SOMETHING YOU DID is set in a prison library. That’s where Alison Moulton works, shelving books, recording them into some kind of master log. Our set and property designers, Luciana Stecconi and Michelle Elwyn, collaborated on the library layout – what books we’d be obtaining – how they’d be shelved – there are easily over 1500 books on stage. As Michelle was collecting them, all but a dozen were free of any library label denotation; nothing particularly signified the remaining 1490 + books as belonging to a library. The question for us as a team: do we remove the 10 labels with a dewey decimal denotation on the white spine label of the library reference books, so they’d look just like the other books in the library? Or would we apply dewey decimal labels to the 1490 + books so that they’d be of a piece and at home in a working library?
We resisted all that labor. Couldn’t we find an intern to do the work? Christy, an intern, was approached, but her last day was upon us before she could really begin. We decided to try labeling just the 30-40 books on a single downstage shelving cart, to see whether all that white labeling would upstage the focus, and turn Lu’s perfect prison set into a sea of label. On the contrary, the work on that one section told our team that it behooved our commitment to verisimilitude to get that library right and in working order. Our actress was asking for an organizational scheme to the library so that her own activity on stage would have a logic to it; a more compelling sense of believability. Set, props, and even costume designers got on board and made the labels, pealed them precisely, and lovingly, exactingly, finished applying all 1500 labels over the two hour dinner break, having begun the mass labeling project earlier in the day.
The result? Utterly compelling subtly in transforming a pretty library into a pretty WORKING library — or one that has all that much more the appearance of being a working library. What we do to sell an idea. In this case, dedicated professionals, artists who dream big knew to sweat the little details, and knew the great good of consistent repetition and the overall benefit of an accumulation of volume(s) to make an overall and larger point; in this case, that a prison library bespeaks an ethos of humanity and a belief in investing in the moral and intellectual life of people behind bars. Something moving in dedicating all that resource to people who have done wrong. Something moving about Alison working so doggedly in such a library. And our designers working so fastidiously to make the space feel real.
The result of it all: a set the utterly compels and feels authentic; bars, security camera, clanging- metal-doors-that-buzz and all… It’s good luck for us, I tell the team, when Michelle and set designer go all-crazy-and-punctilious with a labeling project. I remind them of Michelle and Kinereth Kisch and Kinereth’s mother from Israel labeling 100s upon 100s of water bottles with an Israeli Eden Springs label in Hebrew for the play PANGS OF THE MESSIAH, showing a family on the West Bank getting ready for a siege by stockpiling cases of water in their home. And each bottle had to be labeled just so. The result: total believability. No sparing the sweat equity. That kind of precise work begets precise work everywhere else on a production.
Hopefully we’ll find some pictures to show you all some examples.
Until then, let this profile say, in a different way, how excited we are about this show — Last night’s first preview was warmly embraced by its audience. Hoping to include much audience feedback here on the blog and on facebook. The first comment, following the standing ovation and the encore curtain call:
“Thank you for presenting this play on this night of all nights, when Glen Beck and his army were in town. Tonight felt like the real counter-rally. What a privilege to be here.”
More to come…