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Spotlight on the Set Design of Colonial Players’ The Philadelphia Story

By • Sep 17th, 2008 • Category: Interviews

Listen to Laura talk with Edd Miller about the Colonial Players’ production of The Philadelphia Story [MP3 8:21 7.6MB].

The Philadelphia Story
Colonial Players
Colonial Players Theater, Annapolis, MD
$20/$15 Student or Senior
Through September 27th

Laura: This is Laura Clark with ShowBizRadio. Today I am talking with Edd Miller, the set designer for the Colonial Players’ production of The Philadelphia Story. Thank you for talking with me today, Edd.

Edd: Thank you for having me.

Laura: When did you first come up with the set design for The Philadelphia Story?

Edd: Actually, after they had already started rehearsals on this particular one. I don’t know exactly why, it was late getting started. Probably because it was summer and we were redoing part of the theater itself. We were not sure on dates for awhile.

Laura: What was your vision for designing the set?

Edd: Well, it has to go along with the fact that these are upper class class people in the period, in the 30’s. So it has to fit the period, as well as fit our space, and have an opportunity to go outdoors and indoors at the same time. It took awhile to figure out how to arrange that set on an easy basis.

Laura: We have seen some of your shows at Colonial Players. With being a theater in the round, what are some of the challenges when designing a set, keeping in mind that people are on four sides of the stage?

Edd: First, you have to work with the director and find out their vision as well. You have to realize that we have a rule: nothing over 33 inches high because of sight lines. If things are required like there is no set and people are going to sit on the floor, you then have to create some levels so that the people in the back row can still see readily. How are we going to set the mood when there are no walls to paint on? Which is the most important thing for us, and I assume for all theaters in the round, is the floor, which is our backdrop. There is probably more paint on the floor right now than there is wood.

Laura: How long from the design phase to the actual construction to the actual finish. How long did that whole process take?

Edd: This one about a month roughly. Sometimes you have to build furniture. In this case we had to upholster furniture. There are things other than just the set to make it the right period and color schemes and what have you.

Laura: When you are building the set, do you have to build off site somewhere and bring it in or do you have an annex where you build your set?

Edd: In the annex we have a shop. That is where the major pieces are built and brought in in sections depending on what we have to do. We have furniture storage there as well as costume storage. And a rehearsal spot. There is a small shop in the theater itself that we use. There is a saw and stuff in there when we need to do stuff within to make it fit exactly.

Laura: Were there differences between Act I which I think all takes place inside and the Act II set which I think is a patio scene.

Laura: What were some of those differences?

Edd: There again the floor came into it. It had to be the same basic floor, but we cover the center medallion which was painted to look like a mosaic, with a rug. Totally changed color schemes from a wine color and British tan sort of thing on the indoors to very soft aquas and what have you in the upholstery and what have you, to suggest outdoors by color and leaf patterns and things to help add to the feeling of being outdoors.

Laura: Is this your first time as the Set Designer?

Edd: No. I direct there as well and I do all my own shows, but I do other people’s as well. When we were living in Florida I did sets down there. Mostly for proscenium stages in Florida.

Laura: For this show, did you have to work closely with the other designers? Notably since the first act takes place inside and the second act takes place outside, did you have to coordinate with the lighting director to bring out the different moods of the two acts?

Edd: Closely, no. We did the set and set it up. Alex knew about where things were going to be placed and what have you. We did talk about color schemes some, so that they would be well aware of that ahead of time. I did also talk to the costume designer because I would not want to use a lot of prints if they were going to use a lot of prints or vice versa. Or colors that would make it a mish mash instead of cohesive.

Laura: I can understand that. If you have everybody blend in they would look like the wall paper.

Edd: Right.

Laura: In looking through your season, later on this year you are directing some of the shows. I am seeing Two Rooms here.

Edd: Two Rooms I’m doing, yes.

Laura: Is that a different vision structure than the set design that you did for Philadelphia Story?

Edd: Totally. Two Rooms is actually one room that is used as both and it is an empty set. There is no furniture. Just a mat on the floor. I am going to raise the center section of our stage so that people have better visual sightings. It is an empty office space that they use to suggest where the young man is imprisoned in Beirut and the office that he used to have at home that his wife has taken all of the furniture out so that she can feel closer to him by being in a space similar to what she imagines he is in.

Laura: Do you have a preference between directing or designing? Or is it more of wherever the need arises?

Edd: Preference is hard to tell because you get different reactions from different things. I enjoy it all. As a director I will do my own sets and stuff because I feel it is an integral part and I hope when I work as a designer I get from the director enough that we can make it a whole kind of thing. I think it would be directing because it is outside my normal lifestyle. That would be my preference if I had to pick one.

Laura: Did you meet with the director when the show was in it’s putting together phase to get her vision for the show?

Edd: Absolutely. We also went shopping together here and there to get some of the antiques that are on the set and stuff like that so that she did not go out and buy something, come back and say “I’d like to use this” and me say it would not fit. We had to see eye to eye on things as we went along. We did work closely together, yes.

Laura: What can the director do to make the set designer’s job easier?

Edd: Be articulate with what their vision is. Not so much laying down the law because that would take all the creativity out of it. As a designer I need to know, just as an interior designer for somebody’s house, you need to know what they would like to see happen. For instance Shakespeare is Shakespeare to a lot of people, but other people move it to the 20th century and put in automobiles or whatever. You need to know what their vision is in order to make it work for what they are really doing with the play.

Laura: Anything else that you wanted to say?

Edd: Only that working in the round is a challenge, but it is so much fun. Not only for all of us because it is more intimate and we can do things, I do not want to say on a smaller scale, but the intimacy of the space helps things come to light better both for the actor and the director and the designers, and we all hope for the audience. Theater in the round is an experience if someone has never come around and seen any, they should come and visit us.

Laura: That sounds good. Thank you very much for talking with me today, Edd.

Edd: You are very welcome.

Laura: Good luck on the rest of the run.

Edd: Thank you so much.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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