2015-2016 Season, Featured, New Work, Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem

Sherlock Holmes: Storytelling Through Design

Want to learn more about the design process for Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem? Hear from L. B. Morse, scenic, lighting, and projection designer for Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem and 2013’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Interview conducted by Artistic Casting Intern, Michael Myers.

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Darragh Kennan as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem. Photo by Chris Bennion.

Michael Myers: How are your designs for this production building on the work you did for The Hound of the Baskervilles?

L.B. Morse: We wanted to take the same basic framework from the last show–the proscenium portals, the moving columns, and the wood plank floor–then switch around what we do inside of that and do new tricks. We’ve set up Baker Street almost exactly the way it was last time, but then we go to a whole slew of new locations in The American Problem. We used hydraulic ramps last time to create different locations and levels. This time we’re using elevators and doing some tricks with slip stages, which is where certain portions of the stage slide left to right.

MM: Could you talk through a specific example of how design can play an integral role in storytelling?

L.B.: A lot of The Hound of the Baskervilles was from Watson’s perspective. Holmes was one step ahead of everybody the whole time, and the audience spent the show catching up. In The American Problem, we get to figure the mystery along with Sherlock. One of the ways we want to investigate that is through the transition moments, being able to see his mind working. For instance, coming out of Baker Street, at the tail end of the scene, we might pull in with lighting and add a bit of music underscoring. Then we can start peeling away the environment, so that we have this sense of the world dissolving around him. Sherlock is thinking about going to the river so hard that the riverfront just materializes around him.

MM: There has been a lot of talk about the success of this collaboration. Why is it so important for a team of collaborators to work well together?

L.B.: All our work is enmeshed. We’re trying to create this theatrical magic, and that requires everything to work together and have the same idea about aesthetic and vocabulary. We all have to be in perfect concert for the storytelling to work: sound, lighting, movement, scenery, clothing, projections. And if any of it falls apart, the whole thing falls apart. We really can’t have a weak link anywhere.


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Andrew McGinn and Darragh Kennan in Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem. Scenic, Projection, and Lighting Design by L.B. Morse. Photo by Chris Bennion.


Tech-talk: A Glossary of Technical Theatre Terminology

Portals: openings created by frames that enclose the action onstage. These frames may be curtains or pieces of scenery that establish location.

Hydraulic Ramps: ramps whose pitch can be changed by raising and lowering one end.

Elevators: sections of the stage that can be mechanically raised or lowered.

Slip Stages: sections of the stage that can slide along a set track. Often slip stages are used to transport scenery or performers on- or off-stage.

Projections: images that are thrown onto a surface from some distance, like a film in a movie theatre.

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