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The Designers: Christine Jones, Christopher Oram, Scott Pask

April 2, 2018 by Suzy Evans
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Christine Jones, Christopher Oram, and Scott Pask, shot on location at Lillie’s in New York City. (Photographed by Nathan Johnson)

The designers craft the lens through which an audience sees a show, and every production requires a unique perspective. For Scott Pask, who designed sets for both “The Band’s Visit” and “Mean Girls,” the challenges of building a barren landscape for the former and a bustling high school for the latter were vastly different. Christine Jones, who created the magical universe of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” needed to craft the wizarding world onstage. “It was a daunting task to create an environment that could be true to the beloved world it was born of, while also laying the ground for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s’ own narrative,” she said. Christopher Oram had a similar directive with “Frozen,” for which he created sets and costumes. “Expectation versus practicality is ultimately what guides and steers any design process, be it scenic or costuming, that sets out to reimagine any classic from one medium to another,” Oram said.

The designers share their thoughts on how their respective theatrical worlds came to be.

‘The Band’s Visit’
Set design by Scott Pask

“Having grown up in the desert Southwest, it was important for me to convey that seemingly endless and ever-present horizon line, the feeling of isolation, and the textures of the terrain. When I began, director David Cromer encouraged me to consider a ‘lazy turntable,’ and when I listened to the opening song ‘Waiting,’ it felt exactly right. I made it more complex by adding a rotating ring to the outside of the internal turntable, which allowed me to keep the center wall in position while moving objects and people around it. It also facilitates interesting transitions, while conceptually reinforcing the compact scale of the town where the band is stranded. I love the modern architecture of the desert town created onstage, and the moment of its transformation into the roller disco.“

‘Mean Girls’
Set design by Scott Pask

“The design of the onstage environment for ‘Mean Girls’ is a double-height half cylinder of digital screens with sliding curved panels that was inspired by a lipstick tube (not mine) and a conversation with our director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw. Our musical takes place during today’s constantly developing age of new media, unlike the film, which came out 14 years ago. I’ve worked with video and projection many times before, but this is by far the largest amount of onstage image content I’ve used. In this case, it is an ever-transforming medium where overall tone, image, scale, color, and brightness serve as a dynamic background for the actors onstage.”

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’
Set design by Christine Jones

“Director John Tiffany’s idea to use King’s Cross Station as our departure point set us on our way. I started there and then researched every train station in London I could, combining elements from the many to eventually create a space that feels like our own. The biggest challenge was tackling all the different locations. There are something like 90 scenes and each one has specific needs that involve all departments. There was a long list of requirements to fulfill. We looked to add one or two specific prop or scenic elements that could define a unique space within the whole, and we relied on the audience’s imagination as much as possible, using design to give clues and invitations for the imagination to riff on.”

‘Frozen’
Set design by Christopher Oram

“The designers of the original movie used extensive research trips to Norway to shape their vision for the world of ‘Frozen,’ and we did the same… Rather than be intimidated, I was inspired to push myself further and harder to reinterpret this world for the stage whilst still acknowledging the brilliant work done by the original Disney team, and importantly, delivering for the audience a world which they both recognize, but that then can still also surprise them. The infinite potential of what you can do in animation is very much tampered by physics and gravity and ergonomics in real life, these become the challenges, but also ironically the liberating factors.”

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