Behind the Armida Set with Alicia Clements

THE STORY OF ARMIDA INVOLVES A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT LOCATIONS AND TIMES. HOW DID YOU SOLVE THIS CHALLENGE IN YOUR DESIGN?

INSPIRATION FOR ALICIA'S SET DESIGN

INSPIRATION FOR ALICIA'S SET DESIGN

Armida has such an epic fairytale quality to the story.  There was a need for a certain amount of scale to the design and the practical requirement of height: the ability for our warring heroes to scale some kind of perilous ascent to Armida and Idreno’s tower.  We have taken a romantic and abstracted approach to this design, creating a set that conjures the feeling of a gothic ruin, surrounded by a barren, charred forest.  I have always had a love of ruined spaces and it was a lot of fun to create this sweeping, but dilapidated staircase with its mysterious window at the top.  By creating a multi-leveled set we have the ability to isolate characters within different spaces: i.e. a throne room or boudoir, a mountainside, or a soldiers’ camp.  We have also tried to create as much darkness as possible within the lower half of the design to create more possibilities for transformation through lighting. 

WHAT WERE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES AND WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN THIS PARTICULAR BUILD?

The biggest challenge is actually the venue itself as it is a non-traditional theatre space.  Recital halls always have a distinct design and colour scheme of their own and while theatre designers are used to working on top of a black backdrop, the City Recital Hall is very bright with white, gold and blonde-wood architecture.  It also has an incredibly high ceiling which is both wonderful and challenging to make good use of.  As a designer it’s extremely rewarding to transform the recital hall so dramatically, but you also have to be conscious of your set being a good “fit” within the space and not clashing horribly.  I hope that is what we have been able to achieve with this rather ambitious design – the colour scheme, for example, which evokes a sense of sense of charcoal and ash, intentionally graduates to a paler shade of grey so as to blend more harmoniously with the surrounding architecture of the recital hall. 

TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT WORKING WITH DIRECTOR CRYSTAL MANICH AND COSTUME DESIGNER CHRISTIE MILTON? HOW COLLABORATIVE IS THE PROCESS? HOW DO YOU WORK TOGETHER TO CREATE THIS WORLD OF ARMIDA?

A sneak preview of the model version of armida's tower

A sneak preview of the model version of armida's tower

Crystal, Christie and I all worked extremely collaboratively from the very first meeting.  We sometimes even crossed over into each other’s areas, sending each other costume and set inspiration that we thought might be helpful or resonate with an idea that the other was exploring.  Crystal was based in New York City for the entire process which could have been quite challenging, but she was an incredible long-distance communicator with a unique ability to comprehend and process 2D photographic material I would send her.  Christie and I would also touch base regularly to make sure our design visions remained aligned or to ask advice on solving certain problems.  The huge advantage of splitting the design of a show between a separate set and costume designer is that you have an additional creative mind to bounce ideas off and offer support. 

I also sent Crystal a miniature (1:50 scale) model of the set so she could work on it in 3D from abroad.  I then had the opportunity to meet Crystal in New York before the rehearsal process began and work through the entire piece from beginning to end with the aid of our mini model! 

WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT THE CREATIVE PROCESS AND WORKING IN THE THEATRE/OPERA WORLDS? WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE THIS PARTICULAR CAREER?

Live performance offers unique creative opportunities for a designer, working within an intimate collaborative team.  Design for theatre and opera does not have to be literal and can offer audiences the chance to connect with stories, characters and themes on a number of different poetic and metaphorical levels.  I work predominantly in text-based theatre but I have found the few operas I have tackled so far have pushed my boundaries more than I had anticipated.  Opera story-telling is far less straight-forward and requires rigorous investigation, experimentation and support from the director and design team to create a cohesive production that resonates on both a musical and narrative level.   

Theatre and live performance design is rewarding and challenging on so many levels, it’s hard for me to imagine working in any other field at this stage!