By Gary Wien
Every now and then when people leave the theatre the design of the stage is on their mind. That was the case after the opening night of New Jersey Rep's production of Touch of Rapture. As the groups gathered to talk about the play, the production's sparse yet effective set design came up often in conversation. Set design is something that often gets overlooked, but set design is a very important part of each production.
I decided to talk with Carrie Mossman, the designer for this production to get her feelings on the set, and the role of set designers in general. Her answers were a bit surprising...
Tell me a little about your work with Touch of Rapture. You not only designed the set but helped create the sculptures on stage as well.
It was very interesting. The thing about the script is that they talk about the sculptures being so magnificentand so overwhelming that there was a concern at first whether or not we would be able to create somethingthat would still make you feel that. Honestly the set that you see is quite different from my original idea. The director and I originally talked about an idea of having the walls actually being a stretchable fabric with the sculptures being living people pushing through the back of the fabric because they talk about the sculptures being alive. But, as it turned out it was going to be much more difficult to do in a small space. So the sculptures sort of come out of the wall. It's not a sculpture that you can walk around. It's not a 3-D sculpture and yet, at the same time, it is 3-D because it's coming out and you can physically touch it and it's not flat.
What is the goal of a set designer?
The truth is that designing a set is really a glorified way of designing entrances and exits. My job is to help the flow of the action of the play; to move the actors on and off stage in the best and easiest and most interesting way possible. But if it doesn't serve the play and if what I do upstages what they do then I haven't done my job. It's not about my set. It's about the play and what's going on between the actors. The best thing I can do is serve that in a way that helps it and moves it along. I don't think you go into set design to be a star; you go into it because it's a collaborative process. There are many Broadway set designers who want to shine, but I don't agree with that.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.