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War Song with The Plagiarists


This past weekend I opened another great show with The Plagiarists. My second professional endeavor in the realm of scenic design, War Song was a challenging script to create a world for.

From The Plagiarists’ Website:

WAR SONG is a music-and-poetry-suffused look at race and the Civil War through the eyes of Christian Fleetwood, publisher, choirmaster, Sergeant in the 4th Regiment United States Colored Infantry, and winner of The Congressional Medal of Honor. Drawn from his speech, “The Negro As Soldier,” as well as the words of Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Susie King Taylor, W.E.B. DuBois and others, WAR SONG is about war, glory, despair, America, and the old flag; the stories we tell and the songs we sing about them.

Now Playing at Berger Park Coach House, 6205 N Sheridan Rd, March 13th – April 19th, 2014. Thurs at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8:00pm.

What made this show such a challenge for me (besides still being fairly new to scene design) were a few things. The space we’re playing in is quite small compared to where we did our staged reading, so I had to find a way to fit an audience and a cast of 7 into what is basically a 25′ x 40′ space (If I am remembering the length of the room correctly.)

Berger did not have a ground plan for me, so the first step was to measure the space and create one using Google SketchUp. I had never used SketchUp before, but I discovered quite quickly how useful that program can be.

Once I got a ground plan, the next step was to figure out how to fit in seating for our goal of 30 people.  I played around in SketchUp until I found an arrangement that worked out. It left the space with a pretty solid proscenium feel. Now it was onto the set itself. (Gotta love blackbox spaces.)

In the reality of the play, Fleetwood and his wife are in their woodshed. But as Fleetwood describes his writing process to her, the woodshed opens up to become a warm cabin. To establish this feeling, the lighting designer and I had to find a way to isolate the woodshed from the rest of the stage. I played with some vertical gestures to suggest walls, but logistically it made more sense to keep those to the sides of the stage, and we landed on a fading floor treatment.

The other ‘reality’ of the play is that there is music, and therefor, a band. After many long conversations with the director, we found a way to tie them into Fleetwood’s creative arena: A Campfire. The real Fleetwood loved music, so it would only follow that in his dream world, the memory of his time spent around the army campfires during the war would have a strong presence. We put the band in army uniform, dirtied them up, and placed them around a fire with their instruments.

The campfire world was linked to the cabin through the cabin’s fireplace. The cabin was linked to the woodshed through the doors and furniture. For a relatively minimal set, there was an awful lot of thought needed to bring it to life, dreams are complicated like that.

Special thanks to the company members of The Plagiarists, for being awesome, as always, and helping with build and load in. And to Grace Pisula who came in to help paint EVERYTHING. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

I look forward to my next scenic adventure. Hopefully it’s something with spaceships, or rollercoasters, I’ve always wanted to build those things.

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