Stage Designs of Richard Finkelstein

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Richard Finkelstein
630 Stonewall Dr
Harrisonburg, VA 22801
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Set Design and Lighting Design by R. Finkelstein

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On the Verge - University of Colorado, Denver Scenery and Lighting Designed by Richard Finkelstein (2001). Costumes were by Jane Nelson Rudd.  The scenery design is largely revived from an earlier production of the play that I designed for The State University of New York at Stony Brook. At the end of this page I have included a photo of the earlier edition so that web visitors can see how modest changes in a design can have a great impact on the look as experienced by an audience.

On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge - State University of NY at Stony Brook. Designed by Richard Finkelstein in 1991. Recognized for design excellence by The ACTF and The Kennedy Center. Lighting by
Richard Dunham & Costumes by Loyce Arthur.
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein
On the Verge Set Design by R. Finkelstein


This production was most recently produced in the end-room configured black box theatre at The University of Colorado, Denver based largely on a design produced 10 years earlier at State University of New York at Stony Brook. The design for the Long Island edition won two awards, the Long Island Drama Critics’ Herald Award for best scene design; and a Kennedy Center/ACTF Award as well. Although the floorplan was similar between the two versions, changes from working with a new director, as well as a very different treatment of the floor and the hanging pieces resulted in a very different feel. Personally I like the second edition better, but the similarities and contrasts between the two editions makes for an interesting study.

Description of the Settings:

The set was simple in it’s image, more complex in its optics. It was presented within the proscenium frame of this end-room space. The stage in the most recent edition was rendered glossy black, on which was painted in reverse, a copy of the grand Prague Astrolabe which was reflected, along with the performers and kinetic elements, in a full-stage-sized 45 degree angle mirror. The earlier edition of the production featured layers of dyed cheesecloth on the floor, which was immediately reflected as a backdrop by a full-stage 45 degree mirror. The use of the mirror meant that performers were always seen in two views, elevation and plan, by the audience.

The mirror panels were  made of separate strips, 4 foot in width, and running the width of the stage. A gap was created between these panels, compositionally creating a series of black visual lines running horizontally through the stage picture.

The gaps also allowed for lines to pass through to a control assembly off-stage. On to the onstage end of the lines, was attached panels of thin polypropylene in the most recent edition and tobacco cloth in the first edition. These were each about 30 foot square. These panels could move up and down independently or in various choreographed unison movement patterns.

The effect of all of this was very much that of "being within a kaleidoscope" .

Conceptual Foundations:

Certain unique and wonderful ingredients in the structure and content of On the Verge immediately confront the reader or audience member. To begin with, the characters seem to be both rooted in, while being simultaneously lost in, the fabric of time. One minute we are in the world of Victoria, the next, at a 1950*s gas station — and all without the slightest bit of explanation. It*s as though we, the audience members, are an Alice in yet another Wonderland.

Another striking ingredient is the use of language. Structurally the play reads somewhat like a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song. Clearly Overmeyer revels in the music of language. The language also has an element of "linguistic challenge" as if each phrase is a puzzle to be solved (by the characters as well as the audience members)

This use of language and complex riddle is reminiscent of the works of Lewis Carroll — especially Alice in Wonderland. A more recent literary parallel might be drawn with Douglas Adams* series The Hitchhikers* Guide to the Galaxy.

Works in this genre present a paradox for the stage designer. All of these works are absolutely dependant on the imagery of wordplay. Any visual element can easily detract from the carefully crafted structure of the spoken word. Productions on stage or in film, of Alice in Wonderland rarely succeed. The words of the text conjure in our brains, far better images, and far quicker transitions than any stage play or film could ever hope to achieve.

So... at the start, On the Verge was perched an the same tightrope as both Alice in Wonderland and The Hitchhikers* Guide to the Galaxy. To maintain the feeling of fun and wonder that I had when I first read the work, I determined that the following would be required of a potential scenic environment:


A. The audience had to understand that the locale was in "the fabric of time itself" and not merely in specific locations.

B. The set had to incorporate elements of fun and naive discovery to parallel the texture of the dialogue.

C. The set had to be presentational — entirely non-realistic.

D. The set had to allow us to explore "the whole universe" in our smallest stage space.

E. The set had to allow for continual changes in the basic interpretations of the work as they evolved. The set had to be able to support improvisation.

F. The set had to allow us to "instantly" move in time and space.

G. The set had to provide opportunity for scenic—actor interaction.

H. The set had to be easy to build, with the important elements available early for incorporation with the blocking.

I. The set had to enable us to communicate essential information re. time and place to the audience members in a quick & efficient manner.

J. The set had to create an otherworldly experience for the audience enabling them to empathize with the strange situations that the characters were finding themselves in.

K. The play is structured much like music with a clear rhythmic structure that develops to its conclusion. Ideally the set should also be able to "develop" — allowing the audience to be taken on their unique journey.

Since all of the strange encounters, p1aces, and objects in the play seem to materialize out of the "fabric" of space and time, I made fabric my central visual metaphor. With the use of seven pulleys we were able to quickly and creatively form the abstract landscapes called for in the script. The fabric could easily be made to take on the characteristics of mountains, forests, or ice fields. The fabric also encompassed a feeling of motion; of constant flux, parallel to the element of time in the script. The use of fabric allowed for fun interaction between scenic elements and the actors.

The combination of the fabric and the pulleys also satisfied the requirement of scenic "development". The play was able to start with the fabric swirled out on the floor in an image of the firmament, or a galaxy being formed. When the trees finally "grow" out of this fabric field, the experience is designed to pull the audience into the spirit of the work. By the end of the play, the fabric has settled — we are back in the firmament waiting to begin our next adventure.

Besides the fabric, the other major scenic element was the large full stage mirror placed at a 45 degree angle to the floor. All of the imagery on the floor was repeated as a cyclorama image with the help of the mirror.

The immediate effect of the mirror was to greatly expand the space.. It now became possible to portray the universe in Theatre II ! Since the actors were reflected in the mirror we were always left with the feeling of them "floating" through time and space — another helpful image. The mirror also helped to make the patterns on the floor become visible to the audience. At times, in fact, the reflection of the floor resembled a giant relief map. It was an effect reminiscent of the maps charting explorer journeys in the old 1930s movies.