During the time I stopped writing I painted and designed theatre sets with a renowned set designer who taught me as much as he could. One thing leads to another. The better the sets we designed, the more choices we had as to the shows with which we wanted to be associated. This meant we chose the best directors who had access to the best costumers and make-up artists.
Success breeds success. For a time my design partner and I couldn’t fail even if we tried, but we didn’t try to fail. We worked hard to produce the best possible. We designed award-winning sets. We designed the most spectacular set, costumes, and hairstyles for the most spectacular failure ever. We designed ingenious sets. Our sets attracted ever-larger audiences for sold-out performances, and we attracted the best stage crews and the best production managers who also wanted to wallow in success. And then my design partner died.
I couldn’t go on alone, because alone I was less than half the team. Although I could paint or design alone, I couldn’t handle the flats alone. The flats (backgrounds) are wooden frames up to 12’ high and 6’ wide. My arms don’t span the width. He could fling around the flats. I could barely drag one and then it would take me forever to set it up to paint.
Eventually I agreed to do the set for The Secret Garden, and I found a helper for the heavy work. Still, I had to paint alone on cold days and colder nights and without my design partner I found it tough because I couldn’t make all the extras I wanted in the given time. But I managed 15 scene changes alone and I’m proud of that set. Because it was such a large one to bump in, the construction wasn’t finished until the first night, and I didn’t get to take any good photos. I had to rely on other people for those while the show was in production and so the best scenes are missing.
The reviewer thought I had the eras wrong because Washington Square was set in Victorian times. The set, however, is Regency because the heroine’s mother had the room designed when she was young. This is too hard for a reviewer to understand, although it was mentioned in the script.
I had the same man-help problem for my last set, below.
I Because I couldn’t shift the heavy flats on my own, I cut smaller MDF sections that I could handle more easily for painting. The masking flats (left side, pictured) show the street scene outside. For the room in between, I made everything I could out of books. I painted the couch to match the borrowed armchair and painted the footstool as an open book, which you can see if you click on the photo.
After all that work alone, the time came for some outside help to construct the set on the stage. The builder refused to follow my design, assuming my measurements would be wrong, since I'm a female. He started designing his own set with my flats at 10am. No matter how often I explained how the set was supposed to fit, he worked to his tune. Finally I got the lighting director (male) to prove to him his sight lines were out of kilter and the set was constructed to my design. The set, a room above a book shop where the owner lived, designed to be put together in an hour or two, was finished by 4pm.
That was the same time I left theatre design forever and went back to writing.