2015-2016 Season, Constellations, Featured

Creating Time and Space: The Set of Constellations

The following interview was conducted by Artistic Literary Intern Maggie Rogers

LB Morse, the Resident Designer and the scenic and lighting designer for Constellations sat down with me to talk about his process on working with this beautiful play.

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Max Gordon Moore (Roland) and Alexandra Tavares (Marianne) in Constellations by Nick Payne, directed by Desdemona Chiang. Photo by Alan Alabastro.

Maggie Rogers: You are the Resident Designer. What does that entail?

LB Morse: It’s funny, we joke a lot about how I have a weird title. People frequently think that Resident Designer implies that I do all of the designing, which isn’t really true because there are obviously a lot of other designers who work here. But I do a lot of designing throughout the course of the season. I’m the in-house designer on staff so I frequently get design questions or aesthetic questions that come up.

I usually design between 3-5 shows a year. This year I am only working on two shows, but I did lights and scenery for Constellations and I’m doing sets, lights, and projections for Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem.

MR: That’s like doing five different shows.

LBM: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s funny. It’s like I’m only doing two shows, but I’m doing five designs.

MR: When you first read Constellations, there are no stage directions to describe what the set looks like. So how do you, from nothing do–

LBM: Well, what I try to do in my design process is the first time I read a play I try to read it just for the sake of reading the play. To get a sense of the characters and the story; what we are trying to convey and what the play is trying to convey. It’s almost impossible to shut down my “designer brain,” though. As humans, we put people in a time and a place and we make up faces, you know? And I think even if we don’t specifically have a photographic image in our mind about what’s happening, we have sort of a sense of that.

For Constellations, I didn’t. [Laughs] It is really one of those plays where it is so, so about the structure and the language and just the relationship between these two people. It helps that there are no scene breaks. The script doesn’t even say things like “Marianne and Roland are at a barbeque”; you get that they are at a barbeque because the characters talk about being there. Or you make assumptions, for example, about the characters being in Marianne’s apartment because they talk about him moving out and he’s just gotten back from the pub. Which is kind of genius. There is no lack of information about settings in the play. It’s just not explicitly spelled out for you the way many playwrights do.

So there was something about the structure of the play, literally the way the words are on the page that helped me disengage from that. It makes sense because Constellations is a play that is a little bit out of time, it’s a little bit out of space. It’s spanning infinite universes and all of that. I found it really helpful that I was just able to take in the context of this relationship, at first.

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Alexandra Tavares (Marianne) and Max Gordon Moore (Roland) in Constellations by Nick Payne, directed by Desdemona Chiang. Photo by Alan Alabastro.

MR: What conversations did you have with Desdemona Chiang [director of Constellations] about the design?

LBM: The first conversations we really had were about the play: what we thought about the play, the structure, why was it written this way, and how the character relationships work. This became a topic of conversation amongst all the designers: if there are infinite universes, Nick Payne has obviously curated the universes we are looking at so he obviously has an intent behind that. So what is his intent?

The thing we kind of settled on is he picked a really interesting human arc to follow. Following the two of them; a lot of pleasure, a lot of pain, and a lot of heartache. Really challenging things. The show goes all over the canon. I think it is more interesting to see people in conflict, and thinking about how you deal with love and emotion and communication and partnership?

MR: Did you do any scientific research?

LBM: When we started getting into visuals we had a lot of discussions about “the set could be anything.” You could do it really realistically or it could be on an empty stage in or in your living room. We were interested in the science aspect of it, but the more human, organic kind of science rather than the precise, pristine, and antiseptic science.

A lot of the stuff I started looking at were images of the Hadron Collider, particle collisions and things. There is a really precise science behind all of it but you look at some of these drawings, these renderings of what the particles do when they collide – it is so organic. It’s like this place that straddles both of those things.

This play couldn’t be more macro in terms of it talking about different universes but it is also so micro because we are looking at these really brief individual moments in the lives and relationships of these people.

We would say we wanted the space to feel warm and welcoming but there is also something really great about the cool inky blackness of space. The idea of the void.

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Max Gordon Moore (Roland) and Alexandra Tavares (Marianne) in Constellations by Nick Payne, directed by Desdemona Chiang. Photo by Alan Alabastro.

MR: How did you compile the rest of your research that was not scientific?

LBM: One of the things I always do is visual, emotional response research. I go through art books, and look at photography, sculptures, and paintings. And I have stacks of books at home or go to the library and just flip through sometimes random books, and if I see something that grabs me in an emotional way, that I feel it resonates in ways that I feel about the play, I will take that photo and put it off to the side. And then I will look at the big mish mash of all of it. And we did that a lot, sort of laying hundreds of color copy photographs of art on a table and looking at what feels right about a lot of these things and taking those threads and narrowing down.

It took a much longer time than you would think to end up with what we have now: a big open space with a little floaty platform. We had whittled away and whittled away, and we had a meeting where I came in with 6 white models with different sets. There were different versions of the platform, some with a full ceiling. In the end we looked at all of them and felt just having a naked, warm, contained space for the actors to create all of this stuff is where we wanted to go and where we ended up.


Constellations has been extended through February 27 in the Leo K. Theatre. Don’t miss it! For more information and to reserve your tickets, visit our website.

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