Adorable model by the amazing scenic designer, Steen Mitchell.
Every production is a process. Whether you have six months or six days of preparation, the growth in the final days (or hours) tends to be the most drastic. Creating the world of Nick, Tom, Jay, and Daisy has been an exercise in bringing together elements of dreamy fantasy, historic period style, and the personal aesthetics of a variety of artists. Fitzgerald offers an image-rich and poetic text as a starting point, but each person involved has a unique perspective on that text and what is important to communicate to the audience.
In an early production meeting, Steen expressed her initial reaction to the novel when she first encountered it in high school. “I just remember the eyes of Dr. Eckleburg, I drew them over and over in the margin of my notebook.” Partially due to the inherent symbolism of the image and partially due to the impression the image had on Steen personally, the eyes became a prominent feature of our design and impacted blocking and acting choices for the company. This is one of the best parts of collaboration - we each respond to a narrative a little bit differently and then work together to convey the most powerful story we can to our audience.
For me, the novel’s strongest impressions had to do with the intersections of class and gender. As a director, this meant establishing a clear perspective for the audience to view these events. The Great Gatsby's perspective belongs to narrator Nick. Like the audience, Nick is an outsider remembering these events into an elite and morally damaged world through the haze of several years gone by. Nick's memories are not sharp and immediate, but tinted by time. Even two years after these events occurred, Nick continues to dwell upon them - they have impacted him and completely shifted his own prior (and less cynical) views on wealth, success, and the American Dream. The strongest image to me was the water - the idea of “boats beating on against the current.” Visual images of light, shadow, and reflection stuck with me.
In many ways Nick in our production does not remember the other characters as concrete solid people, but as whispy ghosts, glimmery specters against a backdrop of dark water and night skies. Costume designer, Jeanette De Jong, has created a stylishly-dressed cast in a generally soft and muted palate with just the right amount of glitter so that the characters drift in and out of Nick’s memories like so many champagne bubbles.
Art Deco inspiration for our color palate.
Steen’s research led her to a variety of Art Deco perfume labels. Above is one of the strongest influences on our final choices for color. The peacock-palate evokes much of the imagery in the novel including the color of water, the night sky dotted with so many stars, and even Daisy’s “green light” burning eternally for Jay.
The set in real dimensions. (Nearly completed.)
Dry tech was an exciting day. Seeing the treatment on the floor and the lights helped to solidify the world even more. It also presented further challenges and changes as we continue to focus the picture before opening night. One of the biggest changes happened when we decided to remove the scrim as a means of projecting the images that establish the multiple locations. The thin fabric simply did not work in the way that we had hoped. While theoretically it should have acted in a way to “hide” Eckleburg when we didn’t want his eyes looming large over the scenes, it blurred the images so much that it was difficult read them. It’s part of the process. Sometimes an idea seems great, but in practice won’t work as imagined.
So far we have learned a variety of those lessons. This is a fairly technical show due to the multiple scenic shifts and more fantastical elements evoked by Nick’s memories. Adding the actors into the mix, of course, adds another level of complication and artistry to the process. Just as each member of the production team adds to the picture, so do the actors based upon their own impressions of the script and their characters.
First dress is always a particularly exciting rehearsal for me because the characters get to “see” each other for the first time. It provides more challenges for the actors of course (ie. “when do I put down this hat?”) but it also adds dimension and nuance to the performances.
I’m very eager to share this show come Friday night. Each rehearsal is making the picture clearer and stronger as the show continues to grow into what it will become.