Set Design Blog: written by Luke Grant
I’m Luke and I playing a sort of crucial role in the dark fairy tale musical, “Into the Woods” as the ‘Mysterious Man’ who is trying to see that the ‘Witch’s’ (played by Taz) wishes are met and tries to accomplish this by giving as little as information as he can without disrupting his mission to lift the curse (SPOILIER ALERT!!!) he has placed on his son, ‘the Baker.’ (played by Ashley)
Back along, I have always wanted to be more involved with the behind the scenes and try something that I have very little knowledge in. Around June 2017 when things were starting to come together and was now the time to make it become a reality, I asked the two most wonderful directors for a chance to do more behind the scenes stuff and I was given a chance. I still remember Erin and Polly saying that they would love it for me to more back stage work. I felt excited and a little scared at the same time, but like I always do, I play it cool as James Dean or Tom Hardy. This felt like my first step into the bigger picture.
After the summer break, we all came back together and was ready! This was the many mile sprint and we needed to not out run each other, but run together.
On Sunday afternoon, I met ‘Mair’ and ‘Nat’ who had been full on months before I came aboard with all the set and costume designing. Some much had to accomplished. Mair showed me on of the set design pieces which would remain on stage throughout the performance was a sort of woods design feature. We looked at inspirations and sketches of what Mair and Nat had drawn. We played around with many possible ideas of what we could do to make this look spectacular and cool.
So, I was put to the work out what could be done. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to make and show, so I started with the basics. This design was to resemble the woods and instead of the predictable trees and leaves, I wanted to create an illusion like design that was keeping in with the melody of the woods. I thought about using ‘MDF’ boards and cutting them and carving shapes into it so we could have light shining through it like sun light through an actual wood. As I wanted to create something different and strange, I had an idea of cutting a face shape into the MDF and illumination the face with design and lighting, but that was a little, well… very over complicating it than it really needed to be. So, I started back at square one and came up with a better design! We talked to ‘Dom’ who is the technician for this production and gave us an insight about how we could make it work.
I saw what room I had on the stage and where it will be placed. We wanted to create it to be three dimensional and not flat. Mair thought about setting it on an angle and that opened a whole new book of ideas.
What the design meant?
Me, Mair and Nat talked about how this design could be used to create an atmosphere. For e.g., the wavy and jagged holes in the design, we would be able to see the characters walking behind it and what if the ‘Wolf’, (played by Wesley who can chill you to the bone with his howl and laugh) could lurk behind and we as the audience would see mere glimpse of him. You don’t need no ‘Freddy Kruger’ or ‘Twisty the Clown’ from “American Horror Story: Freak Show” to send a frosty chill through your body when Wesley’s acting as the Wolf and his little wolves does just more than they could.
I draw a 3D visual of what I was trying to create and painted it that afternoon to show as a demonstration to the cast and directors. I elucidated what I was doing and what I was trying to attain. Form the reactions I got from the cast as my reaction was, “This is strange, but it’s going to be dope!” The next couple of nights, I went home with a rough idea of what needed to be done. I looked at different materials and how I could make it great. I had already decided that I wanted to use MDF for the design as MDF would be best suited structure wise and it’s an easy material to cut and work with. (It’s not the tools you use, it’s the tool using the equipment that makes it work.)
Originally, I was going to cut and paint all of this at home, but Mair and Nat thought that if we did it as a team, we wouldn’t have to worry if I was to cut it at my home and paint it, that there will be no miscommunication about what it would look like. So, we cut it on a public highway… Health and Safety 101. But we made sure we wore the right gear and we would cause havoc with the public and wouldn’t be attacked by fully loaded seagulls, if you catch my meaning.
The design was going to be two meters high and one side at one angle was going to be four feet and the other was eight feet. Mair and I said we would get two, two-meter MDF boards and cut one and use the other part for the other side. I used my drawing plans for what I wanted to do step by step.
On Sunday 8th October 2017, me, Mair and Nat began outlining where I could cut and how many holes to cut into the boards. That afternoon, I began to cut the boards with a 24O Bosch Electric Jigsaw, and at first it was difficult as we only had two boards and we didn’t want them boards to be damaged. Taking great care and surly, we finished cutting out the boards and it was ready to be painted for next week. I sanded it with Course Yellow Sand paper to smooth of rough edges to give it a nice finish.
It was Saturday 14th October 2017 … it was a chilly day. ‘Chelsea’ were playing against ‘Crystal Palace.’ I had just that morning went to the bank and the got my haircut. Kept the length on top with a trim up on split ends and refreshing the layers and the side would be cut with clippers… the side and the back were a three… I was thinking that we only had sixty-two days until the long-anticipated movie, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” would be released in cinemas for all geeks like me to obsess over…. We’re getting of track here… Sorry…
Anyway, that day, I put a layer of white undercoat on the boards and begun painting. We thought about where thing would be like leaves, trees, ivory etc. We spent the day experimenting with different colours and using them.
We diverse to see if we could make new and interesting colours. I have always loved drawing and colours. When it comes to colours and/or mixing them, I never want to really follow the rules as this to me limits your own creative take on your art. Make it your own. I wanted to define and add little details to things using the colour purple. Now, this may sound weird, but purple is to me is a lovely colour to use. To me, it has a richness and I use it, because I love animation.
The art direction that inspired me to embrace new and unusual animation ideas to improve my style growing up was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Lion King’ and I wanted to show my passion for the inspiration that those films gave me in this piece of MDF. If you look closely into the animation in both of those films, you may occasionally see that purple was used to define and make objects, places and character pop from the screen. That concludes my love for the colour purple or other colours.
I wanted to come up with a name for my design and after many weeks wondering what I could call her, I finally had the answer when we finished it and saw it up on stage looking the business. I call her, “Illumination.”
We finished around eight o’clock Saturday night…
The outcome was more than I could have ever thought. I didn’t expect it to turn out what I wished, but never thought the way it would. Nat and Mair gave me guidance and support through-out the making of it all. The outcome? Well… What else can I say? Other than it’s cool.
The experience has taken me and us through many emotions. Sometimes, I have thought, “Why did I think I could do this?” But, like I say, “Worse things happen at sea.” And in the end, all the unaccounted was nothing.
What is left to say? If you have made it to the end of this blog, well… novel, then I thank you for following us on this small part of our journey. There are many stories to be told about the production and like you, I would love to hear someone’s personal journey about going Into the Woods. I hope to take this away and use this experience for my own written project coming 2018…
I really hope I have proven myself to Doorstep Arts that this matters so much to me and even though I am no Bram Stoker, Tennessee Williams, Gary Oldman or August Rodin, I have a deep connection with the arts and this is what I want to do more than anything. If I have never shown it, I want them to know that I am grateful to them all. From set designing, writing, performing or lifting a heavy object, I will always do what I can for them.
I want to thank everyone in the cast, crew, tech crew, make up, costume and the companies that have given us them to us for our show, the University students keeping the order back stage, as that is never an easy job and their patients with/for us have been sensational. I just want to thank everyone overall.
I don’t know what I can say or do for Polly and Erin for giving me this opportunity. They both have been so amazing and without them… there is just not enough words I can say other than thank you and love you loads.