A Modern Set

A mid-century modern set comes to The Denver Center of the Performing Arts. We caught up with Kent Thompson, Director of Other Desert Cities and Producing Artistic Director for the Denver Center Theatre Company, to discuss the set design of Other Desert Cities.

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Other Desert Cities tells the story of a daughter’s returns to Palm Springs for a Christmas gathering after writing a tell-all book about a family secret. Parents and family suddenly scramble with an issue they’d rather not discuss. Secrets and lies unravel making each character more complex—and human. The script describes the set in the following way —  “The Wyeth living room.  There is a metal fireplace, one of those Scandinavian flying saucer types from the sixties…Desert-French regency if the style, decorated for movie stars circa 1965, but somehow it still works, perhaps better now than it did in its time.”

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[acc_item title=”What research was done for the set?”]Set designer James Kronzer brought a lot of visual research on architecture, interior design, including iconic homes and buildings in 1950s-1960s Palm Springs.  In other words, we looked at what is referred to as mid-century Desert Modernism—in other words, extensive use of glass, stone, strong, clean lines, natural and manufactured resources that evoke a lifestyle of simple elegance and informality.  We looked at images of several architects, most notably Richard Neutra and Donald Wexler.  We both were immediately attracted to Wexler’s design for a Union 76 gas station—with its striking, jutting diagonal roof.  This structure is now the Palm Spring’s Visitor Center.[/acc_item]
[acc_item title=”What architects were inspiration during building the set?”]In looking interior architecture and design, we were struck by the vast windowscapes onto the desert or mountains of Palm Springs, and the use of natural materials consistent with the environment—granite, rock in both walls and floors, colors consistent with the sun-blasted deserts surrounding.  Lastly, we noticed that several houses exteriors were striking in their straight lines, but had interior spaces that curved and swept across spaces.[/acc_item]
[acc_item title=”How does the set design further the narrative of the play?”]Our biggest challenge was that The Space Theatre is in the round—with audiences on all sides.  Therefore we didn’t have walls and vertical areas to use in creating the set.  We chose to move seating from half of one section, so we could place a vertical pillar out of natural stone that anchors the space.  At the bottom a fireplace, at the top a diagonal ceiling, jutting upwards.[/acc_item]
[acc_item title=”Why is mid-century modern such an iconic American design movement?”]The interior incorporates long curves (the front hallway to the guest bedrooms is a long sweeping pathway of stone.  Most of the space reflects the Scandinavian/California style of the mid-60s.  Using wood, cactus, elegant fabrics, cream colored carpet and beautiful, built in shelves, window seats, cabinets.  Very simple, elegant, but warm.  Also, indicating the wealth of its residents.[/acc_item]
[acc_item title=”Is designing a modern set more or less enjoyable than designing a period set?”]Both are equally enjoyable in completely different ways.  A lot of the joy of designing and directing a time-specific piece is incorporating elements from the time of play.  Doing the research and figuring out the design solutions for the particular play in that particular space is a wonderfully creative, collaborative and challenging endeavor.  When you add the limitations of a theatre-in-the round, it forces you to be more creative in solving the kinetic needs of the storytelling and the actors moving within the space without using some of our standard visual markers (walls, vertical architecture, windows, etc).[/acc_item]
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Want to see Other Desert Cities? For $10 off use promo code “MODERN”! For more information visit the Denver Center website. Images: Jennifer M. Koskinen.