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Artfully curated by Culturadar

< A “PAJAMA GAME” FOR 2017 | Main | THE RED SHOES >


October 30, 2017

Set Designer Bunny Christie's People, Places and Things

The National Theater/Headlong Production of People, Places and Things arrives at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn after a sold-out, critically-lauded run in London’s West End.  Written by Duncan MacMillan and directed by Jeremy Herrin, it stars Denise Gough (Angels in America), who is reprising her Olivier Award winning performance as a woman battling her demons.


People, Places and Things also features set design by one of the most inventive and acclaimed designers working in the theater today. Bunny Christie, whose credits include The Red Barn and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (for which she won the Olivier and Tony Awards), has brought her West End set to Brooklyn for this production.  We spoke with her about her career and her work on this show.


Culturadar: You went to Central School of Art in London.  How did you decide to pursue Set Design?

Bunny Christie: When I went to Central St. Martin’s, the Theatre Design Department seemed like much more fun than other disciplines—a little bit anarchic and playful. Also doing Fine Art, which I originally thought I would do, is very solitary. In Theatre Design, we work collaboratively all the time. 


CR: Your work is not what we traditionally think of as isolated “set design.”  Most of your designs feel really integrated with the direction and characters.  Can you tell us about your process and how you approach each project?

BC: Storytelling and character are really important to me. So the atmosphere, environment and the visual arc of the evening are crucial. The set mustn’t hold things up but can almost be another character in the show.  When I read a script, I am keeping a note of how the writing makes me feel. Often I will read it out loud so I get a sense of rhythm and timings.  And of course a close relationship with the director is important so that I know what their take on the show is and to make sure they know what the set can do for each moment. Often a set used well can do a lot of storytelling and deliver an emotional punch.
 


Set design for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time



CR: The stunning set design for Curious Incident on Broadway also seamlessly integrated lighting design.  How did you and the lighting designer collaborate to create the world of that show?

BC: Paule Constable who lit Curious is brilliant, of course. We have worked together often.

The lighting design is absolutely vital to me. As I’m designing, I imagine the design in light. I will light my model boxes as I work.  While I was working on Curious I would call or email Paule to ask her advice or opinion on design elements and make sure what I’m imagining is achievable.

Then, when Paule came fully on board she was adding layers of light and focus. We are checking in with each other all the time as we put the show together.


Set design for People, Places and Things. Photo by Teddy Wolff.



CR: People, Places and Things is about an actor in rehab. How did the character’s addiction influence the design?  What was the inspiration for this design?

BC: I was using the themes of disorientation and hallucination in People, Places and Things. Also the metaphor of performing is important. “Who are you being” is a question in the show. The design makes it hard to know which way is which. Are the audience onstage or in the auditorium? Is she able to see us or are we an illusion? Are the walls solid or is it all pretend? 

When Jeremy sent me the script for the show I was only half way through when I was messaging him saying – yes, yes I really want to design this. Duncan writes such exciting stuff for a designer.


CR: Did you have to change the London design to adapt it for St. Ann’s Warehouse?  What was unique or problematic about this space?

BC: The set is bigger for St Ann’s and truly symmetrical so the feeling of the space being mirrored is really nice. The set was totally re-built with it and seating designed specifically to fit St Ann’s which is such an exciting and vibrant space.


Set design for People, Places and Things. Photo by Teddy Wolff.


CR: How did the decision to put the audience on both sides of the actors come about?

BC: Jeremy Herrin and I tried many different versions before we came upon that idea. It means that as you watch the play, you also watch other people in the audience. It makes for a very shared experience of the show. It puts Emma in the centre of humanity and surrounds her with her audience. As a lot of the show deals specifically with her experience of being an actress, that felt really good.


CR: What has been your most challenging project to work on and why?

BC: Oh - every show is challenging.  I keep thinking it should get easier and it doesn’t. And often it’s the bits that you think will be really difficult that are actually quite easy and the hard stuff comes from somewhere totally unexpected. Budgets and technical problems are challenging.  Ideas are fun to dream up but then you have to work out how to make them actually happen.

 

People, Places and Things has been extended through December 3.  For tickets and information visit: http://stannswarehouse.org/

 

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Nella Vera blogs for Culturadar and is the Director of Marketing for BFV Management, a theatrical producing company.  @spinstripes




Posted at 3:33 PM

< A “PAJAMA GAME” FOR 2017 | Main | THE RED SHOES >