Monday, February 26, 2007

GRACE: Notes from the set designer

First day of GRACE rehearsal. Table reading of the script, designer presentations. Steve Waldschmidt is our set designer (you saw his design work in A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR and THE QUARREL), and won't be joining us from Alberta until Saturday, so he sent some notes on the drawings and model he'd sent on ahead.

I think they give a fascinating glimpse into the world of our next mainstage show, so Steve's let me share some excerpts with you.
First of all, I am thrilled to work with this group of people, and I am thrilled to be working on this particular script. It's the first play I've ever read that made my feet sweat—a real page-turner, but filled with a desperation and with timely questions and critique about North American culture and a distorted version of Christianity that make my... well, that make my feet sweat.

What most struck me about the story is the impersonal superficiality of their lives. The woman in the rental office—Peggy, Patsy, Pamby? No one knows her and it doesn’t matter. Like the apartments, people are all seen as the same and not worth really knowing. Sarah first, and then Sam, begin to resist that pressure of anonymity. And the impermanence of their lives in Florida is huge. Have either of these neighbours even finished unpacking?

And then there’s the get rich quick scheme, set in the sunshine state. I’m in the middle of a book called ‘The Orchid Thief’ (Ron's note: Susan Orlean's unadaptable book was adapted into the remarkable film, ADAPTATION) and this quote describes the world of GRACE so well it’s worth repeating here:

“The state of Florida does incite people. It gives them big ideas. They don’t exactly drift here: They come on purpose—and Florida seems like the kind of place where you can try anything, the kind of place that for centuries has made entrepreneurs’ mouths water. It is moldable, reinventable. It has been added to, subtracted from, drained, ditched, paved, dredged, irrigated, cultivated, wrestled from the wild, restored to the wild, flooded, platted, set on fire. Things are always being taken out of Florida or smuggled in. The flow in and out is so constant that what exactly the state consists of is different from day to day… Sometimes I think I’ve figured out some order in the universe, but then I find myself in Florida, swamped by incongruity and paradox, and I have to start all over again.”

So this renovation business, this flipping of real estate. Cosmetic upgrades to raise an appraisal value. It sure fits with the ‘health & wealth gospel’—a perversion of Christianity that is strangely only popular in North America. Relationship with God is reduced to a formula or ‘spiritual principles’ and you can control the universe if you do just the right things in just the right order—financial prosperity and happiness guaranteed by God. (Sound more like superstition or black magic than Christianity, actually.) A religion made for suburbia and the culture of consumerism.

And then there’s the overlapping, identical apartments. furnished rental apartments. Kitschy, tacky, stereotypical and candy-coated in the so-called ‘Florida-style.’ An address on Ocean Drive, miles from the water with a picture-window view of the concrete warehouse next door. Constant vigilance to prevent termites and bugs filling the walls and replacing the building's actual structure. Seeing past the glossy surface to the cheap, insubstantial interior.

There's a fifth un-named character in the play — time.... Space and time are fluid in the world of the play—but there’s a naturalism as well. Cause and effect. How can we get a sense of time itself to be visible on the set? Clocks? No. What else? What about layers of paint and wallpaper? Good idea, Angela!

That’s all for now—see you Saturday!


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