Planning the model of the stage set
Interview with Phillipe de Coen, artistic director of Feria Musica, and Bruno Renson, the extraordinary inventor-creator of different types of monumental structures and machines.
Bruno Renson and Phillippe de Coen are currently facing the task of trying to devise the stage set for Daral Shaga, with only a few snippets of conversation, some doodles on a piece of scrap paper, and an enormous amount of crossings out and alterations to go on.
What’s the main idea behind the stage set for Daral Shaga?
P de C: The scenery is made up of several separate areas designed to give different levels of depth to the show. Fabrice Murgia, the director, came up with the idea of this wall which gradually gets closer to the audience as the dramatic intensity of the piece increases. The different areas are separated by fine, transparent partitions made of tulle, supporting the image we want to create of the impossible dream of an Eldorado which is barely visible and almost out of reach.
We would like to use raw materials such as wood and sand to create the areas of desert that the protagonists will have to cross.
How are you going to use this model set that you’re showing us today?
BR: The model of the 1/20e ladder allows me to have an audience-eye view of everything. We want to make sure that the maximum amount of people get the best emotional and sensory experience possible. It’s not unusual for some choreographic, set design and production options to be completely changed once we start building the model for the set.
So the model for the set allows you to try out the different options that you’ve chosen?
BR: Yes, and at the same time it helps the different people involved in the project – who don’t always speak the same language- to work together and come up with realistic and achievable solutions.
P de C: For Daral Shaga we were thinking about using a trampoline, which the acrobats would handle and move around during the show. In the model it’s represented by the raised, detachable central part (see photo) which allows us to see what is and isn’t possible in terms of manoeuvring the apparatus within the space that’s left.
As far as Fabrice is concerned, this model will mainly help him to calculate the angles and areas of projection for the pictures and videos.
Why didn’t you use graphic imaging for the model?
P de C: It’s true that nowadays you can do everything by computer, but we want to stay as true to our “craftsman’s” roots as possible. Even since the early days of Feria Musica, we’ve always tried to mechanise things as little as possible in an attempt to emphasise the physical human effort involved in moving stage sets- not that we want to exhaust people too much either of course! (laughs)
Once everyone has reached an agreement, what’s the next step?
BR: Creating a life-size version of the structure on stage of course! Or more precisely, creating the initial parts, systems, and mechanisms to be tested by the acrobats so that we can check for any corrections, fine-tuning or adjustments that need to be made.
It’s a difficult stage of the process because there are no pre-established guidelines. Even though we can always rely a bit on what we’ve learned from previous shows, each new project represents a new challenge in which things have to be re-invented: it’s a delicate balance between what we initially want to achieve artistically, practicalities for the acrobats, safety standards, and logistical and budgetary constraints etc.
It’s an enormous responsibility: I had nightmares when I started doing my first stage sets! (laughs)
What particularly stands out in this production?
P de C: What’s new is that the opera singers in the show will also take part in some of the acrobatics. The piece focuses on great human endeavour, a long and difficult journey full of hopes and dreams. In order to get this idea across, it’s important for us that each individual is involved in the movement on stage, so that includes the singers as well as the acrobats.
For example, some of the singers will have to sing their parts whilst suspended in mid-air. This means devising a system which won’t squeeze their rib cage or put too much extra physical demand on them so that their vocal performance isn’t affected in any way.
BR: The decision to throw the acrobats against the stage set is an equally challenging and delicate operation; we also have to consider the fragility of the materials we’re using like perspex and tulle or canvas which can easily tear or break, particularly at certain temperatures.
We really need to devise a complex, yet discreet system of machinery which will help with the handling of the different elements of the set and which needs to be as flexible as possible in order to cope with any unexpected eventualities on stage.
When will you start testing things out?
P de C: The first trials will take place in January with the acrobats, and in February with the singers from VocaalLab.
How do you work on the design for the scenery?
BR: I work with a team especially trained for the job, which I choose in consultation with Philippe. I make the prototypes and more complex parts myself. As for the plans….. that’s rather more theoretical.
Photo : Hubert Amiel
This post is also available in: French