I used to underestimate the power of images in creative process. I didn’t know what I was missing. 

I first started to figure it out during my set design class in graduate school. Designing sets was completely foreign to me. As anyone who has worked with me knows, generally I focus first on the performances and the text and work upwards to set requirements which tend to be minimal in this grassroots attempt.

But this was a different exercise. A fascinating exercise. If you have unlimited money and resources, what would you do? My wonderful teacher told us to focus on research, specifically, the compilation of images which spoke to you in some ways about the script we were reading.

In doing this, I developed this little google image game I would play. I would go into google images and search for, say “snow + boat,” and that would give me a bunch of images, I’d find some interesting stuff. And a polar bear might randomly end up in one. Interesting. Ok, “polar bear + boat.” The craziest stuff would come up. One might show a man freezing to death. Interesting. “Frozen + boat + body.”

That’s a literal exercise. I would also search themes and motifs which are very interesting. When I was designing the set for A Midsummer Night’s Dream I have words like “magic” “fairy” “tree” “magical tree.” My set I believe ended up with one, mystical, magical, huge tree upstage center with sparkling branches and leaves like beautiful tentacles over-stretching.

In another design, for the play Terra Nova by Ted Tally which deals with a grueling race to the South Pole, after tons of image research on ice and ice caps and sled dogs, etc. I ended up with this extremely abstract set that was just a gigantic sloped whiteness, that I felt captured all the themes in one streamlined way, and gave the play a chance to breathe. (Of course, who knows if any of these ideas would have actually worked, the farthest I got was making models).

Now this kind of image research is absolutely essential to my creative process. I do this google exercise before every play I direct to try and capture its essence and give me a visual basis to work off of. This is useful not just in designing the production, but is also a huge part of blocking, and creating stage pictures, and even casting.

Now, with my newest project, I am doing my own adaptation. I have been struggling of late, hit some sort of wall. So yesterday, having never tried it before, I did some image research on the play I was adapting, and it opened up this whole new visual world for me. Reminding me that writing a play is not an exercise in literature (a trap that’s so easy to fall into), but it is actually an exercise in creating/generating action. Which is actually not so different from working as a director, or even as an actor, especially as an actor, actually.

Much more to say on images, as they continue to work as a huge driving force for me in all the work I do in the theatre.


~ by mrchevyceleb on October 30, 2008.

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