Creating the landscapes of a mind: Prof. Lynne Porter designs scenery for new play

Submitted by Carolyn Arnold, Assistant Director, Marketing & Communications on May 22, 2013

If your mind were a theatre stage setting, what would it look like? Prof. Lynne Porter, associate professor of theatre, recently spent part of her sabbatical creating a production set that reflected the main character’s mind in the recent world premiere production of The Tragedy of King Arthur, By W. Shakespeare; a play by Arthur Phillips. ARTHUR Set Model

“It’s just been an absolute blast working on this production,” Prof. Porter said during the second week of performance. The play is based on a novel that received many accolades, including being a New York Times Notable book.  Part of the book is a faux-memoir about a novelist whose con-man father bequeaths a long-lost and forgotten Shakespeare play about King Arthur to him and his twin sister. On top of all of that, it also includes a five-act “Shakespearian” King Arthur play, written in a very convincing manner. The catch is, of course, that the play may be a fake and Phillips, the main character, has to wrestle with the truth of the play along with his feelings about his father.

The play was debuted through The Guerrilla Shakespeare Project (GSP) in New York City. Prof. Porter was asked to be the Scenic Designer by Tom Schwans, a founding member of GSP, who had also served as a guest director for several of Theatre Fairfield’s productions. Both sides were eager to work together on the play.

“I was delighted to take this project on,” said Prof. Porter. “This is an ambitious project because the production melds the novel’s memoir with the Shakespeare play.

It smashes the two halves of the book together in fun and wonderful ways and the action flows seamlessly between the two worlds.  That raises some fun challenges for the designer.

The two very different settings in the play would seem to lend themselves to different scenery. “Jordan Reeves, the director, said that he felt like the set needed to be different levels of the character’s mind.  I grabbed onto the idea that it takes place in the world of his head.”

Lynne-Arthur-Set copy

(L-R): Jordan Reeves, GSP Artistic Director; Lynne Porter, Set Designer; and Jacques Roy, GSP Producitng Director and “Arthur” in the play. Photo: Tom Schwans: GSP Executive Director

This resulted in a set that Prof. Porter describes as, “essentially Harry Potter’s room of requirement meets the inside of Arthur Phillips’ mind.” Whatever the character needs such as a desk at which to write, books that he’s read, or memories from his childhood, are present and available to access. At the same time, the elements needed to translate for King Arthur’s world as well. “This allowed the set to become both whimsical and fantastical,” Prof. Porter explained.

Once the model was developed, construction for the set took about three weeks, which was fast, but not atypical for theatre, according to Prof. Porter.  What was atypical was the amount of detail that was put into the scenery and the dual uses of the set pieces.

While on sabbatical this semester to work on the well-received GSP production, Prof. Porter is also designing a production of Superior Donuts for the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, as well working on a book project.  She is also eagerly anticipating designing for Theatre Fairfield productions next season.  It is not unusual for her to be creating one setting while planning an entirely different one. “[Scenic design] is my form of publication,” she explained. “And it’s important that I be involved with professional theatre productions. That feeds into my work as an educator and a scholar.”

“A Theatre education is great training for anything in life,” she continued. “Like any liberal art, it teaches students how to research, think, and communicate what you have figured out.  But unlike any other discipline, it teaches you empathy for others, collaboration skills, responsibility to other people, and the grit needed to simply get the job done.   This is a combination of experiences that you don’t normally find in a typical college classroom.” And it’s hands-on. “After everything is planned in theory, you have to actually make it.  That’s where the theory meets reality, and a host of decisions have to be made.” There’s something so visceral about theatre,” Prof. Porter reflected. “We make something real—we make experiences for our audiences–but at the same time it’s ephemeral and transitory.  That’s what makes good theatre so powerful.”

 

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