“To be a good designer, you need to study the real world,” said I to my students today. Those of us charged with inventing an imagined reality for the entertainment of others need to be familiar with real reality. This got me thinking about what I have observed recently.
On Saturday I had a last “Hurrah” before instruction began for the fall semester. My husband and I went SCUBA diving in Monterey. While suiting up, I looked around the charming park with its concrete steps leading down to the sand and eventually the water. It reminded one of an idyllic scene –green grass, gentle slopes, a few artistically placed benches, an atmospheric pier, with a few charming buildings from a bygone era. Perfectly beautiful, right out of post card. Except, of course for the goose poop. Before anyone accuses me of objecting in anyway to the goose poop or blaming it on the geese or the city or anyone else, that isn’t the point. The point is reality has goose poop in it. It’s ugly, it’s slimy, it’s all kinds of different colors, and (by now) it’s all over my dive boots. When asked to design a set for a sea-side park, most designers would consult carefully airbrushed post cards, a few artists’ renderings, maybe a lovely long shot someone posted to Flickr. But who would consider the goose poop? Should the goose poop even be considered?
I hope that I consider the goose poop because it should be considered. I’m not advocating covering sets with goose poop, but as part of the reality, it needs to be considered. Ugliness born of necessity invades our real world all the time. I worked with a scenic designer who seemed to include an unexplained jog in a wall to give a sense of reality. Walls in homes jump left or right to accommodate supports, or water lines, or closets or whatever — in much the same way that parks have goose poop.
During the drive home, I had little to do but read the directions to the driver and stare at the moon. The moon that night was large, and amber, with a faint glow around it. And it wasn’t all there. I don’t know my waxing from my waning moon, or my full from my new. But I can identify a circle, and it wasn’t. As I studied it, I could make out how, in reality it had just a little shaved from the full circle, but it really gave more of the feeling of an egg than a slightly lumpy circle. It was striking. It was real. And I’d never put it on stage. Much like the goose poop, the egg shape moon goes against all my instincts as a designer. I like a world that is pretty. Much like Cervantes says in Wasserman’s “Man of La Mancha”: “Why see the world as it in, when you can see it as it should be?” In design we have the ability to “fix” reality. Our moons can be a perfect circle, or a jaunty crescent, and our parks lack goose poop.
But I come back to my question: Should they? On one hand, reality is not our job. If people want to see real life they should leave the theatre and go outside. On the other hand, most plays are set in some sort of reality. How real is real? Does the audience want the smell of rotting food in the gutter, graffiti on the walls, broken windows and babies crying that would be in the real world of “Rent” or “West Side Story”? Or does the audience want it sanitized, cleaned up, made pretty.
In the end it comes down to the show, and the production. Could either show above show the rot, the stink, the destruction of a city that we believe was once beautiful? Yes it could, but it could also not. The city of remembrance may be the perfect setting for the production that focuses on the love stories of the plays. The gritty city of reality might be appropriate for a production about how life goes on despite the hardships of the world. There is a time for reality in our entertainment, and time for ignoring it. But when creating any production’s imagined reality, the goose poop and egg shaped moon must be considered.