Anyone who's worked with us or seen enough of our shows knows that we have a lot of specific feelings about how to design theatrical space. We have been known to go to incredibly great lengths, taxing our resources to the nth degree to make a space feel just right for both the audience and the performer. No decision becomes too small to agonize over. In the past this has meant huge, sculptural, architectural sets. When we decided to make Enlightenment on E Floor North, it was in part a push against all that building. We wanted to make a play that would allow us as creators to focus more on the physical action in the space than on the architecture in which it all occurred. To help us make sure we didn't get distracted, we built the play in a series of similar rooms around the country. Early on I had a conversation with one of our hosts, Nat May, who runs SPACE Gallery in Portland, ME. I was explaining this idea to him and he pointed out that as we developed the work each space would offer a new "premium." This was absolutely true. Based on the simple nature of the rooms we created in, various bits of the play became linked to the space and the objects in it. So much so that, while we still don't have a "set," per say, we do have to tailor a space to the show. We can't do the show anywhere. The space actually does matter -- we just don't have to build a massive sculpture in order to create the space the show needs. Because our current run in Philly is the culmination of our development of the piece, and our longest run, we have actually purchased our required elements and placed them in the space, as well as intentionally selecting a venue that is actually just a white room. The average visitor would not even notice that we placed these things in the room. They mostly look like normal room stuff that belongs there.
Here is the list of requirements:
- White walls. Blank white walls, ideally with maybe some white wainscoting and maybe other small details. Ideally a corner with a door.
- A fire extinguisher
- A security camera
- An exit sign over the door
The lesson I've learned this time around: Keeping the space simple allowed us more time to work the physical moments of the play, but no matter what we do, yes, there is always a set.