This was a very interesting production to work
on. The artistic collaboration covered three countries in three parts of
the world. The original musical was produced by The New York State
Theatre Institute in The "Egg" in Albany, New York.
Although the world premiere was in Albany, the
show was written and composed in Russia. The production process next
moved to America where it was translated from the original Russian by
Sabina Modzhalevskaya and Harlow Robinson (who also served as editor).
The work then moved to Britain where the raw translation was adapted by
Adrian Mitchell. Finally the work moved to Albany where the production
In working on the production, the
directing/design team already had developed a strong cultural bond. Not
only had we been working together for years; we also all worked on the
production of Peter Pan that had earlier toured to Russia..
The theatre we had played at in Russia had
perhaps the most impressive collection of Palekh paintings in the world.
Their collection was worth many millions of dollars.
We decided to use this as a motif central to
There were many challenges in the script
including a host of magical effects that had no precedent in stagecraft
including the house that had to rise up on chicken legs and run away.
There was also a script citation calling for a sea spirit to rise out of
a fountain and fill the stage. Another such citation called for a
tablecloth to unfold itself and then morph into entire banquet spread.
Especially as this was a new work, I produced a
full database of such script citation to help guide us. The database is
presented as part of this portfolio.
Description of the Settings:
The setting was very simple in form. It
consisted of a two tiered hexagon within an island. The stage and
hexagon were painted gloss black reflective of the backgrounds in the
traditional Palekh lacquer paintings. Inscribed into these spaces was a
border pattern of gold.
Surrounding the playing space were three large
frames, each depicting a Palekh-style painting. These were painted on
scrim, behind which were rear projection panels. Much of the magic was
created in the transformational nature of the scrim/rp arrangement.
We used a Pani projector in the center and
Great American Scene Machines for the projections on the side panels.
Often when a script specifies extremely
complicated physical elements, I react by trying to find the simplest,
clearest way in which to interpret the script. It was both exciting and
refreshing to be able to reveal the magical elements in the work through
simple theatrical magic.
I like to create open spaces on stage
unencumbered by the clutter of levels but I rarely have the opportunity
to work in this idiom. Since dance was a strong element in this
production, the bare stage worked especially well. The shape of the
stage pieces also supported the many circular forms in the choreography
There is a tradition in Russia of telling
stories through the use of the visual arts. The scrim panels were
inspired by actual Palekh paintings of the tales of Vasilisa and Baba
Yaga. They provided a nice cultural reference for the action.
The choice of this motif was actually a third
choice. The painters elevations included in the portfolio depict the
earlier strategies. In my initial design of the panels, I did research
on the Tsar that would have lived in this time. His crest was that of a
peacock. My initial design was an historically accurate depiction of
The producer/director was very upset by this
initial design. I learned in the course of our discussion that in
Russia, (and other countries too), the symbol of the peacock is said to
bring the worst of luck. In Russia the symbol is banned from the
stage...forbidden. The director had earlier been physically thrown off a
Russian stage for wearing a peacock pin.
I next experimented with folk motifs as in the
floral example from the painters elevations. This had the feel of being
too generic for our tastes and so we went with the authentic Palekh