I have had the immense pleasure of working with a varied group of artists these past few weeks at Threshold Repertory Theatre on A Wrinkle in Time. My fellow cast mates and I have all been tasked with bringing the words to life, a challenge regardless of genre. However, science fiction and fantasy are quite a different obstacle for the miracle workers of any and all theatre productions: the designers.
Most plays have established parameters within which the designers work. There are always challenges, to be sure, but there are givens due to the nature of the play: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, for instance, is one way or another going to be set on Big Daddy’s plantation. Even if the director made the choice to move the play from the 50s, the costumes would all be uniform in time. Lighting and sound also tend to favor realism for that kind of show.
Now, take A Wrinkle in Time: a well known children’s book by Madeline L’Engle adapted into a play by John Glore. Three kids go through space in time to fight evil and win back their father, with the help of three former stars. There isn’t exactly an aesthetic principle for that.
So I decided to reach out to the designers, our directors, and stage manager about the process of putting together a piece of sci fi for the stage.
“Sci-fi requires big imaginations from the actor, designer and audience member. I feel we all too often get stuck ‘playing adult’ and have forgotten how to see the world from a child’s eyes. A sci-fi production allows us to reconnect with our inner child who sees endless possibility,” says Kristen Bushey, a veteran costume designer in the Charleston area, with over 50 productions under her belt as a designer.
She faced the particular challenge of designing distinct and fantastic looks that could easily and quickly be shed for another, as several of the actors were double, triple, and quadruple casted. “This limited the possibilities of makeup and wig design–a very important element of many sci-fi based productions. Therefore, the costume design itself had to be spectacular (no pressure).” Though I may be a bit biased, I believe she definitely accomplished that goal, with stunning and varied character pieces, that range from Victorian to gypsy to sheepdog.
Shawn McIntosh, the scenic designer for A Wrinkle in Time and assistant technical director for Threshold, also had his hands full creating a set that could, with limited effort, be transformed from a typical American kitchen to various alien planets. The main features of the set are a raked platform center stage, which serves a variety of purposes, and rotating walls made of colored flats with four sides. The ‘tesser affect’ side of the flats are described by Shawn as “the convergence of light and sound,” and feature whirls of color that really increase the sense of dislocation felt by the main characters.
The man wearing the most hats for this production is Mike Kordeck, who is the technical director for Threshold, and for A Wrinkle in Time, was the director, light, and sound designer. One tool of the theatre trade that has rapidly increased in popularity that Mike utilized is the use of projections–images, text, and short videos projected on a scrim or other material. CGI in film is one of the main ways science fiction elements are executed–projections are are the live theatre equivalent, effectively elevating the scenery when used appropriately, although projections usually fall under lighting design.
On directing this piece, Mike said, “One of the first things that went through my mind was how to bring this fantastic story to life. I had a lot of ideas running through my head; most of which have come to fruition. I would love to mention some–but don’t want to ruin it for you when you see it.”
Courtney Daniels, the executive Director at Threshold, assisted Mike in directing the play. She believes A Wrinkle In Time “offers more than just a sci-fi story. It offers audiences the chance to use their imagination and tap into spaces they haven’t used since childhood. It also centers on themes of family, friendships, and a sense of identity and the importance of all these factors in one’s life.”
From the first few days of rehearsal, A Wrinkle in Time has been a wonderful undertaking, fraught with challenges and alive with laughter. Alex Skipper, the company stage manager for Threshold, summed up our experience quite well, “I just want people to appreciate this show for the magic that it is. There was a lot of dedicated, talented people from cast and crew who have worked on this show and it truly is a piece of theatre magic. It’s taken a lot of time and dedication to put on a show, in a 99 seat black box theatre, that travels to 9 different locations in a hour and a half. It is a labor of love, that’s for sure.”
A Wrinkle In Time runs weekends from October 30th-November 22nd, with 8:00 pm shows Friday and Saturday and 3:00 pm shows Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available online at charlestontheatre.com.
Behind the scenes