takes place in the 1980’s in New York because Frankie and Johnny is a “mood” story about two opposing hearts that come together in beauty. In a small theatre such as Stone Soup there is little room for sets and props so what is put there must be essential. Also, during the day Stone Soup is used for various other activities, and after each performance the entire set must be cleared out. With this constraint and a small budget there is incentive to reduce the set design.

None-the-less, for this play we begin with two constructed opposing walls, the bed is in front of one and a freestanding kitchen counter with stools is in front of the other. All the remaining theatre walls and the floors are black. The two opposing walls are intimidating to me because, no matter what color of paint or texture that I put on them, they will stand out and dominate the scene, and they force me to be an interior decorator. Perhaps if I put stuff all over them we will be distracted from their big bold statement, and they will become “lived in” they will become symbols of a room. With this in mind I must select the wall and set colors, and I have chosen to be literal and to use warm colors that flatter the skin tones, and are colors of the heart and hearth. They represent fireplaces, candlelight and romance. Blues and whites are opposite on the color wheel and when used as costumes contrast nicely against the warm tones in the set. They make the actors stand out against their background.

Everyone involved in the play comes with a personal interpretation of the script and what the director is looking for. Over time as rehearsals continue, concepts evolve and practical logistics are addressed. Fortunately there is more then one right answer or concept that will work nicely for our set and I am enjoying the design evolution as well as each element of surprise.

[box]Kristina Hestenes Stimson is the set designer and costumer for Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. You can read more about Kristina on the Frankie and Johnny Cast and Crew page.[/box]