Stage Designs of Richard Finkelstein

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Richard Finkelstein
630 Stonewall Dr
Harrisonburg, VA 22801

rfinkels@msn.com
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Vasilisa the Fair - Scenic and Projection Design by R. Finkelstein - Presented by The New York State Theatre Institute,
This was a premiere of a new musical, conceived, written, and composed in Russia, and then adapted in Britain, for presentation in The U.S. Represented are three large scrims backed by rear projection screen material. Pani and Great American Projectors were then used in other scenes. Scenery is by R. Finkelstein, Lighting by John McLaine, and Costumes by Brent Griffin.

 

Top Photo: General production photo of the production

Left: Painter's Elevation of the header unit

Bottom Left: Earlier design for one of the side screens

Bottom Right: View showing the rear projections as they render the scrim painting invisible

Vasilisa the Fair

Context/Pretext:

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 was realized.

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 this production.

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.

Conceptual Foundations:

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 quite well.

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 this motif.

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 style.