Stage Designs of Richard Finkelstein

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Richard Finkelstein
630 Stonewall Dr
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
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Ibsen's Ghosts- Scenic & Lighting Design by R. Finkelstein - Produced at The University of Colorado at Denver, College of Arts and Media at Denver's Acoma City Center Theatre. Production debut: October 6, 1999.  The production is directed by Kathy Maes with costumes by Penny Cole. 

Above is a rendering of the production. The unit set appears within a surround reflecting the connections within the world of the Impressionist Arts movement. For most of the play, the painted backgrounds are obscured by the panels of overgrown vine-like and color-less panels acting like scrims.

Above simulates the effect of the drops bleeding thru the scrim streamer panels at the end of the play.

Production photo with drops bleeding through  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Scenery as it plays through most of the show

Description of the Settings:

The set for the show was transformational in nature. The image presented to the audience when they entered would change by the end into an entirely new image. I had done this earlier with As You Like It which made the change through mechanical means (through the use of cut-roll drops). This time I wanted to affect the change entirely through the use of light reacting with the scenery elements.

The stage itself consisted of three platform plates: a center area and two side areas. These were painted in a marble pattern.

Columns framed the areas helping to define the domestic space. Outside the column areas were texture panels made from layered strips of organically ripped cheesecloth dyed and attached to scenery net. These gave a hint of dead overgrowth and served as scrim.

At the end, revealed through the scrim panels were three drops that entirely filled the surround of the stage. These were painted like an impressionistic painting of a lush, sun-drenched forest with a stream running thru it.

Conceptual Foundations:

I feel that the designation of Ghosts as an impressionistic work was quite apt and thought provoking. Indeed many parallels could be drawn between the movement in painting and what Ibsen was doing contemporaneously within this work.

As in the case of impressionistic painting, in Ibsen’s Ghosts, the reality can be found more between the lines, in what is NOT said. The text of the play as well is also imbued with images of light and darkness.

We decided to approach the imagery of light and darkness in an ironical manner through the scenery elements. We use the moment, at the end of the play, when Oswald goes blind to reveal the full set depicting a sunny world, full of life, color, trees and water. While the character is newly blinded in his eyes, this also marks the moment of clarity in all the character’s understanding of the nature of their realities. At the moment of blindness, ironically a veil was simultaneously lifted allowing the characters to fully understand the true nature of their lives. After sitting in a world of decay and greyness, moving to a world of blinding color and light was a very powerful moment in the audience’ experience, especially as it was in counterpoint to the action of the moment on stage.

Before this moment of revelation on stage, the atmosphere of the setting and lighting environment was one of greyness, and life’s potential grown sour. The cheesecloth strip scrim panels gave the impression of the growth of vines, overpowering the environment and then freezing in death. The vines though also contain a hint of the forms of dendrites and axions in the brain, in this case too, frozen in an entangled embrace of death.

While the rendering appears to emphasize this element, the production photos reveal that when minimally lit, these scrim elements faded out of the stage picture. The feeling on stage was largely one where each actor was isolated in this world of decay from simple neglect and lack of nutrient.

Lighting Choices:

With the limited palette of available lighting tools I had to be most economical in my choices. I wanted to be able to emphasize the transition between the pallor of death surrounding the homestead into the world of light reflecting the revelation of understanding that came at the moment of death in the material world.

Since I knew that lighting levels would generally be low, I used very light blue gel so that the red-shift at low level would be counteracted. I worked towards a very gray light. I used as well a directional wash of warm light so that the sun could be revealed as the transformation happened. I worked hard with the limited lighting too, to keep the feeling of isolation between the islands of actors without looking affected.

Angles of light over the stage proper were kept steep, not only to enhance the drama but to also keep the light off of the scrim panels. I wanted to be able to make them disappear, or to highlight them with their own side-light at moments where we might wish to call attention to them.

While the drops were painted on translucent material they had to be lit from the front, at tight quarters, because the drops were located right in front of the Acoma’s built-in stage balcony level. Still, the translucent nature of the drop allowed for an effective illusion of the fire beyond.