2013-2014 Season, Featured, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The Man Behind the Living Room

Woolf tech
Tech rehearsal! Scenic Designer Matt Smucker (center) with Director Braden Abraham (right) and Producing Director Elisabeth Farwell-Moreland (left). Photo: Alabastro Photography.

Coming over to George and Martha’s house for an evening of fun and games? Here’s a glimpse into our scenic designer’s process of figuring out exactly how that iconic living room should look.

Matthew Smucker designed the set for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, his second Edward Albee show at the Rep. (His first was Three Tall Women  in 2010.) When asked about what it’s like to design an Albee play, he said, “I find Albee’s writing to be utterly real and utterly absurd simultaneously. The best designs respond to this tension.”

One of the ways Matt captures this tension is in the almost over-the-top accumulation of stuff in George and Martha’s home. He describes the set below:

Nick and Honey are trapped in this room with George and Martha. The audience is too. Hell, George and Martha are even trapped in the room with George and Martha. We need to feel the baggage of their relationship, the weight of the history they have together.

The heavy box beams of the ceiling loom overhead, a bookcase stuffed to the gills with academia threatens to spill out onto the floor, the walls of the space are coated in a thick layer of nicotine.  The furnishing are a mix of 1920’s through 1960’s era pieces, all contained in the shell of a late 19th century home. The visuals of the space play up the sense of accumulation and confinement.

By the way, Matt’s not kidding about the overloaded bookcase—he estimates that approximately 700 books are used on set! Many of the books were donated or acquired specifically for this production (we actually had an in-house book drive), and many came from our props storage (by jackie). As to not weigh down the set, Matt explained that roughly half the books were hollowed out. (“Is this accidently symbolic? Perhaps,” he added.)

Seattle Rep production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
A close up of the “sculpted mess” in George and Martha’s living room. Design by Matt Smucker. Photo: Alabastro Photography.

In the final days of tech rehearsal, Matt could be found walking around the dark house, sitting in hundreds of different seats and honing in on the fine details of the set. He explained that it was important to finesse the shape of the mess. “A realistic room interior like this is a sculptural space,” said Matt, “and I need to look at it from every place that the audience will eventually see it from to make sure we haven’t missed any opportunities.” (Who knew chaos could be so calculated?)

Fun fact: Matt teaches scenic design at Cornish College for the Arts. His advice for aspiring scenic designers? “The best education is experiential. Try to fail fast and often. Don’t be a jerk,” he said.

George and Martha might take a tip from that last part, eh?

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