There is a balance between form and function that every set designer has to teeter through when designing for a show. There’s the challenge of creating the environment the characters onstage will inhabit while also working within concrete constraints like the size of a space. In our interview with Steven Kemp who designed The Loser Letters set we learn how he managed to work through them. Here, we’ll identify three of the show’s parameters and find out how Steven and his team addressed them.
An Olympic Gymnast Needs Plenty of Space to Move.
Steven knew he had a gymnast of the highest caliber and wanted to make sure that she had the freedom to move. He learned that Chellsie’s specialty was the floor exercise. In order to give her plenty of room, “we had large swaths of open space as well as potentially multiple levels. Things she was used to in the floor exercise but perhaps in slightly different ways than you would typically see in a gymnastic presentation.”
That led them to jungle gyms which began “informing the feel of some functional elements that we could play with.”
A Potential to Tour
Although no touring dates have been announced, The Loser Letters is planning to travel. That added another layer of practicality to Steven’s vision. “We challenged ourselves to see how much we could break this down and how small can our pieces get and how efficiently can we truck these things across the nation.” Steven and his team examined the different pieces of the set they had designed and decided whether or not it could fit in a shipping container without being charged extra for it.
They also had to consider the venues where the show could be performed in. “We very early on created a footprint that we wanted to base everything within.” The potential venue parameters informed the height of the structure as well. Based on how large the largest piece could be, the proportions made sense.
Designing A Set That Fits Between the Lines
The actual location of the play is somewhat nebulous – and that is on purpose. So Steven made sure that the set didn’t give too much away, but created the right feeling for the environment of the show. “Keeping the tension of the mystery of the environment is right there in the piece. We want your imagination to go wild as you’re watching this and assign some location within the world that we’re leading you to be thinking.” They decided to “keep it very clean, very austere in a place that is very clinical. It could be anything on a spectrum of things of where she is and we can believe any of it when it’s really revealed at the end of where we truly are.” Steven got inspiration from Antony Gormely art installations and from films of pieces that “hint at a larger space.”
See Steven Kemp’s Set in Washington, D.C.
The Loser Letters plays at the Hartke Theatre in Washington, DC from 09/29 – 10/29. Get your tickets here.