SET Design Challenges
Designs generously sponsored by The Globe Theatre
Set Design "Quicksand" Challenge - Featuring the work of Set Designers:
Damien James Webb
Designers were challenged to create a design for incorporating "Quicksand" in a theatre set under the following design specifications:
the quicksand must allow for one actor to be swallowed by the quicksand and a second actor to go into the quicksand and rescue the first one; and the quicksand should be designed in such a way that a skilled set builders or other theatre technicians could build it.
2021 "Quicksand" Set Designs
For this challenge I worked from the idea of fabric because of its ability to stretch and bounce back. With a woven fabric the actor or puppeteer as the case may be can slide between the weaves in order to pass through the stage surface into the opening below. By covering the full stage in the same treatment, the solid stage and the pit will appear the same from the audience. There are many companies that will custom print your own designs and it would be easy to print fabric that would look like sand.
There should be a stagehand under the pit to ensure that actors can arrive safely to the understage area. If an actor has to arrive on the scene and then slowly sink then the stagehand can remove stage blocks of various sizes from under the actor’s feet, by having them lift one foot at a time. More likely however the first actor would already be trapped in the pit when the lights come up and slowly sink throughout the play. I have included a tree with multiple points to secure it to the stage so that the actors can tie a rope to it, to facilitate their escape from the pit. Actor two can tie off the rope and slide in on their belly after actor one has disappeared. Actor one and the stagehand can guide actor two's hands to the floor for some hilarious feet in the air acting and/or sliding all the way into the pit. For a realistic 'after the escape' look the actors should have a costume change or some dirt to add to their attire/faces while they are out of sight.
Damien James Webb
Quicksand, although quite a common trope in movies and television, isn’t something we see often in live theatre. So, I’ve taken the practical design used in film, and adapted it slight to the stage. Inside the housing of the sandbox sits a rubber gasket “trap” in order to hold in the sand but still allow an actor to fall through when necessary. The “sand” could be something similar to Lima beans since using real sand could be an issue for a few different reasons. The internal sides of the box are also angled to allow the sand to even back out once drained, and the whole system can even be built into a riser and wheeled over a stage trap to further enhance the magic that is QUICKSAND.
If I were needed to create a quicksand effect for the stage, knowing my aesthetic penchant, I am certain I would opt for an impressionistic method; one that would suggest and imply the slow, anxious anguish of quicksand rather than attempt to recreate it. For this event I thought it interesting to throw myself outside my comfort zone, go counter to my inclination and attempt to bring realism to the effect. My design’s ability to success relies on one singular element of importance: making the audience believe that there can not be a trap door in the space, that there is simply nowhere physically for an actor to go.
I have imagined a black box space similar to The Refinery or John Mitchell’s theatre. A space that does not have a lower level under the stage to accommodate the classic trap door “trickery”. In the spirit of exercise, I have raised the audience and the loose space between them and the stage without their knowing, creating a realistic fake floor. The height that this affords me to “trap” down an actor is only to the waist, demanding the actor themselves to further slowly get swallowed up to the brink of the chin, where dramatic effect probably is best.
Our goal with this design was to create a modular, quicksand construction which allows an actor to dramatically sink into the wet earth without the audience suspecting there was even an opening to fall into. By overlapping taut, stretchy fabrics on a sturdy frame we have created a system that allows an actor to lower themselves at a safe pace. The main structure remains open from the front perspective but could be covered by other set pieces or scrim. This means the quicksand victim's descent could be backlit, allowing slow motion choreography of their perilous fall to be seen by the audience. Sections of fabric can be excluded to allow actors to exit from the bottom of the structure, meaning an entire cast could end up ‘swallowed’. This simple, sturdy design can be practically constructed in small theatre spaces, and easily scaled up for larger productions. Since each fabric layer is reinforced with rope, the actor can also be miraculously rescued and pulled onto the supporting platforms.
Crispi Lord is an actor/creator/designer based in Saskatoon and trained at the University Of Saskatchewan and The Dell'Arte School of Physical Theatre (CA,USA). As head puppet wrangler with Wide Open Children's Theatre she has been designing and building sets and puppets for twenty years. Her latest endeavors include exploring the tiny world of tabletop puppetry with characters that are 6" tall. Trained in physical theatre, mask and clown she was all too excited to drop everything and design for this inaugural festival. Recently she was the grateful recipient of the Henry Woolf award for Continuing Achievement in Theatre from the Saskatoon and Area Theatre Awards. Theatre highlights include: Titus A. Puppet. Revenge with Shakespeare on The Saskatchewan and Stumped Productions, The Snow Queen (Dancing Sky Theatre), Frosty The Snowperson (Wide Open), Balloonacy (Wide Open), Piyisew Iskweisis (Wide Open).
Damien James Webb
Most recently employed as Globe Theatre’s Design Archivist and Maquette Restoration Technician, Damien has a vast talent pool when it comes to putting on a show. With a diploma from Grant MacEwan University for Theatre Production, he specializes in prop and set design. He has, however, held the positions of Production Assistant, Props Fabricator, Production Designer, Set Construction, Assistant TD, Assistant Head of Props, and also has a background in a myriad of other professions. Damien is a man of many hats, but when he’s not working in theatre he is also a highly accomplished Miniature Artist who has his work on display in both public and private collections all over the world. You can follow all of his exploits at @damienjameswebb on any and all social media!
David has been working in theatre for two decades now, collaborating with almost all of Saskatoon’s companies. Known primarily as a designer, he has also written and directed. His most notable works include: Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show (Co-author and set designer), Ma Irma (Director), Café Daughter (Set Design). David is also an active member of the 300 local of IATSE and enjoys his sessional work and Propmaster’s duties at the University of Saskatchewan’s Drama department.
Brooklynn Bitner (Assistant Set Designer)
Brooklynn Bitner (she/her) is a designer in multiple meanings of the word. She originally set out to develop her knack for graphic design, which she continues to develop amongst her other pursuits. Near the end of her BA in Studio Art, she stumbled across the University of Saskatchewan Drama Design program, and instantly fell in love. With a passion for bringing technology and the spectacle of film to a live stage, Brooklynn wants to wow audiences with transformative, evolving, and dynamic designs that make the audience question their perception of reality. Set, Costume, and Sound Design are her fortes, but she dabbles in projection and lighting design as well. Well versed in anything from photo manipulation to video editing, Brooklynn has the digital skill set to bring theatre into the modern age of innovation.
Brooklynn has been involved in multiple Greystone Theatre productions including Machinal (Set Designer, 2019), Henry V (Projection Designer, 2018) Girl in the Goldfish Bowl (Sound Designer, 2017), Season’s Greetings (Sound Designer, 2017), Frantic Assembly Residency (Co-Designer, 2019). Outside of university, Brooklynn has done sound design for Station Arts Centre’s production of Prairie Nurse (2018), Sound Design for Skye Brandon’s production of Henry IV (2017) with On The Boards, built puppets as part of Stumped Production’s Titus Andronicus project for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan, and assisted Amberlin Hsu with set for the outdoor production of Pimohtewak (2019). Working with La Troupe du Jour, Brooklynn did Set Design for Scapin (2019) and Will et Ernest (2020), as well as Costume Design for Saskatoon Summer Players’ production of Into the Woods (2019). Brooklynn is also a founding member of SightLine Designs. SightLine Designs Inc. is a Saskatchewan based theatre design company with skills and specialties ranging from set and costume design, to lighting, and projection design. We've also had the honour to become leaders in digital theatre design and production during the ongoing pandemic. sightlinedesigns.ca.
Nathan Harder (he/him) - Nathan’s art stems from a combination of the organic nature of collective creation and his constant attempts to recreate the vivid images he sees in his mind. He is someone who believes in the strength of community. He draws on his close knit group of fellow artists to help him build beautiful, impactful and entertaining theatre and visual art. Nathan is also a founding member of SightLine Designs. SightLine Designs Inc. is a Saskatchewan based theatre design company with skills and specialties ranging from set and costume design, to lighting, and projection design. We've also had the honour to become leaders in digital theatre design and production during the ongoing pandemic. sightlinedesigns.ca.
Rory Jewiss (Assistant Set Designer )
Rory Jewiss (he/him) grew up building elaborate creations out of LEGO bricks and now he is trying to take that creative spirit and make it into a career. He has recently finished his BFA in Theatre Design at the University of Saskatchewan and is looking forward to whatever comes next. Rory is most in his element when he is making something, be it a costume, an intricate maquette, or digital model meant for 3D printing. His plans for the future are not yet set in stone, but as long as he is near a stage, Rory will be happy.
Recent credits include Props for Will et Ernest (La Troupe Du Jour 2020), Set & Lighting Design Assistance for The Wolves (Evilstick & littleBig 2020), Set for Rooftops (UofS DSA 2019), Set & Props for The Romeo Project (The Studio 2019), Co-Design for the Frantic Assembly Residency (2019), Lighting for The Cripple of Inishmaan (Greystone Theatre 2019), Set for Arcadia (Greystone Theatre 2018), and Assistant Head of Wardrobe for Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (2018). Rory is also a founding member of SightLine Designs. SightLine Designs Inc. is a Saskatchewan based theatre design company with skills and specialties ranging from set and costume design, to lighting, and projection design. We've also had the honour to become leaders in digital theatre design and production during the ongoing pandemic. sightlinedesigns.ca.