Stage Designs of Richard Finkelstein

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Richard Finkelstein
630 Stonewall Dr
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
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The Elephant Man- New York State Theatre Institute.
Scenery & Projection design by Richard Finkelstein. (1998)


The Elephant Man

(Scenic Design / Projection Design )

Description of the Settings:

The setting for this production was rather simple in its form and structure. Within a black void were positioned 11 platform areas. They were all shaped like smooth weathered stones, with the largest being positioned in the center. Some of the platforms were more distanced than the others. They were each at different levels and each had a different degree and axis of rake. Unified in color and texture, they also had subtle varieties within these parameters. The platforms were constructed so as to appear to be floating.

Behind the action was a screen. In most of my projection designs, screens are integrated into the scenery in a way that they are not immediately apparent as "screens". This production reversed this sensibility. Here the screen was quite apparent as just that. We even accentuated the presentational quality by framing the screen in a large scale Victorian gilt frame. In using a rear-projection mode, we were able to use Rosco’s black screen so that when projected images were not on the screen, we were not left with a white void. The screen could thus fade somewhat from the picture when needed.

The juxtaposition of the platform "stones" allowed blocking to be integrated with a scene’s action spilling over and between the platforms; or the stones could foster an approach of isolation and reflection.

Conceptual Foundations:

While one can immediately see in this work a theme akin to that in The Ugly Duckling, this play is remarkable in the depth of examination of the theme of what it means to be human itself. Through the episodic titled structure, each scene examines different aspects of how we view ourselves as humans, how we view each other, and how society views the individual. Many combinations and permutations of such perceptions are examined in the course of the play.

The complexity of examination extends as well to the complexity imbued in each of the characters. In most instances, the characters in the play have the ability to be both noble and base depending on a plethora of influences and factors. In examining the complex issue of what it means to be human through the lens of complex characters, the production presents a world with no easy answers.

My job in this production, as I saw it, was to provide for a physical environment whereby these questions of what it means to be human could be examined almost in a clinical manner. I saw parallels between the structure and content of this script, and the work of Brecht.

The idea of a clinical examination, of course has its parallel within the scripted setting, with the action taking place literally within the world of the clinic. There’s also the scripted world of the side show, and it is interesting to draw parallels. In the script both of these seemingly opposite worlds are both nothing more than opportunities to examine the freak of nature. Of course in this examination we also learn how small the boundary is indeed between normalcy and the world of the elephant man. In the end it is not clear if there is any boundary at all.

In building the twin environments of freak-show / clinic, I tried to capture the dark, dank, cold stone environment of the Victorian operating theatre. I soon realized that the weathered stone forms that I was led to use offered a number of possibilities for simultaneous visual metaphor. While the color and shape clearly had the look of stone, the color and shape also has a subtle relationship to the forms and coloration of dead skin and to the color and form of the elephant. As a designer I rarely use blatant symbols in my work. I find them usually to be crass. However I do not mind as a designer, the use of design elements to suggest meaning and intellectual link.

As stones, one could also imagine these to have been weathered by eons of erosion within a stream. In the scenic metaphor I likened this to the erosion of values, ideals, and even meaning within the eons of time and the human experience.

This is a show about relationships so in the composition of the stage, I worked to create a dynamic environment that could support close relationships at one moment, and emphasize the gulfs between people at the next.

I also set up in the environment a juxtaposition of opposites. The "stones" are weathered, organic in shape, neutral in tone. But overhead looms the artifice of the gilt Victorian picture frame. Which depicts reality? Or....does either? There certainly is a paralleled in the realities of Victorian society vs. the perception of that reality by those in the empowered society.