As the opening night of Chaminade’s performance of Macbeth approaches, students see the set coming together slowly. The set may be often overlooked for its simple role in a play. Some may see it simply as a platform for an actor to perform his craft. However, the set is so much more. Directors and designers behind the scenes make purposeful decisions about the set’s design that reflect the play’s theme and setting. As it is, the set is the whole world that the audience will see, so the director must make his best effort to portray as much detail in the set as possible in hopes of making clear the themes and most importantly the setting.
In Mr. Grumich’s advanced drama class, we are spending a few weeks learning stage design and building skills. This involves discussing Mr. Grumich’s ideas behind the set as well as actually building the set. The set’s design itself is quite simple. There is a pentagon shaped floor with stairs at its front for actors to enter and exit easily. Then there a two large walls on each side that have a slight curve inwards. There is one door on each wall for entrances and exits. Each wall is made of a transparent material which allows characters to appear as silhouettes. The back wall is able to open and close. This allows large amounts of actors to process on stage when the door is open or allows you to create a smaller and more intimate scene when the door is closed. Finally, there is a trap door at the front of the stage and in the middle of the top section which allows for quick disappearances.
The two coolest parts of the set have to be the transparent walls and the trap doors. The walls are made of a transparent plastic material. The way the material works allows you to either have it look like a normal wall, or you can shine a light through it to produce a silhouette. This will be used to show the ghosts that appear to Macbeth. The trap doors are also a cool part of the stage. There is one in the center of the top section of the stage. This trap door opens up and goes underneath the stage. The other trap door is really cool. It sits at the front of the stage, underneath the orchestra pit. There is a rectangular piece that connects to the stage which slides away to reveal an entrance to the orchestra pit where one can make a quick escape. This will be used for the witches to make their appearances. This hole will also function as the witches caldron, with lights shining out of the ground.
All of these details, according to Mr. Grumich, were chosen for a specific purpose. A big decision in directing a play is deciding which time period the play is set in. Should Macbeth be set in medieval times like it’s intended to be or should it have a modern twist? Mr. Grumich believes that the issues discussed in the play, namely man’s obsession with power, are timeless and thus his take on the play does not have a specific time period. To represent this, Mr. Grumich chose a basic design. The walls are painted gray and the only piece of furniture is a single table. The lack of detail leaves the time period indefinite and allows the audience to have their take on it.
Another important part of the set design is the large slanted side walls. A big theme is Macbeth is that the world is closing in on him. As Macbeth spirals into insanity, his world continues to get smaller and smaller. Most productions of Macbeth will represent this theme in their set in one shape or another. Some big time Broadway plays will even have a moving wall that will move closer and closer during the play, and physically make the set smaller. As cool as this would be, Mr. Grumich decided to represent this theme in a much simpler (and much less expensive) fashion. The large walls look imposing and forcefully confine Macbeth to his world. Also, the slight slant of the walls shows that the world is closing in on Macbeth. The two doors, one on each wall, represent confinement. They also show that as Macbeth continues to dig himself deeper into insanity, the chances of escaping his situation seem dire.
Hopefully this insight into the set design will make your viewing of Macbeth more enjoyable. Of course every Chaminade student has been on the edge of their seat waiting for the showing of Macbeth since the announcement of the play last spring. Right? Please consider attending Macbeth and supporting your fellow students on October 13, 14, and 15 at 7 PM.