Stage Designs of Richard Finkelstein

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Richard Finkelstein
630 Stonewall Dr
Harrisonburg, VA 22801

finkelrs@gmail.com
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The Mystery of Edwin Drood  Presented by James Madison University in the Spring of 2005. Scenery by Richard Finkelstein. Lighting is by Emily Becher and Costumes are by Kathleen Conery. Directing by Norman Hart.

Mystery of Edwin Drood

Mystery of Edwin Drood

Mystery of Edwin Drood

Mystery of Edwin Drood

Mystery of Edwin Drood
 

Context/Pretext:

While James Madison University has high standards and expectations for production, resources available to achieve said results are modest at best. Therefore great care in strategy and planning must be taken to maximize results.  A case in point involves the 5 backdrops required for our production. JMU has no specific place available for painting drops other than the stage floor. At the same time there is no real shop space and little available rehearsal space, so all three activities needed access to the stage.  At the same time both funds and labor pool were limited as well. 

One strategy I used to meet the challenges was to opt for a period use of space reflecting the often small (by today's standards) stages of the British Music Hall era.  At the same time, our scheme of revealing the "play within a play" coupled with careful use of the portals allowed us to see over and beyond most of the drops.  In the end the drop sizes (save the front "oleo" were 12'-0" high by 22'-0" in width.  This allowed us to paint two at a time in the wings while simultaneously accommodating rehearsal and shop build activities in the central portion of the stage.

Description:

We recreated the music hall era here through the use of 3 portals as framing devices. The first of the portals was dimensional, with decorative moldings and texturing in the paint. The 2 upstage portals were painted in a rich Victorian pattern. Each portal opening was smaller than the one downstage of it so as to enhance the perspective.   The portals legs were moved well into the stage space so that audiences could see around them into "backstage areas" so as to enhance the "play within a play" metaphor, and the beautiful red house curtain was draped nicely so as to ease the visual transition between the architectural proscenium and our smaller false proscenium.

The orchestra lift was lowered to its orchestra position and the stage itself was extended 2'-0" downstage of the natural stage edge so as to increase playing space while slightly covering the pit for sound purposes. Additionally two side stage areas were carved out of the pit area, being 18" lower than the stage floor. Besides adding playing space, these afforded great access to the house for those scenes where the performers needed to spill from the stage into the auditorium. The area under these side stages was rendered clear for musician locations. There were approximately 17 musicians in the pit along with their conductor.

A Roll drop was designed as a full-stage in-one oleo curtain but after having difficulty rigging the roll mechanism properly we opted instead to place the drop on the theatre's valence line set. Four other drops were created: Jasper's interior, The conservatory, High Street, and Minor Canon Corner. Scenes like the opium den and the cemetery, and the train station played against a backlit cyc and white scrim in 100% fullness.  The cemetery scene used three painted groundrows and a crypt wagon. The train station used a rolling cut-out train and a flying train station cutout unit.

Conceptualization:

So much of the activity in this work reveals the structional/theatrical piece with actors slipping into and out of character (ironically the "out of character" being still in the character of Victorian era actors). The set had to facilitate this constant slipping from one mode/world to the other. Therefore I opted to create a world where the mechanism would be visible at the periphery.  The show curtain plays an interesting roll. The audience is greeted with artwork derived from the original illustrations that accompanied the serialized publication of the Dickens' novel. These woodcut scenes are framed within the pictorial borders of the traditional stage; draped curtains, portals, and the like. The curtain is rendered in shades of grey to reflect the original print publication. As the curtain rises, however the audience realizes that the framing devices depicted in the show curtain are not abstract but rather relate to the actual stage devices, now appearing in color.  This scheme thus extends the play within a play acting style directly into the scenery itself where the painted scenery reflects the built scenery.

Having worked for seven years on America's only authentic period showboat (The Showboat Majestic in Cincinnati) I was also anxious to create an environment where the student performers could experience a stage space akin to those of actual period music hall type stages. It was thus easy for me to decide to design the show in a traditional wing and drop format and in a more restrictive size than is common in more modern theatres. We then made full use of all the period devices of staging that we could from the liberal use of in-one staging to the manufacture of a period cranked wind machine.  It was really fun for audiences to see the instantaneous scene changes that the masters of the musical hall were able to create with the proper application of their stage magic.