This October, Megan Lucas is directing Defying Gravity by Jane Anderson (Madmen, Olive Kitteridge) for Masque Theatre. This blog series covers her journey in bringing the script to life.
Part I | Part II: Time in the Simulator
Defying Gravity consists of 23 short scenes; featuring a classroom, a bar, a living room, a Winnebago, the Shuttle cabin, a circus, a press conference and a supermarket. For those of you aware of the Playhouse’s stage, roughly 5 x 5 meters in size, with no wings; this poses something of a problem. Compounding this is my dislike of slow set changes during a performance. Few things can sap the energy out of a show in the way a couple of minutes of set changing can.
The easy option would be to just go black box, and leave it all to the cast and the projections, but to paraphrase President Kennedy’s Apollo speech; we choose to do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. I love a challenge, and past productions have presented me with many of them. Creating Leonard, the animatronic lobster for Masque’s production of Dinner, probably being my personal favourite. Although his scene-stealing tendencies may elicit a different response from the cast!
It’s over a month before set construction begins, and even longer until we get into the theatre itself. And there are an awful lot of problems to be solved between now and then. Happily, I created a virtual version of The Playhouse a while back. Over the past few months, I’ve been designing and refining the set. Figuring out the mechanics, how to build it, even planning the lighting rig, all from the comfort of my sofa. Whilst the Defying Gravity set will remain secret for now, the below pictures show how I used the same process for Masque’s The Rover set.
The real beauty of this is to allow me to try my ideas out and solve problems along the way, without spending a penny of the budget. I fall asleep each night thinking about the production and coming up with ideas and solutions. Being able to realise them in the computer beforehand makes this process considerably easier, and I can quickly see if those ideas work, or if it is back to the drawing board.
Doing this also has an added benefit of allowing the cast an idea of the space in which they will be performing. In this case, I’m taking that one step further, well maybe 20 steps further. Without giving too much away, the projections within the play are far from static, so I’m in the process of animating them on to the virtual set. Pre-visualisation such as this is common in Hollywood films and unheard of in amateur theatre. As I said in my previous post, this show should be something special.
If all goes to plan, Defying Gravity’s set currently needs 4 projectors and a computer monitor in order to make it work, as well as a deceptively simple structure that contains more than just a few secret bells and whistles. Generating the footage for the projectors is a daunting task in of itself. In some cases, I’m putting it together whilst I do the pre-vis, in others, I’ll be filming various actors over the summer, not to mention creating the architectural drawings, photographs, sound effects, CGI, and the small matter of that Winnebago.
It is working though. Most of the challenges have been solved, and the transition from simulation to reality should be fairly smooth, and I can already see my vision begin to take shape. Defying Gravity character, Claude Monet (yes, that Claude Monet) once said
“Every day I discover more and more beautiful things. I have such a desire to do everything, my head is bursting with it”.
Seeing the beautiful things come to life, albeit digitally, is keeping my head from bursting… just.
Megan Lucas is a stage manager, lighting & sound designer and technician, set and prop maker and designer, director, playwright and occasional actor. Defying Gravity takes to the Playhouse Theatre stage from Tue 16 – Sat 20 Oct at 7.30pm. Tickets will be on sale soon.