Well, we are up and running! Tonight was our third preview. The audiences have been very responsive. It's an exciting time. All the members of the creative team on GRACELAND want to take full advantage of our preview period to continue to explore Ellen's play and refine our choices. We rehearse during the day for several hours before each evening's performance. Today we implemented many new elements during our rehearsal time, from edits in the writing to changes in the design. For example, the final scene of the play takes place on the rooftop of a building. This is totally different location from all of the previous scenes in the play- a design challenge that was, well...challenging to solve.
We tried several options to transform the space during tech and the first two previews, but none felt quite right. Kudos to Paige Evans, the head of LCT3, for gently (yet insistently) prodding Henry, Robin (our set designer), and especially Aaron (our projection designer) to continue seek an even more compelling way of transforming the space. At first, we were projecting an image of a skyline on to a traditional projection screen. Unfortunately, the mechanical screen came down extremely slowly and oddly evoked a corporate powerpoint session or an old school overhead projector (not the effect we were going for!). Now, just to give you an idea of how your sense of time changes when you are watching theater, the mechanical screen actually only took 45 seconds to come down. But in theatrical terms, a 45 second transition feels like an eternity.
Next we tried replacing the mechanical screen with a simple fabric screen that would easily unfurl in a matter of seconds. This solution worked very well- the transition was lightening quick- however, it still felt a bit like a clever solution to a less-than-ideal situation rather than a strong design choice. Lastly (and I wish I could give credit where it is due, but I have no idea who was the one to come up with it), we had the idea of ditching the screen altogether and projecting the image directly on to the back wall of the set. Eureka... almost. The image looked amazing on the back wall. However (and here is where Paige really took a stand), the image of the Chicago skyline we were using didn't quite give the appropriate feeling of height (the scene is supposed to take place on the 35th floor of a highrise).
Aaron Rhyne took the note and built a new projection image that conveys a clearer sense of height. He added structural elements in the foreground -a water tower and a brick ledge- that clearly convey the sense of rooftop, a cloudscape that somehow indicates receding distance, and a lovely array of skyscrapers to give a sense of height and visual sweep. The ultimate solution is at once so much more vivid and detailed than what we had previously tried and yet also much simpler and cleaner. More changes are coming for tomorrow's show... stay tuned!
Jenny Mercein is the Assistant Director for GRACELAND.