Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blog Prompt 1: Peter's Visit/"Raised in Captivity"

Last class, our visiting guest, Peter Kallok, talked a lot about the working relationship built between a designer and a director. He mentioned several times that what is brought to the table for that first meeting is imperative to the entire process. Djola also added that it is important for the director to have some design ideas (or, at least "visions") so that both designer and director can get on the same page.

For your response, use Nicky Silver's "Raised in Captivity" to brainstorm ideas you would have for your first design meeting if you were to stage this work. Think about identifying motifs, words, textures and colors that either stand out in the play or that the reading provokes within your imagination, and how they could be translated to the stage. 

Example:  Djola mentioned a line in "BFE" in which a character says that the way you see things depends on where you're looking from - this line about perspective informed the choice of have audience seating on 3 sides.


  1. For me the line that would influence my staging of the production the most is in 2.1 when Bernadette says: “…Everything goes from black to white and vice-versa”. I would want to try and use as little color as possible in the set to physically embody that line. I would play a lot with light, especially in the scenes between Sebastian and Dylan to show the contrast between their letters and the actual face-to-face interactions between characters in the play. I love the image in the beginning of the gravestones that look like rotting teeth and that is something that I would want to play around with. I think there could potentially be a nice parallel between the tombstones in the beginning and the “paintings” that Kip does that are all white.

  2. I have come up with some initial design ideas throughout my first read of “Raised in Captivity” by Nicky Silver. I want to explore the possibilities of reflecting the absurd nature of the play through the design. That could manifest itself in a number of ways, although I am not sure how yet. Due to the dark nature of the themes of this play, my first reaction is to play with angles and lines. I want to explore sharp angles, diagonal lines, and twisted or warped set pieces. These angles could help connect to the themes of the play: death, love, sacrifice, search for meaning and religion, etc. I want to create an unsteady feeling to the set, a sense that something is off balance. Maybe an interesting rake could help me achieve this.
    One idea I had about playing with lines was using steel or metal to build part of the set, or using steel bars in a way that evokes an idea or hint of a jail cell. Or I could use a gel to send a lined pattern of light on the floor of the set. This idea of a jail cell, like the one that the character Dylan is trapped in, has captivated me. Whether it is by using steel or lighting or the structure design of the set, I think it would be really interesting to incorporate this into the design. This theme of feeling trapped, “captive”, and searching for freedom/redemption/salvation could be emphasized by working with the visual concept of a jail cell: small, black and white, metallic bars, parallel lines. Some colors that I would like to think about using are black, grey, white, and red. I want to look at using red because reminds me of passion, of love, of blood (that was spilled when Dylan’s throat was cut), of murder, violence, danger.
    I want to explore using black and white colors to create some kind of contrast. There are two lines in the play that really stood out for me: Kip says: “ I just recently learned to see” and Hilary responds “I just recently went blind” (Silver, 56). I want to work with this concept of seeing and not seeing. Many of the characters struggle to see or come to terms with their issues: Kip paints blank white pictures and claims he has found his way to seeing his life clearly, to finding happiness while his wife Bernadette cannot see the truth of her father’s identity. Hilary blinds herself to try to find salvation and absolve herself of her guilt. The concept of seeing both literally and figuratively (or not seeing) intrigues me. These lines (stated previously) reminded me of the song “Amazing Grace”. I think it would be good juxtaposition to look at the concept of spiritual realization/salvation (seeing) and struggling to obtain that (not seeing). Perhaps the song can play at one point, or a cross can be included in the design of the cemetery in Act 1. These are some of my initial brainstorming ideas. Many of these ideas will probably change and transform as I conduct more research and do some more exploration.

  3. In this play, the identifiable motifs are hidden feelings and displacement of emotions. Every character, as this is a character driven piece, has many problems that are shoved aside throughout their lives. The beginning catalyst, the death of Sebastian and Bernadette’s mother, drives all the characters towards individual confrontations of their inadequacies and hidden fears. Throughout the play, there should be pristine images that slowly come crumbling down towards chaos.
    This will be most featured in Kip and Bernadette’s house. At first, this house will be sleek and modern. The furniture should be smooth, white and black. Then, there will be added mess and color added in each scene. First, it will be Kip’s art. Then, misplaced pillows, comforters, dying flowers, and decaying fruit will be added sporadically.
    Bernadette, in the beginning will have her hair swept up in a high, fashionable up-do. Slowly, her hair will come undone and will end with it sweeping at her back, preferably unbrushed. Her clothing will always be vibrant and boldly colored. Kip, once he becomes an artist will have the same outfit on at all times.
    Sebastian’s house will be unappealing. His color schemes will be brown, grey, and black, focusing mostly on the browns. His house will look dinghy and mostly feature a brown couch with the stuffing coming out of it. Hilary’s wardrobe is featured in the script as being professional with a sudden change to rags. Her office should appear professional as well.
    Lastly, whenever Dylan is on the stage a soft blue light should be focused on him to give him a distant angelic appearance. His last appearance, when he is discussing his murder should feature him with a violent red light.

  4. (this is Phi Anh) For this play, I think what makes it so funny and so tragic is the idea that such ridiculous turns of emotions and actions can actually happen. It can be unbelievable that someone would actually pluck out her own eyes, stabbing her own hands, or painting "white paintings" - but because it does happen on stage, the audience (automatically) suspends the disbelief. I think for this particular play, the stronger the suspension of disbelief, the stronger the absurdity, the greater the enjoyment. Hence, I would like a design that is grounded in as much reality as possible, as if forcing the audience to consider the absurd situations a highly likely possibility in real life ("somewhere sometimes there might be actually a Sebestian or a Hillary living just like that"), and thus able to sympathize more with the characters and identify more with their actions.

    However, I also think the play has many moments which demand a different treatment in design. The scenes where characters interact should be kept as realistic as possible, but moments when characters are in solitude or high emotional states (Sebastian especially) should be given a very minimalistic treatment. This should not be confused with anything that trigger the idea of bizarreness (especially when Sebastian talks to his mommy), as I would want such moments to give full focus to the character and what he has to say, without distractions.

    One other thing I notice in the play is the idea of distance. When Sebastian talks to Dylan via letters, they are physically far from each other, but emotionally and vocally close. Whereas Kip and Bernadette are always close physically, but they just do not respond to each other emotionally. I hence think of setting this play on a wide stage, not only to accommodate different settings in the play, but mainly to allow actors to have his own space, to evoke this idea that everyone in this play has his own world to constantly indulge in - despite the obvious physical opportunities to move closer to each other.

  5. When preparing for the first meeting with a designer (about Raised in Captivity) I would come prepared with:

    - My proposal for the initial concept regarding design, hoping to support the themes within the play:
    To show the huge transformation of mood from act one to act two, I was thinking of the stage starting out extremely “normal” looking (from costumes to set).
    By the second act, I would want the intensity and craziness of the play be shown through a perspective change for the audience. This would also a metaphor for the distance that grows between most of the characters. The set would be created with one half causing an actor to look too small (closer to the audience), while the other half of the stage would make the actor look to big.
    The costumes should stay the same so that the audience can have something to compare the dramatic shift from one act to another.
    I feel a smaller angled (not square) set where the walls slowly move in as the play unfolds, would most appropriate with the emotions of the characters.
    Microphones will be altered by second act to ensure that the the actors voices agree with the visual perspective change.
    Lighting wise I see all of act one being reminiscent of The Brady Bunch. This will help the humor that quickly turns dark be starkly contrasted by “the perfect family” kind of image.
    By second act I would love to see a subtly light change to florescent light that an insane asylum would have.
    Music wise, it should be completely silent as to not interrupt the flow of the script. There will need to be many pauses in the second half in order to create a good rhythm that the audience can comprehend (rather than be overwhelmed by).
    Color wise I feel the set should be as plane jane as it gets. It should represent a normal boring family, and appear almost like The Brady Bunch, giving a sense of sitcom.
    Sent wise, I would like the beginning of the play to fill the room with a very sterile smell, supporting the idea of a therapist's office.
    Time wise I would rather things to appear timeless, so that no audience member can pinpoint exactly what year it is based in (within our modern century).
    Texture wise, I would like “normal family image” paired with a almost too sterile living environment. This can be described through the textures of the floors/walls and so forth.

  6. (Ben S)Extremely powerful visual opportunities in the first scene. A graveyard is a very powerful archetype image. There are many a neat things that could be done with it. My first impulse was that I wanted to have the tombstones come out of the floor and then disappear into it again.

    This could work if there was an orchestra pit, but since there is no such thing at Hampshire College that can't really be done.

    The first scene really sets off a chord in me that just keeps ringing (although it changes sharply in pitch in the second act) until the curtain falls.
    I visualize it almost comically exaggerated.

    Mist creeping across the floor, a dead tree, a strange and slightly haunting soundscape in the background.

    The mist would still carry over into the second scene in the office, which I think puts an interesting angle to the scene. Seeing that their relationship dies. It is also the linger of the encounter in the graveyard/funeral that prompts the choice to discontinue the therapy.

    The thing I always have a tendency to look the most at is lighting. I want really snappy scene changes that are emphasized by light, as to not confuse the audience.

    For example I want Bernadette to already be half-way onto the stage when Hillary stabs herself with the letter-opener at the end of scene two. Preferably crossing in front of Hillary to reach her living room.

    In my mind there is rarely a time for a "general" lighting of the space and most of it will be managed with soft warm colors juxtaposed with cold, and slashing across the stage to impose some big looming shadows.

    The script as written deals with many interesting abstractions and strange, quick changes in the direction. But the second act is lacking in pace and can quickly grow stale.

    This staleness feels intentional and shifting gears for the play as a whole. It makes me want to play a lot with uncomfortable silences. To the point of almost breaking the audience.

    I actually quite like that stark contrast from the snappyness from the first act. Toying with it could be greatly entertaining.

    Seeing that I need quick changes to the set to uphold the pace in the first act I see desks turning into mantle-pieces by being pulled into mock walls. I am also a huge fan of clever design tricks, like leaning a couch on it end to make it into a different piece of furniture, or leaning a table against a wall to turn it into a cupboard.

    I would probably stage it on the short end of the blackbox, making the space as tight as possible, claustrophobic.

    I would also make an awesome challenge for myself as a director and for the prospective actors. Challenges are always the best.

  7. I am sorry this comment is so ineloquent. My browser quit on me earlier and thus destroyed my earlier draft. Now I have forgotten some of my insights.

    I like what everyone has to say here. I will try not to borrow too much.

    I want the audience to be on an angle to instinctively get the sense that the characters are off balance much of the time.

    I would want the lighting to be very intuitive, changing subtly and frequently to reflect the changes taking place.

    I would want to be minimalist in my approach. Scene changes would be quick and fluid to keep the audience engaged in the play.

    In Bernadette and Kip's house I would have few but large furniture pieces to give them a physical means of forcing distance upon each other.

    In Hillary's office I would want only a seat for Sebastian and a chair for Hillary to show how she wants an intimacy which is inappropriate to have with a patient.

    In the nursery when Sebastian is reading the letter from Dylan I would want a tall crib. That way I could have light shining through it onto Dylan. It would create bars of light and shadow, for in this scene Dylan is bound not only by prison, but by his own self loathing and Sebastian's obsession.

    I would also hope to start working with the actors to see how their interpretations of the characters would affect my own perception of the play. I am often pleasantly surprised, but time does not always allow for that.

  8. To me the aspect of the play that keeps popping up in my mind is the idea of multiple faces. Given that Miranda and Hillary are played by the same actors, as are Dylan and Roger, and the fact that Kip and Hillary's ex-husband look exactly alike, I wonder how that could play out in the staging and design of the play. My first instinct is to have reflections or shadows (or anything giving the illusion of more people) be involved in the set design.

    To get more specific I'd think of where the characters live. For Kip and Bernadette I think of a cookie-cutter suburban home. Sebastian, I imagine in a low-income part of a city, but not a cultural hub city like LA, instead a Sacramento or Kansas City. Hillary's office would be similarly low-income but better kept than Sebastian's apartment.

    Any walls or floor would be painted black/white as a neutral as well as to represent the foils each character plays to another, as well as the foils of the duplicate faces throughout the play. To allude to locations I'd have brightly colored set pieces moved in that corresponded to the somewhat ridiculous nature of the characters.

    And tying back into the reflection theme, I would highly suggest lighting play with the actors shadows, as well as having at least one mirror on set. What also might be fun would be having the shapes of tall headstones in the background at all times that could be backlit during the more tense scenes (Hillary mutilating herself, Dylan describing the murder he committed, etc) to cast bar-like shadows.

    These are ideas that I think would be interesting to play with, and even though I'm not sure if they all go together it'd be worth playing with if I were to stage the play.

  9. Alek S.-

    I think the approach to how you design a play like this really has to be in how the play approaches its themes. Not realistic, but honest. I would love to play with surreal elements that match the extremities of the characters. 'Sebastian is a real person, but no real person acts this way.' Using that same logic is how you should control the settings. 'This is a graveyard, but no graveyard looks like this.' While reading the play, and watching the dysfunction of each character's life loom over the other like a foreboding shadow...I felt like I was reading something with the essence of German Expressionism...perhaps mixed with the work of Salvador Dali. Perhaps a clock in the back of the set starts out as a normal clock, but as the play progresses it melts. The characters never seem to notice, it's as if time has stopped (or doesn't exist). The characters are trapped within these situations as Sebastian is trapped and immune to emotional development. The lighting would start out more even on the characters (though perhaps a little harsher on the sets, with very sharp shadows); it would also be more 3/4 lighting. But as the play goes on, the lights become harsher and characters are mostly lit from above...making them blend into the background as shadows with bright light streaking through them. How the stage reacts to the audience would be based around the feeling of 'being on edge'. The corners of the stage would taper into the audience, and characters who moved to these corners would feel separated from action and everything else. Hopefully this would make a unique relationship with the audience, and could be useful in portraying the overlapping time and space of the "montage scenes" (where multiple characters are speaking, but are separate). The main musical inspiration for me is Philip Glass, because his work is both fitting in tone and entirely opposite. In the play, time seems to stop as the scenes digress into insanity, but towards the end things continue. It has a 'life goes on' sort of ending. Philip Glass' music would be perfect because of it's beautiful repetitious themes...they reflect the feeling of watching a grandfather clock, and no matter how much it feels like a moment will never does...and our lives continue. I hope that makes sense.

    I hope this doesn't feel too discombobulated!



  10. As far as I can tell, Raised in Captivity begins just a little bit off, and progressively gets more and more extreme. I would rely on several tools to emphasize this, lighting being perhaps foremost among them (to create divisions between characters, to manipulate the mood of the play, and to play with the set itself through use of shadows). Each set change could also introduce stranger and stranger set pieces to the play - or even better, use easily expected pieces in unusual ways (for example, instead of having a character sit on an armchair, laying an armchair on its side to indicate the corner of a wall).

    According to this, the first scene would be the most regular (perhaps ironic considering its graveyard setting). As such, I envision it being just a bit too regular - gravestones in orderly rows, brightly and naturally lit to suggest pleasant weather - the better to set off Kip's discomfort. The last scene, in Bernadette and Kip's house, would correspondingly be the strangest, despite the apparently conventional most-likely-suburban setting (a couch with one or more cushions missing, a table uselessly upside down, and so on). Of course, it would be necessary to make sure that the transition is gradual; a sudden, drastic alteration could be seen as hitting the audience over the head with it.

    The performance space would ideally not be at a right angle to the space as a whole, and need not even be at a right angle to the audience.

    To return briefly to the lighting-to-create-distance idea: it is mentioned in the script for the first scene, to initially separate Sebastian from Kip and Bernadette, and later on during the letter-reading scenes to separate Sebastian and Dylan. I wouldn't limit it to those; I'd employ it at certain other points too, particularly - perhaps exclusively - where Sebastian is involved (as I see his emotional distance as the play's primary focus). These moments would include (and might be limited to) Sebastian's initial scene with Hillary and his scene with his mother, forcing visual gaps between them. It might also work to continue using those gaps for every scene of Sebastian's with the exception of the prostitute's cutting his throat and the final moment of the play with Bernadette (if we take these to represent his first, unsuccessful attempt to connect with a human, and his second, successful one).

    This is my vision for the performance; though it doesn't put so many requirements on the actual stage and set design, I hope that it would meet a designer halfway.


  11. Sam Dean

    For someone designing the stage for a production of Nicky Silver’s Raised in Captivity, it would be important not to design on a scene-by-scene basis. The play goes through dramatic tonal shifts, so if each scene had a stage design that fit its mood, the disconnect between scenes would become even more dramatic.

    It is important that the play have a visual consistency to help the audience reconcile the changes that occur, particularly at the end of act one. The designer should find a middle ground between the tones of act one and act two, and stick with it from the beginning to the end.

    To achieve the perfect balance between the two acts, the director and designer should figure out a balance between realism and surrealism. Even in the beginning of the play when a realist approach would perfectly well, there should be surrealist elements. This way the audience will be more prepared for second act, which requires a much more surreal style.

  12. Since Raised in Captivity is so complex and has so much life in its writing alone, I would be minimal with the set so that the attention is more on the characters. Since the play is surreal in nature, I would make the set more abstract than realistic, using as few objects as possible to portray a setting. I'm interested in the idea of "captivity" and how that plays into the setting. i might use projection to display the image of bars in the background of certain scenes. I would play with levels for the scene that Bernadette, Sebastian and Dylan are all part of, by making Dylan on a higher platform, so he is out of reach, Bernadette on stage level because she is grounded, and Sebastian somewhere in between. Since the play is a tragicomedy, the lighting would reflect that. There would be sharp contrast between the light representing the humor and the darkness that compliments the dark themes of the play.