Michael Dempsey weighs in on scenic design

By Michael Dempsey, Scenic Designer, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike

Michael Dempsey
Scenic design is much more than a clever solution to the challenge of providing for the physical requirements of a text. Its purpose is often subversive, supporting plot, theme, rhythm, and style while creating a world unique to the production.
We are storytellers. As members of the ensemble we are active participants in the telling of the story. We provide location and context for the action.  As developers of the physical world of the production we can create obstacles and pathways for the movement of characters and action.
We endow spaces with specificity for both audience and actor. Scenic designers provide a veneer of authenticity and emotional connection. While sometimes only as deep as a coat of paint, when successful, heightens the experience of the viewer.

Not only are designers called upon to provide a space rich with context and emotional connection for the audience, one that speaks to viewers sometimes hundreds of feet away, we also have a responsibility to provide a similar experience for the performer who must believably inhabit the environment.

Scene from Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Photo by Jon Gardiner

The scenic designer sculpts the environment. In a larger context, the scenic designer composes a dramatic installation; one that echoes the composition of the text, story, and theme.

Finally it is important to note that the work of the scenic designer is nothing but ideas and it is only with the dedicated work of the artisans and craftspersons who bring those ideas to life, the carpenters, painters, properties artisans, and technical directors, that the world represented in the set exists as a participant in the storytelling.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike will be performed at PlayMakers through October 5, 2014. For tickets, call 919.962.PLAY (7529) or visit our website.