How do the objects and set onstage help tell a story? Why might a director and designer choose to use a real tree stump and why might they choose to build one out of carved foam? How real is real in the upcoming production of The Spitfire Grill at Lyric Arts?
For the last 150 years or so the most common style of Western theater has been realism, a style that seeks to create a more realistic environment onstage. Actors portray people as they appear in real life - with emotional reactions, everyday language, etc. This was reflected in set design with the emergence of the unit set, where the entire play takes place in one location and the audience looks in through an imaginary "fourth wall." Naturalism, an extreme form of realism in which characters were a direct product of their environment, generated sets with as few theatrical illusions as possible - real grass, dirt, flowers, etc used onstage.
The set design (by Gabriel Gomez) for The Spitfire Grill, uses a mixture of these two styles, commonly known as suggestive realism. In this style, theatrical tools and conventions are used to suggest a setting. A room might be indicated by only part of a wall, another by only a door, so that multiple locations can live together in the same stage space at the same time. Lighting and staging primarily let the audience know the location for each scene and invite the audience to use their imagination to complete the image. Gomez has combined the imaginative and representative qualities of this style with a choice inspired by naturalism - the use of real trees onstage.
Just yesterday the Lyric Arts shop brought in 15 fully-grown, locally purchased cut aspen trees and installed them on the stage. Check out set designer Gabriel Gomez's color rendering and come and see how this lovely, heartfelt story is brought to life. See you soon at Lyric Arts!