Perception---you have that power.

There is purpose in design. There is information in a setting. There is truth in your environment. Fake or real, it's there.

All images are copyrighted by Heidi Hoffer unless otherwise indicated. Your courtesy in using my photographs must include crediting me as the photographer. You must tell me when and where you've used them and send the link to me showing your use of them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Re-purposing architectural and industrial elements for the musical “Ragtime”.

The design for PCPA Theaterfest’s Ragtime was huge. A small but influential part of the concept or inspiration was the use of bits of architectural and industrial elements. You can see some of these on the back wall in the picture below.

Ragtime designed by Heidi Hoffer.  The back wall upstage of the boys catching the baseball shows the concept in effect. Lighting Design by "Z" Jen Zornow and Costume Design by Misti Bradford.
The Musical Director was Callum Morris, Technical Director was Steve Henson (currently analyzing truss at Yale!), and the director of the show was Mark Booher.

We were interested in re-purposing elements for their texture, shape, and archetypal memory triggers. Every part of the scenery had a dash of this concept in its execution on stage. The industrial artifacts idea allowed certain (industrial-looking!) scene shifting devices to be seen and accepted as part of the overall design.

Displaced materials normally recycled and considered trash allowed the use of things like recycled plastic drink lids to become clapboard siding and fluorescent tube packing crate cardboard to become architectural molding on several of the units. 

Artists responsible for building the scenery, painting the scenery, and budgeting for the scenery all need information about these elements from the designer.

Typesetter's lead type case. Courtesy of

This included the original inspiration images of a typesetter’s lead type case, the Sky Cathedral by artist Louise Nevelson, the designer’s inspiration sketch, the AutoCAD drafting of elements, painter’s elevations of elements, etc. some of which are pictured below. Since the musical Ragtime occurs during the industrial age, it was fitting the design recycle old icons for use in setting the musical for today’s audiences.

Louise Nevelson's Sky Cathedral courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art website

The designer's inspiration sketch shows the architectural rolling units all grouped together center stage.

The central back wall is really six tall rolling walls, all clumped together in this photo. In the baseball scene photo earlier in this post, the walls are opened up across the back of the stage.

The AutoCAD front view of the expanded back wall. Blank boxes were filled by the theatre artists at PCPA following the "concept" with architectural and industrial elements.

The designer's paint elevation of one of the walls.
As I indicated in the first paragraph, this ecclectic typesetter's box collection of elements was just a small part of what the whole design covered. But it was the springboard and the inspiration from which we evolved our production. The world created was colorful (It's a musical!), elastic (Wide range of locations and moods!), and richly textured (Lights, projected patterns, choreography, and costume textiles really added!).

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