The Golden Age of Televised Shakespeare: Designing Merry Wives

Our venue, the Venetian Theatre, is a gem; it is a beautiful, 400 seat historic vaudeville-style theatre in the heart of downtown Hillsboro. After a multi-million dollar refurbishment, the space has not only become our home, it is also the jewel in downtown Hillsboro’s crown, attracting thousands of people to live performances, events, films and…of course…B&B shows!
The space is…as we like to say…tricky. There is no backstage space, there are no wings (the spaces on the sides of the stage where actors can stand prior to entering) and there is a huge movie screen on the back wall, covered by a black drape. There is no fly system and the stage is incredibly wide and not very deep. So…basically…this means we have to be more than creative in our set designs!
The limitations, if you think about it, are pretty clear: we can’t do shows with multiple sets (or, at least, not that require massive location changes) as we just simply don’t have any place to put or store the set pieces off stage. Because of the screen and the high end film projector used to show films, we have explored (very successfully) the use of video projections and slides to augment our designs. Generally, we have to think pretty far out of the box when it comes to scenic design as the space creates some serious challenges for us.
What we have discovered, however, is that the challenges created by the Venetian stage are, in fact, some of our greatest strengths. Like with everything we do, we are 100% committed to provocative, novel stage designs that go hand in hand with our provocative interpretations of the plays we produce! How do you acheive that? Well, you hire amazing scenic designers like Megan Wilkerson and make HER do it!
Megan has designed a number of shows for B&B, including last year’s “A Christmas Carol” and this past December’s “Farndale Avenue…Christmas Carol.” Megan comes to us from someplace random in the mid-west (Milwaukie, is it?) after having worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival before moving to Portland (aren’t you fancy!).
Here are a few words from Megan about the unique challenges of designing for our 1950s Golden Age of Television-inspired production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor, or The Amorous Adventures of the Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff:”
“Howdy.  I’m Megan Wilkerson and I’m the scenic designer for Merry Wives.  I will not be saying as much as Melissa.  Generally designer’s design because they’re not so great with actual words-n-stuff.  Plus we’re sort of anti-social dorks.
My job as the scenic designer is to figure out the physical environment the play takes place in.  So I’m responsible for all the walls, furniture and on-stage knick knacks you see in a production.  Mostly this means I get to troll the internet for ideas and then make pretty pictures at home followed by 2 crazy weeks of scrounging all over town for furniture.
For Merry Wives Scott told me he was really wanting to stage it as a 1950’s/60’s sitcom in black and white. “Think Dick Van Dyke Show” he said.  “Sweet!” I thought.  “I had a total crush on that guy when I was a kid.” (Like 8 years old, he had that awesome flying car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and got to hang out with Marry Poppins. Yup. I’m a total nerd.) So off I went to my stash of design books and the internet and found some great images….
This was my favorite image and ended up being the major inspiration for the set. 
We also looked at all kinds of pictures of old TV studios, the sets from Mad Men, and just lots of vintage furniture and decor in general.
Most of our furniture and set dressing (aka: knick knacks, wall decor, etc) comes either from our own stock or from other theatre companies.  Sometimes, like Merry Wives, the show is so specific that I end up doing quite a bit of shopping to get us what we’re after.  This is not such a bad gig really….I run all over town checking out the thrift stores and then spending someone else’s money on stuff I think is cool.  Plus if anyone is looking for a bright orange, shaggy headed leopard trophy just let me know, I’ve got a lead for you.  
As for the actual walls etc. that you see on stage, I come up with the ideas, create sketches and drafting (that bit’s pretty similar to what an architect or an interior designer would do) and then the patient and hard working Demetri Pavlatos of Lunar Theatrical actually builds everything and puts it into the theatre in between reminding me that physics doesn’t actually work the way I seem to think it does. Oops.
In the middle of all of that research Scott’s also told me what he thinks he needs in terms of doors, windows, furniture etc to stage the show.  I take his wish list and my research and combine them into a set.  For Merry Wives It’s going to look something like this:
Enjoy the show!”
Megan Wilkerson

 

The Merry Wives of Windsor,or The Amorous Adventures of The Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff

March 7 – 24, 2013The Venetian Theatre253 E Main Street, Hillsboro

Tickets: www.bagnbaggage.org or 503 345 9590