Stage Designs of Richard Finkelstein

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Richard Finkelstein
630 Stonewall Dr
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
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A Child's Christmas in Wales - Winter 2000 production for The National Theatre of the Deaf.   The Set Design  is by Richard Finkelstein.  Depicted below are two views of the model. This adaptation of the work of Dylan Thomas, is by Burgess Clark, with direction by Peter Flynn


Description of the Setting:

The setting as originally designed consisted of four disjointed islands floating within a black void. The central island depicted the living room with skeletal elements including a Christmas tree (brought in mid-action), fireplace, and a hint of windows and architectural elements. Overhead to help frame in the area was a skeletal depiction of a Welsh roof-line.

Up-right of this and at a higher level was a smaller island serving as the young Dylanís bedroom. This too was framed in overhead by a depiction of dormer windows.

The Down left island served as home to various relatives. The area was decorated with a small sofa and framed in with a skeletal window. Down right was an island with a hint of the haunted house featured in the action of the play.

The islands themselves were shaped in a manner reminiscent of ice crystals. The three main islands had a surface treatment of polished floorboards while the haunted island was rendered in a distressed wood manner. The stage floor proper was painted gloss black so as to be in stark contrast to the islands and so as to disappear.

A number of the venues we were to tour to had no cyc and often had no good way to rig one so the set had to provide for a non drop-based backing. I chose to utilize a crushed window screen cyc similar to those developed earlier by Josef Svoboda. I like the eternal and light-reactive quality of the media. The texture of the crushed screen helps to reinforce the textures of winter as well.

In the original scheme the central island was to rotate along with the steps which were designed to lead between this area and young Dylanís bedroom. The show was to begin with Dylan literally isolated in his bedroom, un-connected to the rest of the world, while the center island depicted the exterior of the house. Alas this wonderful idea was the first victim of the budget realities. In the end we had to live with a static set. The other major element cut in the end were the windows and cornice of the the central island set.

The blackness of the stage surrounding the islands allowed for the last element to work properly: snow. A lot of snow was used in this production and it had a transformational function as the black floor slowly turned white as the action progressed, also serving to link the separate islands into a cohesive unity.

Conceptual Foundations:

Dramaturgical considerations were an important part of the process of developing this piece from the start. It is a mode of designing that I enjoy most as it is when I get to work with a playwright directly. Burgess Clark takes the raw poem by Dylan Thomas and adds within the structure a whole layer of context. Burgess uses the work as a vehicle to explore the genesis of creativity. The original poem is a monologue. It has wonderful language but little of plot line on which to develop a strong theatrical script for multiple actors.

What Dylan Thomasí work does though is to paint an incredible snapshot of images and emotions and ambiance of this Welsh town in 1923 and its inhabitants.

In our adaptation though, Burgess Clark uses these memories depicted in Thomasí original poem as an indication of how an artist can be inspired as a young boy to BECOME an artist. In this world, Thomas is recounting in a way how he first began to remember the joy of life that would later illustrate the characters in his writing.

So, in this version, each of the disjointed memories is actually the building block in the making of a future artist. To this end too, there are many small elements of repetition and symmetry in the dialogue. Certain lines have meaning when first uttered only to take on further layers of meaning with later iterations, especially with the development and maturation of Dylan.

In the end though the scenes are always scenes of remembered and recorded by a young Dylan....and re-interpreted through the eyes of the mature Dylan, Dylan the poet.

In the setting, the idea of the islands became important to these dramaturgical ends. They allowed for the physical manifestation of how snippets of memory float within our minds. The physical juxtaposition of the setting also allows for a movement parallel as Dylan moves from childhood to maturity, able to "put the pieces together" as it were. In our original kinetic conception this was even more apparent as Dylan at the start was totally physically isolated with bridges supplied only with the love of family and the opening of the eyes of a poet.

The islands were not the only areas for action. The black areas of the floor between the islands became important too. Besides transitional spaces for movement between the islands, these depicted the cold outside, never far from the warmth of family and fire within. Dylan Thomasí depictions of the beauty and rejuvenating power of the snow are also so very powerful and beautiful, the black areas around the platforms allowed us to make the most effective visual statement as the snow literally transformed the stark world into one of peace and stillness and beauty by the end of the play.